Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Keeping Execution Safe and Legal

Remember back in the 80s when we were told that fatal injection was a more humane way to conduct the death penalty? I do. So now we have it and it apparently isn't working too well.

Then the European Union cut off one of the drugs originally used to do this because it was disturbed that we were using it to perform executions. Now different drugs are used and that is apparently one of the factors that played in to the botched execution in Oklahoma yesterday.

Thank you, EU.

I am in favor of the death penalty but I'm not unsympathetic to many of the arguments against it. However, the whole idea of trying to make the death penalty inoffensive is somehow, ... well, offensive. The death penalty is bad. It's the worst punishment someone can have meted out to him. And we're supposed to make it pleasant? Why would we (if we really could) want to do that?

Would that help the cause of the people who object to it: to make less objectionable?

In fact there is something a little creepy about someone in gloves and a medical mask in clean, antiseptic surroundings killing someone with a sterilized needle. What--is the prisoner going to catch something and die if they don't?

If I was sentenced to be executed, I would prefer a firing squad any day.

What is this strange obsession with making execution look all medical and scientific? Does this really make the humanitarians feel better? Do they want us to feed him healthy food for his last meal too?

Execution is an ugly business. The question is not whether it is humane: It isn't. The question is whether it is necessary. In deciding that question, we should see it for what it is.

And it isn't pretty.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Character doesn't matter, except when it does

When Bill Clinton engaged in sexual relations with a subordinate White House staffer in the Oval Office, character didn't matter. When Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers made racist remarks to his girlfriend in a taped private conversation, character did matter.

Funny how that works.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jerry Coyne, Theologian

Anyone who wishes to assess Jerry Coyne's credibility may wish to start with his claim that "I spent several years reading theology ...." And elsewhere, Coyne invokes his "extensive incursions into theology and science."

Statements Coyne has made subsequent to this claim make it about as credible as Al Gore's invention of the internet. Let's consider a few:

Coyne claims that the Roman Catholic Catechism "hardly paints the picture of God as a ground of being ...." But of course, the Catechism directly portrays God as the source of being, not only in the sense that he initially created all things, but also that he sustains them in their being. Paragraph 301 says that God "not only gives [finite things] being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being ...."

Coyne claims that "the Christian morality tale of the crucifixion and resurrection" involves "God turning himself into his son ...." Of course, Christians don't believe that "God turned himself into his son." The notion that God turns himself into his son is modalism, which Christian orthodoxy has always rejected as a heresy.

Coyne claims that "the theological notion of original sin didn’t arise until several centuries after Jesus supposedly lived ...." St. Paul, of course, stated "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."

What has got Coyne confused is that some claim that the predominate interpretation of original sin in the West arose with Augustine. Even if that is true, that's just one way of understanding Paul's notion of original sin. And even if Paul hadn't considered original sin theologically in Romans and Corinthians, Irenaeus wrote about it in his Against Heresies around 180 AD--hardly "several centuries" after Jesus' life.

Coyne thinks St. Thomas Aquinas is a "Church Father." But of course, the period of the church fathers was the period before the Scholastic age. St. Thomas Aquinas is as much a church father as Einstein is a renaissance natural philosopher.

Coyne claims that "if there was a conflict" between the metaphorical and literal sense of Scripture, "people like Aquinas and Augustine" took the literal sense over the metaphorical sense. Augustine, of course, rejected a literal six-day creation, and said that when statements in Scripture about the physical world conflict with reason, those statements in Scripture should be construed non-literally.* (Coyne is also unaware that for Aquinas, metaphor is one type under the literal sense.)

Coyne claims that the notion of "God [as] the unconditioned cause of reality ...," and as "what grounds the existence of every contingent thing" is not how "Aquinas, Luther, [and] Augustine" saw God. This one is quite baffling: any theologian who believes in the doctrine of creation believes that the universe exists because God created it, and would not have existed had God not created it. Aquinas, Luther, and Augustine all held to a doctrine of creation. Furthermore, they all held that God sustains the universe in its existence. See for example, Augustine's Confessions, VII, 7. Or take Aquinas, who said "every being in any way existing is from God.... [A]ll beings apart from God are not their own being, but are beings by participation." And again: "Now it has been shown above (44, 1,2), that nothing can be, unless it is from God, Who is the universal cause of all being. Hence it is necessary to say that God brings things into being from nothing."

In fact, virtually every instance where Coyne describes the beliefs of Christians or of theologians he does so inaccurately. I'm not necessarily saying Coyne is lying about spending years reading theology. There is one other alternative: the he cannot understand basic theological claims well enough to restate them. But this is no ordinary misunderstanding. When I read Paul Cohen's proof that the continuum hypothesis is independent of the ZFC axioms, I know that I do not understand what Cohen is saying. Because I know this, I would not assert my own misunderstanding. Coyne, on the other hand, doesn't seem to know enough to know that he doesn't understand.

For instance, it could be that Coyne reads a Christian account of the Incarnation (saying something like "the Word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit"), he is only able to conceive this as the claim that "God became his son." This is not what is objectively on the page of course, but that is not the point. It may be the case that Coyne's mind experiences some kind of process whereby semantic content Coyne receives is so altered that he literally cannot perceive the content on the page in front of him, nor understand why it is that others do understand what is said.

Or Coyne it could be that Coyne was simply making the "years of theology" thing up. In the end it doesn't much matter.

* The quote is: "[I]f anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical world] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Common Core Razes Charter School Standards

Common Core Razes Charter School Standards. A battle is raging between those who would challenge our public school monopolies and those who wish to nationalize school curricula. There is much more at stake here than how Jane and Johnny learn to read.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Obamacare is Working...

Obamacare is Working....

