Saturday, August 30, 2014

Five books that refute atheism

There have been a lot of good books defending Christian theism or refuting atheism, but for my money the following five books (one of philosophy, one of history, one on science, a biography, and a novel) do the best job of demonstrating that modern atheism is an untenable position that cannot intellectually withstand the force of the theistic position:

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, by Edward Feser (philosophy). The great modern defense of Aristotelian-Thomism (The only thing that can really be called "Christian philosophy," despite many attempts to define it otherwise) by one of the great modern Aristotelian-Thomists takes a philosophical wrecking ball to the New Atheism. Feser defends the classical Christian worldview in an enjoyable polemic style (enjoyable, that is, if your not on the wrong end of it) and makes mincemeat of the silly and shallow argumentation of the New Atheists. He shows that arguments such as "But if God is the first cause, who caused him?" betray a total misunderstanding of the cosmological argument, an argument that really cannot be refuted if it is actually understood.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart (History). Hart argues that the moral revolution which we still enjoy the benefits of today was only made possible by the coming of Christianity. Of course, today's secularists, ignorant of the origin of the beliefs that underpin the modern view of such things as human rights, see no problem with holding a secular worldview and, say, being charitable. Hart points out that, for example, the opposition to slavery arose outside the chain of historical causation and was not only introduced by Christianity, but was impossible without it.

The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski (Science). Berlinski received his Ph.D in philosophy from Princeton and was a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology from Columbia University. He is not only a formidable thinker, but one of the greatest prose stylists now writing. There are many people today who think that science somehow undermines religious belief. Berlinski points out that this position betrays a hopeless ignorance of both religion and science. His historical account of the debate over the Big Bang theory shows scientists such as Einstein desperately trying to justify belief in an eternal universe and having to reluctantly face the reality of a universe that has a beginning--a position that theology has held for millenia.

St. Augustine: A Life, by Garry Wills (Biography). Wills, a somewhat heretical Catholic, does a magnificent job showing us the life and thought of the man commonly acknowledged to be the greatest thinker of the first thousand years of the Church. Augustine received the best education of his time, made his way through the various systems of thought in the ancient world, and rose up through the academic ranks to eventually become the Professor of Rhetoric at Milan, the highest academic chair in the Roman Empire. Then, one day on the porch of his mother's villa, after having spend several years confronting the claims of Christianity, he opened up his mother's Bible, and was converted. He was known to have dictated several books to several secretaries at once, and wrote some of the most intellectually formidable defenses of Christianity ever penned, including his great masterpiece, the City of God.

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (Narrative Fiction). Tolstoy may have been the greatest novelist of all time and Anna Karenina was his greatest novel. What many people don't understand about this story is that it is just as much about Levin, a young agnostic nobleman with all the secular prejudices becoming common at the time, as about Anna, the seductress whose affair with a dashing young army officer is her moral and psychological undoing. Through his courtship with the adorable and earthy Kitty, the barricades of his heart are broken through and he begins to see his life in the moral context of the economy of God. In one scene, his future brother-in-law reminds him before his Orthodox wedding that he is obliged to perform the sacrament of Confession, something his agnosticism has prevented him from doing for many years. The priest who, during the mass, Levin thought had just been going through the liturgical motions, surprises him in the confessional with his piercing questions and his understanding of Levin's spiritual conditions. It rocks Levin's world. By the end of the book, Levin realizes, partly through the Christian love of his wife, that his opposition to Christianity is intellectually groundless, and is the result, not of any sound rational objections, but only of his own intransigent attitude.

These are my picks. I would interested in what books have influenced others.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Woody Allen is not a nihilist even though he thinks he is

Fr. Robert Barron on recent comments by Woody Allen:
I was chagrined, but not entirely surprised, when I read Woody Allen’s recent ruminations on ultimate things. To state it bluntly, Woody could not be any bleaker in regard to the issue of meaning in the universe. We live, he said, in a godless and purposeless world. The earth came into existence through mere chance and one day it, along with every work of art and cultural accomplishment, will be incinerated. The universe as a whole will expand and cool until there is nothing left but the void. Every hundred years or so, he continued, a coterie of human beings will be “flushed away” and another will replace it until it is similarly eliminated. So why does he bother making films—roughly one every year? Well, he explained, in order to distract us from the awful truth about the meaninglessness of everything, we need diversions, and this is the service that artists provide. In some ways, low level entertainers are probably more socially useful than high-brow artistes, since the former manage to distract more people than the latter. After delivering himself of this sunny appraisal, he quipped, “I hope everyone has a nice afternoon!”
Fr. Barron then goes on to argue that the mere fact of Allen's aesthetic sense is a sign that he can't believe in his own nihilism, since beauty assumes the transcendent. The same goes, he says, for morality--morality too, positing, as it does, an ought--necessarily implies an order outside the physical. Barron could have added that truth itself implies a transcendent order, since truth is itself a metaphysical concept.