. . . for the 8 million people who’ve enrolled and may or may not have paid their premiums and may or may not have been among the 6.2 million people who liked their health-care plans but lost them because they were substandard plans with low deductibles, more benefits, more doctors, larger networks, and affordable premiums but that didn’t provide contraceptives for 63 year-old women who can’t stay on their parents’ plans because of the Republican war on women like Lois Lerner and Kathleen Sebelius who turned Obamacare around. So now a mere 44 million people remain uninsured after spending only $1.7 trillion on a program that will save or create shovel-ready jobs for more than 15,000 more IRS agents to protect the country from conservative terrorist organizations who oppose high unemployment, trillion-dollar deficits, massive tax increases, restrictions on religious freedom, dangerous defense cuts, suffocating regulations, feckless foreign policy, wanton disregard for the rule of law, out-of-control spending, and failed economic policies mainly because they’re bitter, mouth-breathing, climate-change deniers and racists who want to force frightening black women like Condi Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak to sensitive white college professors and students who have enough problems dealing with skyrocketing tuition rates which they could easily handle if they could find a 28 hour-a-week job and Republicans would just vote for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, which is good bit less than an Obamacare navigator makes for directing illegal immigrants undocumented Americans to the local health-care Exchange and board of elections. Those institutions are working at least as well as the reset button we gave to Russia to show Vladimir we have enough flexibility to allow him to invade Ukraine or, preferably, the Bundy Ranch, provided no big turtles get scared which is a red line that would prompt serious consequences such as the deployment of warm socks, MREs, or the Bureau of Land Management, all of which would be as terrible as Iran getting a nuclear weapon — which would never happen because we asked them not to — or even as catastrophic as the rollout of the Obamacare website which everyone knows was George Bush’s fault.

Friday, April 18, 2014

National Review: Should global warming alarmist Michael Mann of "hockey stick" fame be put in the penalty box

The cover article of the new National Review:

"The Climate Inquisitor"
by Charles C. W. Cooke

Climate scientist and opponent of free inquiry Michael E. Mann has built a noisy public career sounding the alarm over global warming. Secure as he appears to be in his convictions, Mann has nonetheless taken it upon himself to try to suppress debate and to silence some of the “irrational” and “virulent” critics, who he claims have nothing of substance to say.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jerry Coyne's Precambrian Rabbits

When last we left Jerry Coyne, we had coined the term "coyning, v." to mean attempting to disprove the arguments in a book without having read it. Apparently determined to clear his name, Coyne has been reading David Hart's new book and writing about it, to somewhat comic effect.

Coyne's arguments are deeply premised in his facile understanding of religion, despite his claim to have spent years studying theology. For example, Coyne identifies the claim that God refers to the "Ground of All Being" (Coyne's words) is a notion that begins with modern theologians such as Tillich. This claim is, of course, falsifiable--and false.

Just as a pre-Cambrian rabbit would falsify the current account of evolutionary history, so a statement by a pre-Modern theologian would disprove Coyne's "history of dogma." And Coyne's pre-Cambrian positively teems with rabbits.

John of Damascus, born in 676 AD, said of God:
God does not belong to the class of existing things: not that he has no existence, but that he is above existing things, nay even above existence itself.
And John of Damascus offers this as a summary of the Christian theologians who lived before him. This is well known to anyone who has studied the history of theology. One of the most famous aspects of the theology of Augustine and Aquinas is their claim that God is Being, the ground of all beings. In fact, the view that God is a particular being is a distinctively modern view, peddled by the likes of William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga.

So the question is this: will Coyne revise his position in light of the evidence falsifying it? Or is his ignorance indefatigable? Will he hold on to his faith that the notion of God as the ground of being is modern, in spite of the evidence disproving it?

My suspicion--and I am happy to shown wrong--is that Coyne faith is so desperate that he will hold onto his beliefs even after they have been falsified. And if he does so, he will have proven that his supposed commitment to evidence is a smokescreen that hides a blind faith.

Where are the defenders of science when it comes to claims about gender by the postmodern left?

Every few days it seems, we hear the alarms being rung by the defenders of science, who, in the process of patrolling the borders of their discipline, announce that there has been a breach in their lines. But the warnings almost always concern threats from the right. It is creationists or Intelligent Design advocates that get all the attention and little is said about the multitudinous forms of left-wing political abuse of science that now run rampant.

It's not that violations of scientific integrity from the postmodern left are never mentioned. In fact, one of the best books I have read in recent years is Higher Superstitions: The Academic Left and It's Quarrels with Science, by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt. The authors of this cogent and extremely well written book (which I reviewed for the Lexington Herald-Leader a few years back when that newspaper actually had a book section).

There is also Alan Sokal's now legendary exposure of the postmodern journal Social Text, to which Sokal submitted a bogus and nonsensical article on science and hermeneutics (a legitimate term when properly used, but which is widely abused by postmodern scholars) pretending to be by a posmodernist scholar which was accepted. After its acceptance and publication, Sokal announced his hoax, after which Social Text, and its editor Stanley Fish were rightly ridiculed.

But since these two incidents, the Science Patrol has largely ignored the threats pointed out by Gross and Levitt, choosing to train their sights almost exclusively on threats they perceive coming from religion and the political right.

When was the last time you heard New Atheists (the most active faction of the Science Police) like P.Z. Myers, Jerry Coyne―or people like Gross and Levitt―call out feminists or "gender studies" scholars for their ludicrous, unproved, and many times unprovable claims about sexuality―claims for which they constantly claim scientific warrant?

For example, where are the scientific voices questioning the claims of gay rights advocates who now assert that there are multiple gender categories―fifty-one of them, by Facebook's count? Surely this claim falls within the wide definition now used by the Science Police of a scientific claim.