In fact, anyone who claims that nihilism is true is denying his own assertion, since any meaningful statement implies a metaphysical order. In George Steiner's words, any meaningful statement is a "wager on transcendence."

Read more here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What the 20th century's most influential philosopher thought about scientism

Ludwig Wittgenstein
There have been a number of recent skirmishes on the issue of scientism in the last couple of years. In most of these altercations, critics of scientism offer a clear and meaningful definition of the term and then apply to people who practice it, who, in their turn, either question the term 'scientism' altogether, ignoring the clear definitions and claim that it doesn't mean anything, or who deny that their positions fit the meaning despite the fact that they do.

And then there are a few, like the philosophically-challenged Jerry Coyne, who alternatively deny they are practitioners of scientism and engage in it depending on the issue and the day of the week.

Raymond Monk authored one of if not the best biographies of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher whom Monk, among others, considers the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. I think by "greatest," Monk means "most influential," but I may be wrong about that. In any case, I'm closing in on the end of the book and it is truly fantastic.

Monk weighs in on the scientism issue by pointing out Wittgenstein's view of it, which could be summarized as "dim." Wittgenstein helped to spawn, unintentionally and ironically, logical positivism, a scientist school of philosophy that proposed the verification principle of truth. Wittgenstein influenced the Vienna Circle, the group of intellectuals who birthed it, but was never a part of it, and never really endorsed the program, although there are parts of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that the reader can be excused for interpreting as scientistic.

But Wittgenstein was never really a positivist. Partly this is because he was a mystic as well as a philosopher. he believed you couldn't say anything meaningful about God or the transcendental, but he never made the leap to the belief that, because of this, they don't therefore exist.

There are a number of interesting points in Monk's article in the recent issue of Prospect Magazine, but the most basic is just the description of what scientism and why it is fundamentally flawed:
Scientism takes many forms. In the humanities, it takes the form of pretending that philosophy, literature, history, music and art can be studied as if they were sciences, with “researchers” compelled to spell out their “methodologies”—a pretence which has led to huge quantities of bad academic writing, characterised by bogus theorising, spurious specialisation and the development of pseudo-technical vocabularies. Wittgenstein would have looked upon these developments and wept.
There are many questions to which we do not have scientific answers, not because they are deep, impenetrable mysteries, but simply because they are not scientific questions. These include questions about love, art, history, culture, music-all questions, in fact, that relate to the attempt to understand ourselves better. 
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A critique of the patron saint of libertarianism

John Stuart Mill is the patron saint of libertarianism (a word Americans use for what Europeans more correctly--and historically--refer to as simply "liberalism"). Mill's Enlightenment rationalist view of freedom has exercised a mischievous influence of American political thought.

The always excellent Imaginative Conservative has an excellent critique of Mill:
As long as there have been “libertarians,” there has been hero worship of John Stuart Mill. This Nineteenth Century utilitarian author, most famously of On Liberty, has been looked to as a kind of fount of holy writ for individualism. And Mill was an individualist. Unfortunately, he was not a supporter of liberty in any meaningful sense.
It is somewhat odd, frankly, that Mill should enjoy the reputation he does, given the depth and breadth of the written record of his opinions and proposals advocating an administrative state with unchecked power to regulate people’s daily lives. What is more, excellent studies by Joseph Hamburger and, more recently, Linda Raeder, have shown the character and statist intentions of his life’s work. Still, some of the many passages so frequently quoted from his works might give evidence, to those who do not read more and with moderate care, that he was a friend to individual freedom and reasoned, principled service to mankind ...
Read more here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What the Redskins controversy is really about

Now that religious religion is unfashionable, we have to have secular replacements for it. With the cultural decline of traditional religion, we get, as substitutes, either some kind of vague, New Age religiosity or, if you are of a more scientific rationalist bent, you can go in for New Atheism, which makes a religion out of opposing religion.

You can either go to lectures by the Dalai Llama, become a vegan, practice yoga, and advocate for animal rights, or you can take up the Global Warming cause, fight creationism, harass smokers, and go post monosyllabic insults against Christians on P. Z. Myers' blog. Both stem from the same fundamental impulse, which is religious and which, when repressed, manifests itself in any one of the various moralistic secular crusades, all of which involve some cause for which the follower can at least pretend to sacrifice, a cause whose detractors can be plausibly treated as heretics.