When I debated the issue of gay rights on "Kentucky Tonight" a couple of weeks ago, I asked Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, if all of these gender categories were genetic. At first he refused to answer the question, but later came back and said they were.


Why do such claims get a pass from the defenders of Science? Surely its not because of political bias.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two classrooms, two philosophies of education

The following is the text of my "Letter from the Editor" in the spring issue of the Classical Teacher magazine:

If you were to walk into a public school primary classroom one day, and into the same grade level classroom in, say, a classical Christian school, you would see two entirely different things.

And you wouldn't have to wait to notice some of the differences. There would be certain things evident immediately.

In the classical school, you would likely see students sitting in straight rows of desks either listening to a teacher or working on an assignment they have been given—the same assignment they are all working on at the same time. In the public school classroom, the students would be sitting at long tables or busy at learning centers, many of them working on different assignments.

After a few minutes, you would notice not only the different physical structure of the classroom and location of the children, but the different way the teacher interacts with the students. In the classical school, the teacher is likely to be standing in front of the class guiding the students, whereas the public school teacher will likely be roaming the room, making sure everyone is working on something and trying to keep order.

While the classical teacher is clearly running the classroom, this is looked down upon in public schools. In fact, if there is any image that symbolizes modern progressive education, it is this: a teacher sitting with her students on the floor.

Is this all coincidental or is there something unseen behind these surface differences?

Behind the obvious physical contrasts, there is a very different idea of what education consists of and a different view of the nature of the child.

More likely than not, the classical school sees it as its job to teach a specific body of basic skills and cultural knowledge—one very similar to other such schools—through an organized curriculum, and it sees the child as a potential adult who needs to be formed in order to take his place in society as a responsible adult with obligations to himself and others.

The public school sees its job entirely differently. It has no specific body of knowledge it must pass on to children—a specific curriculum—and is less concerned with a child's mastery of a set of basic skills.
A classical homeschool would be slightly different than both of these, but it would share with the classical its basic principles, however differently applied to the home.

Two different philosophies underlay each of these cases: In classical education, the school's job is to pass on a culture to the next generation. Under modern progressive education, the school's job is to change the culture or fit children to the existing one.

And there are also two views of the nature of children: For classical education, children are adults to be formed. For modern education, they are children to be "developed."

The differences in what we see make perfect sense when we know the philosophy behind it.

India's Supreme Court enshrines "the right of every human being to choose their gender"

Next up: Everyone gets to choose their species:

India's Supreme Court was roundly criticized for reinstating a 1861 ban on gay sex, so it may seem odd that the same high court just made India one of the foremost nations in recognizing transgender rights. The Indian Supreme Court not only created a legal "third gender" category, it also broadly declared that "it is the right of every human being to choose their gender."

The ruling applies only to transgender people, or hijra (a term that also encompasses transvestites/cross-dressers, and eunuchs), not gays and lesbians. But the justices asked the government to consider transgender Indians a...


More tabloid climatology: gloom and doom about the jet stream, winters, and global warming

More tabloid climatology: gloom and doom about the jet stream, winters, and global warming. From the University of Utah, an argument that makes you wonder “what started it 4000 years ago”? Looking at another similar study, Joltin Joe Romm called that study Bombshell: Study Ties Epic California Drought, ‘Frigid East’ To Manmade Climate Change While they focus on the recent winter as being an example of this errant jet […]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The gay marriage bigots strike again

The gay marriage bigots strike again. Five and a half years ago, over seven million people in the state of California voted for Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that (temporarily) eliminated the right of same-sex couples in the state to marry. An influential faction of the pro-gay marriage movement now apparently believes that those seven million should be barred from positions of power and influence in the United States.

That may be an exaggeration. Brendan Eich — who resigned as chief executive of Mozilla, a company he helped found, after OKCupid launched a boycott against the company for placing him in a senior position...


Supreme Court Rejects Gay Wedding Photography Case

Supreme Court Rejects Gay Wedding Photography Case. An appeal by a company that refused to photograph a gay wedding was turned down. The justices also refused to review a ruling that corporations cannot contribute directly to political candidates.

Jesus didn’t care about being nice or tolerant

Jesus didn’t care about being nice or tolerant. There is no shortage of heresies these days. If you want to adopt some blasphemous, perverted, fun house mirror reflection of Christianity, you will find a veritable buffet of options. You can sift through all the variants and build your … Continue reading

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Black-Robed Supremacy Issues Another Order: OH must recognize same-sex marriages from other states

More pronouncements from the judicial oracles now dictating social policy: Judge says Ohio Authorities Must Recognize Out-Of-State Gay Marriages.

House approves changes to ethics commission following inaction on sexual harassment case

House approves changes to ethics commission following inaction on sexual harassment case.

Stung by criticism over its handling of sexual harassment allegations, the Kentucky House on Monday voted to strengthen and diversify the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is supposed to police lawmakers'

Click to Continue »

The Best Prospective Law Students Read Homer

That's the title of a blog post by Pepperdine law professor Derek Muller, who threw prospective law school students into the same pot and noticed that classics majors rose to the top:

As you can see, the best prospective law students were the Classics majors. Even though there were just 190 of them, they achieved a 159.8 LSAT and a UGPA of 3.477--the highest in both categories.

Among the rest, there is a pretty good correlation between LSAT and UGPA. As expected, some of the majors with disproportionately low UGPAs but high LSATs were in the sciences (I labeled Biology, specialization; Biology, general; Electrical Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; and Mathematics on the chart.) Among majors with disproportionately low LSATs but high UGPAs were Accounting, Law, Social Work, and Spanish.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Do women really make '77 cents on the dollar'?

Do women really make '77 cents on the dollar'?.

Today is Equal Pay Day — and to commemorate the occasion, President Obama issued two executive orders.

Interestingly, however, it turns out the Obama White House also pays women less than men, leading some to wonder whether factors other than wage discrimination might account for the discrepancy.

Enter the American Enterprise Institute's Mark J. Perry and Andrew G. Biggs, whose recent Wall Street Journal op-ed digs into the Bureau of Labor Statistics report and seems to undermine the notion that anything sinister is at play here. Among their findings:

Men were almost twice as likely as...

More Source The Week: Most Recent Home Page Posts

Health Plan Premiums Are Skyrocketing According To New Survey Of 148 Insurance Brokers, With Delaware Up 100%, California 53%, Florida 37%, Pennsylvania 28%

Health Plan Premiums Are Skyrocketing According To New Survey Of 148 Insurance Brokers, With Delaware Up 100%, California 53%, Florida 37%, Pennsylvania 28%. Health insurance premiums are showing the sharpest increases perhaps ever according to a survey of brokers who sell coverage in the individual and small group market. Morgan Stanley’s healthcare analysts conducted the proprietary survey of 148 brokers. The April survey shows the largest acceleration in small and individual group rates in any of the 12 prior quarterly periods when it has been conducted. Source Most popular stories

Is refusing to photograph a gay marriage properly considered discrimination based on sexual orientation?

Is refusing to photograph a gay marriage properly considered discrimination based on sexual orientation?. The Supreme Court declined to hear the Elane Photography case, so we won’t find out for a while whether the Court will recognize a First Amendment right not to photograph gay weddings. Meanwhile, I think there was potentially a more basic problem with the New Mexico Supreme Court’s ruling against the photographer, which is its […]

Source The Volokh Conspiracy:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Can our children be educated by people who don't know what education is?

I don't know who Steven Johnathan Rummelsburg is, but his article today ("Bury Me on My Head) at the Imaginative Conservative (one of my favorite blogs) is simply outstanding. I speak to parents and teachers all over the country and one of my themes has been that those who run our education system simply do not know what education is. The question then becomes how they can purport to do what they purport to do without knowing what it is they purport to do?

Rummelsburg, quoting Chesterton as he goes, takes a wrecking ball to a public education establishment that is devoid of intellectual competence, infected with relativist ideology, and bloated with tax money. Take a gander at the answer he receives when he starts actually asking public educators what education is.

I laughed till I cried, then I realized that I should have just cried. You too can read it. And weep:
What is an education? What does it mean to be an “educated” human being? Ask a public school teacher or two and the answers may surprise you. Not because they will enlighten you, or give you a new perspective, but because in general there are vast plains of intellectual empty space that lie between the truth about education and what most teachers know about it. I have asked hundreds of public school teachers, students, and experts what it means to be educated, and the answers have been surprisingly untethered from the fetters of reason.
Read the rest here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The college degree gap: women earned a majority of degrees at all levels in 2012, and the degree gap for blacks is stunning

The college degree gap: women earned a majority of degrees at all levels in 2012, and the degree gap for blacks is stunning. The table above shows college graduation data for the Class of 2012 (most recent year available) by race/ethnicity and sex from the Department of Education for four degree levels separately (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master,’s and Doctor’s) and for all degree levels … read more >

Source AEIdeas » Carpe Diem

Sebelius Experiences One Last Glitch in 'Bittersweet' Resignation Speech

Sebelius Experiences One Last Glitch in 'Bittersweet' Resignation Speech.

In what could be a fitting metaphor following the disastrous launch of and subsequent problems with, Kathleen Sebelius had to pause partway through her resignation speech when she realized a page was missing.

Sebelius was quick on her feet upon the discovery, thanking President Obama and others before wrapping up her remarks.

Earlier in the announcement, the president called Sebelius departure bittersweet and congratulated her for overseeing the first launch of the health-care exchanges, even if there were some bumps and bruises along the way. He also introduced his nomination to replace Sebelius: Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Source National Review Online - The Corner

Sociology PhD Who Specializes in Zombies Can't Land a Job

Sociology PhD Who Specializes in Zombies Can't Land a Job.

You’d almost think this was from The Onion, but I believe it’s real. This Inside Higher Ed piece is by a recent PhD who specializes in zombie studies, but can’t find a job. He fancies himself a victim of “an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system.”

Good grief. Whatever gripes this fellow has, the U.S. does not have a “fledgling economic system.” Moreover, sociology PhDs have never had an easy time, especially those who have chosen to specialize in some trendy niche like zombies. He evidently thinks himself victimized by society. I say he was foolish in pursuing his doctorate when it was becoming increasingly evident over the last decade that many degree holders were drowning in a labor market glutted with people like himself.

Scroll through the comments for some good reading.

Hat tip: Jay Schalin

Source National Review Online - Phi Beta Cons

My Verizon horror story

After having just recently entered the 21st century, I found myself looking for a bridge back to the 19th.

Okay, so I finally decided to abandon my Pleistocene era flip phone (and all of my neo-Luddite principles) and get a smart phone. It wasn't entirely for cavalier reasons either.

I have always had a phone to talk to people with. With my voice. Using words. Sentences. Even paragraphs. But I found that, increasingly, my friends and professional associates wanted to text me, requiring me to text back, which, using my flip phone, took approximately 35 minutes for one simple message. I had to press each button approximately 47 times to get the right letter and then, as I was nearing the end of the sentence, my fingers raw, I would realize I had made a mistake and had to erase all of the intervening letters between where I was and where the mistake was and begin there again.

People wouldn't see me for days.

So there I was on a business trip, hundreds of miles from home, when the Verizon store beckoned to me. So I pulled in, got out of the car, and entered the store, where I met "Greg," the sales rep. I walked in and he asked me if I needed help (The bandaged fingers must have tipped him off).