In fact, these secular enthusiasms become more extreme and supercilious the less formally religious they are. Having no way to meet their deeper spiritual needs, their acolytes become all the more preachy and intolerant.

Detractors are not just wrong, they are "homophobes," or "sexists," or "IDiots." The gay rights movement is full of it. So are some environmentalist sects.

The irony is that so many of these people profess, not only to be irreligious, but to be ethical relativists at the very same moment that they demand the absolute and unconditional submission to their secular dogma at the cost of cultural ostracism.

Almost anything, however trivial and inconsequential, can serve this secular religious purpose. The most recent example, of course, is the effort to force the Washington Redskins to change their name.

There is very little at stake in this Politically Correct crusade other than the establishment of one's liberal bona fides. There is no rational basis for concerns about the name. There are very few actual Indians who are upset by the mascot, and Washington fans root for the Redskins, not against them. Not a single Indian (Oops, were we supposed to say "Native American"?) will suffer from the sports franchise continuing to use the name and not a single one will benefit from its removal.

Indians, like every other minority, serve as a Politically Correct totem: They are one of the sacramental objects that gives meaning to the lives of secular liberals. The Redskins controversy simply offers another occasion to strike a secular sacramental pose.

When it's over, there will be something equally meaningless to fill the spiritual vacuum.

Friday, August 22, 2014

This is Your Culture on PC: Abortions for men

It gets weirder and weirder:
A Texas pro-abortion organization, Fund Texas Women, has announced that it is changing its name to Fund Texas Choice.  This is because the reference to “women” excludes trans-sexual individuals who now identify as “men” but who still have female reproductive organs and who may thus get pregnant and “need” an abortion.  This is from the announcement
HT: Gene Veith

Since males and females are now interchangeable, surely men have some kind of right to abortion too.

Kalb Speaks: What do traditionalists and progressives really disagree about?

James Kalb, author of two excellent books of political and cultural analysis―The Tyranny of Liberalism and Against Inclusiveness―is one of those rare people who can tell you why people think the way they do. He has another excellent essay on the divide between traditionalists and progressives in the always excellent Crisis Magazine:
A recent account of moral sentiments, proposed by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon, 2012), has attracted attention for its explanation of the difference between progressives and traditionalists.
According to the account, moral judgments typically have to do with six dimensions of concern: care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and sanctity versus degradation. Surveys show that progressives, by and large, are concerned with the care, fairness, and liberty dimensions, while traditionalists are concerned with all six. So it appears that the “culture wars” have to do with the moral status of loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Traditionally minded people accept them as morally important, while their more progressive fellows do not.
But why the difference? It appears, although Haidt’s concerns lie elsewhere, that the difference lines up with the opposition between the modern tendency to view man as radically free and the world as technological, and the traditional, classical, and religious view of man as social, and the world as pervaded by intrinsic meanings, natural ways of functioning, and natural ends.
Read more here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pro-police demonstrations in Ferguson spin out of control

As soon as new evidence leaked out that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was viciously beaten by Michael Brown after Brown had robbed a store, the streets of Ferguson, Missouri began to clear and residents enjoyed a brief moment of calm. But just as it seemed peace was setting in, a new firestorm of protests hit the town, this time from supporters of officer Wilson.

The pro-police demonstrations soon spun out of control. Nicely-dressed police supporters, many of them from out of town, took to the streets and, marching in neat rows, politely called on justice officials to take their time, conduct a careful, deliberative process to find out exactly what had happened, and added that these were just suggestions and that they were in no way trying to force their beliefs on anyone else.

The protests  took a turn for the worse when several national religious figures arrived to show solidarity with the protesters.

Joel Osteen, taking time away from his church in Texas, grabbed a bullhorn and softly announced to the crowd, "God knows your value; He sees your potential. You may not understand everything you are going through right now. But hold your head up high, knowing that God is in control and he has a great plan and purpose for your life." He then urged everyone to join hands and sing "Kumbaya."

Nervous police in riot gear stood by with tear gas at the ready in case the shallow sentimentalism got out of hand. Several people reported seeing police in a canine unit having trouble restraining their dogs, who appeared more and more out of control with each succeeding life fulfillment principle.

The police were then pelted with what they first thought were rocks, but which turned out to be hundreds of "30 Thoughts for Victorious Living" tracts.

One protester reportedly confronted a police officer, yelling, "It’s vital that you accept yourself and learn to be happy with who God made you to be." The officer responded by threatening the man with his gun. The officer was immediately called back to headquarters and given a promotion. He has since been taken off the streets and given two weeks of extra vacation time.