I showed him my flip phone. He began laughing. He continued laughing, more and more uncontrollably, holding my phone in the air and pointing to it as all the other people in the store looked on. They too began to laugh, until everyone was doubled over, pointing at me.

I felt like someone who had just woken up from a long nap after having played ninepins with a bunch of bearded men in the mountains. This, I thought, is the price I must pay for entering the modern world.

When Greg regained his composure, he took me over to a desk and asked me if I would like something more (suppressed giggle here) "modern." He showed me the "Samsung Galaxy Note 3." He said this with an air of gravity, and paused, apparently waiting for me to express my amazement at the words that had just come out of his mouth.

I just crossed myself.

Greg began to explain the many features of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. It was hard for me to keep track, partly because there were so many of them, and partly because I couldn't really make heads or tails of any of them. I did catch something about "apps" and "processors" and "chipsets" and "interfaces." But these meant little to me.

I'm sure it was good. After all, Greg was now my friend. He was going to shepherd me through this process. He was going lead me beside still waters and restore my digital soul. This, after all, he explained, was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I should have no fear.

"Can I call people with it?" I asked. He stared at me, dumb for just a moment, and then assured me that it would. "Can I text with it?" No problem, he said. "Okay," I said, decisively, "I'm in."

At this point, Greg began opening boxes and inserting cards and pressing buttons. There were beeps and blips and bright lights. It took a few minutes, but finally, after a brief but significant exchange of credit cards, Greg was done. He handed me my phone proudly and shook my hand, as if he was congratulating a new father. I wouldn't regret it, he assured me.

Goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life.

I walked out of the store, the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I would go home and show it to Mrs. Jetson. I looked around the parking lot for my flying car, and wondered if I would ever have my own show on Boomerang.

I had now entered the Brave New Smartphone World. Things would be faster now, easier to access. My life would now be measured in milli-somethings, kilo-this and mega-that. Everything would now be at my fingertips, just a screen touch away. No more waiting, no more wanting.

If I had had a cup, it would have runneth over.

As I had calculated, son Elroy and daughter Judy, though impressed with my Samsung Galaxy Note 3, were less than impressed with the fact that they were to be pushed out of the digital nest and have to get their own phone plans now. I was fairly certain that they could survive on their own.

And then there was the matter of Wife Jane's phone, which I had also purchased through my new friend Greg, but to which I had neglected to transfer her old number. This was going to have to be corrected, I was informed. Too, son Elroy promised that if I would just put him on my plan, he would pay his share. Just like he had paid his share of the car insurance and his monthly karate bill.

I didn't believe him then either. But, like before, I relented.

So a week or so went by. I figured I could take care of both these matters--switching the wife's number and adding my son's line--on the Verizon website. So I Googled it. So far, so good. Then I tried to log in. And this is where I entered the Valley of the Shadow of Technological Death, without my friend Greg, who was far away, to comfort me.

When I tried to register, it said I was already on the system. When I tried to log in, I got the message: "Service temporarily unavailable." After I entered my phone number, it asked for a password, which Greg had set up for me. But then it gave me a screen with a security question asking me for my favorite vacation spot.

Since I had never accessed the site before, I was wondering how the system could know what my favorite vacation spot was. I thought of all the places in the world Verizon didn't reach.

I would call the customer service phone number to find out why I couldn't log in. Surely there was one of those. I clicked "Contact Us," a link you often find on websites these days that leads you on a long and bewildering quest for an actual phone number you never seem to find. But not here. No. There it was an 800 number where I could talk to a real person!

I would ask for Greg.

I dialed it (on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3). All of a sudden my screen changed. It said I must use the "611" service. However, in order to use the 611 service, I had to log in. But that was the reason I was calling customer service: in order to find out why I couldn't log in. In order to find out how to log in, it was telling me, I must first log in.

At this point, fatigue began to set in. I gave up. But a thought occurred to me: Maybe I could call the local Verizon store and they could help me. I knew Greg would not be there, but maybe there would be another person there named Greg who could help me.

I walked in and was quickly referred to Antoine. Antoine deftly took care of transferring my wife's number (which would ensure a pleasant dinner that night). But then there was the matter of adding my son to the plan. I would have thought this would be a routine procedure, but I was apparently wrong.

Antoine had to call Verizon. Unlike me, he was able to talk to a real person (I noticed Antoine had a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, apparently made when having a conversation with another human being by phone was still possible). The person (whose name I don't remember, other than that it was not "Greg") informed him that this would have to be done with both people there in person. But my son lived in another city, he told this non-Greg person, and surely there was another way to handle it.

He waited. Then he came back on and asked if he could speak with me, and so Antoine handed me the phone. I explained to him that I just wanted to add my son to the plan. He said that would be difficult because I had made changes to my plan in the last thirty days. I explained that I had only been a Verizon customer for about a week and half, at which point he said, "Oh," and asked me to excuse him for a moment to check some things out.

After listening to evil organ music for about two minutes, he came back on and said that he could add him to the plan, but that it would take 72 hours.

72 hours? In the new digital age of milli-second transfers of mega-sized information? At a time when smart phones could do everything but enable Scotty to beam you up? Antoine had just transferred my wife's phone number in a matter of seconds on his primitive Samsung Galaxy Note 2--and he wasn't even Greg for crying out loud.

That's the best he could do, he said. But he would e-mail me an e-mail address so that I could verify the change. What was my e-mail address, he asked. I gave it to him, and in a few moments, he said, "Hmmm." He was having technical problems with his e-mail. He would have to mail it to me. He hoped that would be okay.

Mail it to me? As in United State Postal Service? Seriously? I informed him that I was the owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and that I had no more need of the United States Postal Service. But he simply reiterated, in his customer service-voice, that he would have to mail the information.

After a brief silence, I said: "Can I speak to Greg please?"

But Greg was not there, he said. There was only him and his evil organ music and his 72 hours and his United States Postal Service.

I handed the phone back to Antoine, who apologized for the inconvenience in getting the new line. I told him it wasn't his fault. I thanked him for what he was able to do for me with his Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and encouraged him that some day he would have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and these kinds of things wouldn't happen anymore.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The La Brea Tars Pits gets themselves in a sticky wicket over climate change and adaptation

The La Brea Tars Pits gets themselves in a sticky wicket over climate change and adaptation. One of the most shrill arguments from alarmists is the idea that climate change will wipe out species because they can’t adapt. The claims run from polar bears to tortoises, to plants and coral. Yes, if we listen to these arguments, Nature so poorly equipped it’s creatures that they can’t adapt to a slightly warmer []

The La Brea Tars Pits gets themselves in a sticky wicket over climate change and adaptation

University of Kentucky ends, then defends survey dealing with LGBT students' use of health services

University of Kentucky ends, then defends survey dealing with LGBT students' use of health services.

A University of Kentucky health survey that was emailed to students last week has drawn attention from a conservative-leaning news website for college students.

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Source -- Top Stories

University of Kentucky ends, then defends survey dealing with LGBT students' use of health services

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Liberal principles about changing times that change with the times

One of the arguments used in favor of recent court decisions favoring same-sex marriage is that they correspond with popular opinion, which is why they quote poll results that seem to favor their position and why they criticize critics of these decisions for not being "with the times." In other words, being in the minority has its costs and one of them is to be abandoned by the courts.

But wait a minute, wasn't it liberal groups that up until this issue came up were always reminding everyone that one of the roles of the courts was to stand up for minorities?

Stivers accuses House Democrats of using 'smoke and mirrors' in sexual harassment case

Stivers accuses House Democrats of using 'smoke and mirrors' in sexual harassment case.

Senate President Robert Stivers accused the Democratic-led House Wednesday of using "smoke and mirrors" to prevent the public from finding out how the House handled complaints by three legislative aides…

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Source -- Top Stories

Stivers accuses House Democrats of using 'smoke and mirrors' in sexual harassment case

Saturday, April 05, 2014

More Establishment Clause Bloat from the Second Circuit

More Establishment Clause Bloat from the Second Circuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has issued its latest decision in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York. For lots of background on the case, which involves equal...

Source Mirror of Justice

More Establishment Clause Bloat from the Second Circuit

Virginia Catholic Conference Brief in Virginia Same-Sex Marriage Case

Virginia Catholic Conference Brief in Virginia Same-Sex Marriage Case. The Virginia Catholic Conference, together with the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, has filed an amici curiae brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to defend Virginia's constitutional and statutory definition of marriage. The brief is...

Source Mirror of Justice

Virginia Catholic Conference Brief in Virginia Same-Sex Marriage Case

Judge plans to strike down Ohio ban on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages

Judge plans to strike down Ohio ban on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages.
Ohio must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who wed in a state where such unions are legal, federal Judge Timothy Black declared on Friday. He has not issued a ruling yet, but plans to.

The judge's decision, which would prohibit Ohio officials from enforcing a voter-approved ban on recognizing these out-of-state gay marriages, would take effect April 14. Black said the ban violates "constitutional rights to equal protection and due process." Announcing the ruling ahead of time gives the state time to appeal. However, as the AP notes, this doesn't mean same-sex couples can legally get...


Source The Week: Most Recent Home Page Posts

Judge plans to strike down Ohio ban on recognizing out-of-state gay marriages

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The founding myth of scientism and why it's wrong

In philosopher Stephen Toulmin's book Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, he discusses what he calls the "Received View" or the "Standard Account" of Modernity. It is the one we are familiar with that holds that until the Englightenment, the world was in intellectual darkness, brought on by religious thought, until the onset of science. Toulmin, most famous for the "Toulmin Method" of analyzing a rhetorical argument, points out that it has little basis in reality.

The idea that 17th century thinkers somehow developed an "original concern for rationality and the claims of Reason," says Toulmin, is "misleading":
Rather than expanding the scope for rational or reasonable debate, 17th century scientists narrowed it. To Aristotle, both Theory and Practice were open to rational analysis, in ways that differed from one field of study to another. He recognized that the kinds of argument relevant to different issues depend on the nature of those issues, and differ in degrees of formality or certainty: what is "reasonable" in clinical medicine is judged in different terms from what is "logical" in geometrical theory. Seventeenth-century philosophers and scientists, by contrast, followed the example of Plato. They limited "rationality" to theoretical arguments that achieve a quasi-geometrical certainty or necessity: for them, theoretical physics was thus a field for rational study and debate, in a way that ethics and law were not. Instead of pursuing a concern with "reasonable" procedures of all kinds, Descartes and his successors hoped eventually to bring all subjects into the ambit of some formal theory: as a result, being impressed only by formally valid demonstrations, they ended by changing the very language of Reason—notably, key words like "reason," "rational," and "rationality"—in subtle but influential ways. 
We could add, as another methodological fallacy introduced by the rise of scientific materialism, the idea, not only that rationality encompasses only the formally valid, but that it includes only the empirically verifiable (the tradition that comes from Bacon, as opposed to Descartes). And of course the irony here is that the idea of strict formal demonstration and empirical verifiability are largely conflicting methodologies.

To say the the 17th century was a time in which Reason was freed from the shackles of Medieval superstition is one of the founding myths of scientism. "Clearly," says Toulmin, "it is time to give up any assumption that the 17th century was a time--the first time—when lay scholars in Europe were prosperous, comfortable, and free enough from ecclesiastical pressure to have original ideas; and it is also time to reconstruct our account of the transition from the medieval to the modern world on a more realistic basis."

For anyone to call the Middle Ages—the age of Peter Abelard, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus—is to betray a basic ignorance of medieval history and thought. In fact, the Middle Ages was perhaps the great age of logic. Alfred North Whitehead goes so far as to say that the revolt of Galileo was far from a revolt into reason. "On the contrary," says Whitehead, "it was through and through an anti-intellectualist movement."

The Middle Ages, Says Whitehead, "was the age of faith based upon reason. In the later period, they let sleeping dogs lie: it was the age of reason based upon faith."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The War Against Knowledge

The following article appears in the new edition of The Classical Teacher:

A couple of years ago, I was sitting down on a Sunday morning reading my local paper. I was reading a story about the “new” things happening in education. One of the “new” things happening, said the story, was that they were going to be getting rid of “rote memorization” and putting more emphasis on “creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.” I remember putting the paper down and telling my wife, who was cleaning up the breakfast dishes, “Dear, It’s coming back.”

“What’s coming back?”

“What’s It? I don’t read minds, you know.” She’s always saying this, my wife: that she can’t read minds. She is under the impression that I think she should know what I’m thinking without my having to explain it because I’ll be in the middle of reading something and blurt out something like “It’s coming back.” With nothing to indicate what I am talking about.

I ask her if it wasn’t one of the conditions of marrying her that she be able to read my mind, at which point, she stops, and, with a soap-covered knife she is in the middle of washing in one hand, she gives me a blank stare. I obediently go back to my paper, impressed with the soap-covered knife. And her stare. Which is about as impressive as the knife.

By the term “It,” of course, I mean the Education Reform Monster who goes into hibernation and comes out every twenty-five years or so to eat our schools. I explained this to my wife.

“Oh,” she said. “Okay,” and went on doing the dishes.

We had already been through one attack of the Monster when our children were young. We had not originally intended to homeschool our children some 25 years ago and sent our first child, a boy, to the local public school.

Kindergarten was not bad. He learned nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and other classic children’s literature. They did the things in class that you would expect them to do in a Kindergarten class. They learned to recognize letters and so some simple arithmetic.

But by the next year, our school began to change. Our state legislature had passed a sweeping education reform program the year before that was influenced by the reform that had been making the news around that time. It was called “outcomes-based education.” A court case has been filed a few years previously to try to correct inequities in school funding from one district to another, but when it got to our State Supreme Court, the justices ruled that our whole system of schooling had to be changed.

In came the education consultants. Educational experts from impressive places descended on our Commonwealth to advise our state’s lawmakers on what they should do to change our schools. The result was a wholesale transformation of what school was for. The education system was turned upside down.
By the time our oldest child had reached first grade, the new educational regime was in place and the new education ideas were being implemented.

I had taught our oldest how to read, so when he arrived in first grade, we figured this would stand him in pretty good stead, the teacher would be impressed, and he would have an easy time.

So we thought.

But what transpired in the classroom was very different. Among the newest things at this time was something called “whole language instruction.” When my son was given a simple book to read by the new teacher, he began reading and sounding out the words as he went along, which was what we had taught him to do—to read phonetically. But the new teacher was not impressed. In fact, she was not happy at all.

He was not to sound out a word when he came to one he didn’t know. He was to first observe the context of the word, to think of the other words he knew in the surrounding sentence, and think about what the paragraph was about that the word was in. He was supposed to look at the shape of the word and see if there was anything about it he recognized from other words he knew. There were, in fact, about four steps he was supposed to go through before actually sounding out the word.

Spelling instruction in this class was equally exotic. He would come home with papers of things that he had written with comments such as “I love your best guess spelling!” adorning the page on which my son had misspelled several words.

What was this new philosophy that encouraged teachers to praise the mistakes children made instead of what they might have done correctly?

My son learned very little that year, but my wife and I learned plenty. We ended up pulling him out of public school and putting him in a local private Christian school that emphasized basic skills and religious instruction. Like our other three children, he experienced a mix of private and home school instruction until he reached college.

But my own child’s experience piqued my interest. I worked with a conservative public policy organization at the time the new reforms began changing our schools. And I began investigating exactly what this “new” education was.

In the ensuing several years, other aspects of this “new” form of education became apparent. Teachers were not only to no longer teach formal grammar and spelling, but they were not to correct their papers for these things because this would stifle their creativity.

Teachers were not stand up in front of their classrooms and teach, but to play the role of “facilitator” in the education of the children in their classes because children needed to be “active learners” rather than “passive learners.” And students were supposed to choose what they learned through “learning centers” rather than have the teacher directly tell them what they were supposed to do.

The very structure of the classroom was to be changed. No longer would there be rows of desks, a physical arrangement that bespoke order and individuality. Long tables were installed so that children could “collaborate” in “groups.”

Individual subjects were out too. Projects and unit studies would replace them.

The “rote” memorization and “boring” drill and practice which were to be abandoned. These, parents were told, were not only not conducive to learning, but were positive impediments to it.

And then there is the abandonment of the traditional curriculum: the shift from classic literature to amorphous books by unknown authors and the neglect of the standard history curriculum. In fact, there seemed to be no curriculum at all.

Every one of these changes—the back away from basic skills, classroom methodologies that took the teacher out the role of directing the classroom, the shift from tried and true disciplines toward “hands on” methods, and the abandonment of traditional methods of knowledge acquisition and a curriculum—all of these, parents were told, would hinder the acquisition of knowledge.

All of the “new” practices which were to replace these hoary methods of old were sprayed with the thin rhetorical veneer of science. They were “research-based,” and if parents only knew what the experts in colleges of education knew, they would be assured that this is the best way to educate children.

As it turns out, these methods had no compelling research backing. Nor were they new.

As I found out during the reforms of the 90s, most of these methods had been around since the 1920s and had little record of success in educating children. In fact, many veteran educators had seen them come through the schools as recently as the late 60s and early 70s with open classrooms and the New Math.
In fact, almost every one of the supposedly “new” methods of education can be traced back to three documents, all of them written before 1930: Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, written by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education in 1918, and The Project Method and Foundations of Method, written by William Heard Kilpatrick in 1918 and 1925, respectively.

Little has changed except the labels and even some of these were left as they were, figuring that twenty or twenty-five years was sufficient time for parents to forget how badly they had worked the last time they came around.

The pattern of cyclical reform is what I was referring to when I told my wife that “It” was “coming back” and assumed she could read my mind.

How did I know this? Because here I was, in the second decade of the 21st century, hearing the same warmed-over rhetoric I had heard twenty-five years before. Under the guise of what is now being called “21st Century Learning,” the permissivist program we had seen in my first child’s classroom in the early 1990s—and which had been tried at least three times before, was being marketed and the newest education thinking.

Whenever you see news stories that say we need to “deemphasize rote learning,” and “emphasize creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills,” you know It is coming again. The rumbling in the distance constituted by press reports like this is a sign of It’s approach.

The first thing to say about these permissivist reforms is that the practices the reforms say they want to replace have long been banished from the nation’s classrooms. Where can we find this modern Thomas Gradgrind, who, as Dickens wrote in the opening chapters of Charles Dicken’s Hard Times, looks out on this class and proclaims to a colleague: ‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. "

Although this is the image the reformers want to create of the classroom out there, it is almost exclusively a figment of their own imagination. As E.D. Hirsch, Jr. points out in his book The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, reformers “continue to assume that teachers are still giving lectures to docile classes lined up in rows, are still forcing children to engage in rote learning,” and are still insisting on mere accumulation of facts.

In fact, says Hirsch, these practices have been frowned upon in education colleges, professional journals, and in teachers lounges for decades, the victim of the animosity that has characterized the education establishment since the 1920s.

“The continued beating of this dead horse," says Hirsch, "illustrates the extreme disconnection between the stated evils that are said to need reforming and the actual practices of American elementary schools.”

The second point is that, far from suffering from an overdose of memorized knowledge—facts being drilled into their tiny little heads, today’s students suffer not from an overabundance of knowledge, but a decided lack of it. National surveys have shown repeatedly that American children don’t know basic facts about history, geography, literature and don’t do well in mathematics in comparison with nations many of which, ironically, stress rote memorization and drill and practice.

Our educational establishment—the one that we have charged with transmitting the acquired knowledge and wisdom of the ages—is, it turns out, not very I interested in doing this. It is interested instead in “learning styles,” “projects” and “unit studies,” in “child-centered learning,” in “learning centers” and “critical thinking skills”—and in liberating students from, not familiarizing them with, our civilization.

The most salient aspect of modern education is its exaltation of process over content. According to Lynne Cheney, form head of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the late 1980s:

Long relied upon to transmit knowledge of the past to upcoming generations, our schools today appear to be about a different task. Instead of preserving the past, they more often disregard it, sometimes in the name of “progress”—the idea that today has little to learn from yesterday. But usually the culprit is “process”—the belief that we can teach our children how to think without troubling them to learn anything work thinking about, the belief that we can teach them how to understand the world in which they live without conveying to them the events and ideas that have brought it into existence.

When my second son came home from college in the middle of his first year and announced that he wanted to become a teacher, I told him that was fine with me as long as he didn’t become an education major. “Why?” he asked.

“Because they will teach you nothing about what you are supposed to teach and will instead try to train you to be an amateur child psychologist.” After trying to explain that the academic standards in education departments were close to non-existent, he looked at me doubtfully. “If you want your brain removed,” I added, “a lobotomy would be cheaper.”

A couple of months later, he got his textbook for his first education class in the mail. He opened it up while I was standing there. It was titled, “Child Psychology.” He looked at me with a shy grin. “I guess you were right.”

Because of this emphasis on the how of education rather than the what, we are not passing on our culture to our students nor are they acquiring the basic linguistic and mathematical skills they need to do well in their lives and occupations.

Given that the problem education reformers are always trying to solve is the opposite of what the problem really is, such reforms are more likely to make things worse, not better. If the problem is not too much rote memorization but a lack of general knowledge; if the problem is not too much “boring” drill and practice but too much clay and paint and coloring books; if the problem is not too much emphasis on separate subjects but a chaos of disconnected information about which children cannot make sense, then fighting these illusory problems with more of what we are already doing in classrooms will not make things better, but worse.

Before the Cardinal Principles document and Kilpatrick’s The Project Method, there was a system of education that did see it as its job to pass on our culture. It knew that memorization and drill and practice were not boring, but exciting for young children. It saw the teaching of literature and history as things that, properly taught, were not only interesting, but exciting to students. It was called “classical education.”
Classical education saw as its goal to teach children the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, wisdom and virtue through literature and history, and advanced intellectual skills (what modern educators unknowingly call “critical thinking skills”) through the liberal arts.

Classical education wasn’t abandoned because it didn’t work; it was abandoned because new ideas took hold of our education establishment—ideas that, as it turns out, don’t work very well at all.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Highlands Latin School advances to state in middle school division of Science Olympiad

Last weekend, HLS students competed against 21 Science Olympiad teams from Louisville schools. Sixteen HLS students scored first, second, or third in their events.

Highlands Latin is one of three schools to advance to state in the middle school division and one of two schools in the high school division.

More information here.