Billy Graham too made a brief appearance. When the 96 year-old evangelist was wheeled up in front of the crowd, he slowly stood up from his wheel chair, raised a shaky fist into the air, opened his mouth, and then keeled over sideways.

Residents of Ferguson, many of whom had watched the earlier anti-police demonstrations with fear and trepidation, responded to the new demonstrations by quickly throwing a few essentials in their cars and permanently leaving town. "Molotov cocktails are one thing," said one fleeing resident, "but if I hear one more way to become a 'better you', I think I'll throw up." "Yeah," said an elderly woman in response. "Bring back the looters."

Police Chief Tom Jackson told the media that the new protesters posed a different kind problem for his force. "Within seconds of issuing a curfew," he told reporters, "Every single one of them left the area instantly, pausing only to pick up any trash they might have left on the ground." Many of the protesters, in fact, thanked the officers on the scene and apologized profusely for any inconvenience they may have caused. "No one can be this law abiding," said Jackson, "We think this is a trick."

Meanwhile critics of the new demonstrations, after having spent recent days criticizing Ferguson police for being too aggressive in dealing with anti-police demonstrations, called on local law enforcement to deal more aggressively with the pro-police demonstrators. "The cops need to start cracking some heads," said Al Sharpton to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He called for more military-style equipment for the Ferguson police force.

"This is a defining moment for this country," he said. "These demonstrators are going to give protesting a bad name."

Mob justice in Ferguson

Rich Lowry at Politico:
The chant “no justice, no peace” is an apt rallying cry for Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters don’t truly want justice and there has been no peace. 
What justice demands in the case of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in disputed circumstances is a full and fair deliberative process that goes wherever the evidence leads. But is anyone marching so that Wilson can go free if the facts don’t support charging him?
Read more here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Journalists brave hail of earplugs in Ferguson

Courageous journalists on the front lines of Ferguson brave hail of earplugs to get their story, says Michelle Malkin:
The J.V.'s have been hailed for their "courage" on the "front lines" -- like veritable 21st-century versions of Audie Murphy and Ernie Pyle! Of course, Audie Murphy and Ernie Pyle would know real bullets when they saw them. But Reilly revealed his abject cluelessness this week when he hysterically tweeted a photo of what he thought were "rubber bullets." They turned out to be high-capacity... ear plugs.
Read more here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson: When enforcing the law is "bad optics"

An example of "good optics"
Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri have experienced another night filled with a lack of sympathy for their irresponsible hooliganism and unjustified criticism for their violent and hysterical reaction to a questionable police shooting.

Many Americans apparently think the problem in Ferguson is out-of-control violence and threats to the safety of the local law-abiding population, when, in fact, the problem is a widespread lack of understanding for the needs of looters and bomb throwers.

Thankfully, more and more commentators on television news and talk radio are beginning to stand up to the larger public and are pointing out the inordinate attachment most people seem to have for safety and order.

Protesters in Ferguson (most of whom admittedly have no connection whatsoever with the alleged victim) are clearly upset about the shooting and have a need to express their feelings by throwing Molotov cocktails and stealing from convenience stores. Surely we can find it within ourselves to understand how they feel. Let's be honest: Think of all the times we have looted a store when we were were down or thrown a gasoline bomb at the local police when we woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

It is astounding how little understanding now only we, but the authorities in Ferguson are willing to give these protesters and how little of their pain the local police are willing to feel.

To make things worse, state and local law enforcement officials seem to think the problem is, well, the problem, when, in fact, the solution is the problem. As the defenders of the protests have argued, the reason for these protests has little to do with the fact that there are a bunch of hoodlums using the shooting as an excuse to destroy things and endanger other people's lives and a whole lot more to do with how prepared the police seem to be to deal with it.

Just what do the police in Ferguson think they are doing with riot gear and tear gas? When would they ever have to use that?

As Newsweek magazine has pointed out, the real problem is the "militarization of the police force." As it turns out the police in Ferguson have weapons. Real guns. As many liberal commentators have observed, it is a basic principle of law enforcement that crime is directly related to a police force's ability to deal with it should it happen.

In short, the better prepared you are to deal with crime, the likelier it is to happen.

Seen from this perspective, crime is a justified response to the preparations police have made to respond to it. It just so happens there is a theory called the "Elaborated Social Identity Model." It even has an acronym, ESIM―proof that it is scientific. ESIM, says Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald , "is the leading scientific theory on managing a boisterous horde of people."

And what more accurate description than "boisterous" is there for is a bunch of fire bomb-throwing hoodlums?

Here's the idea, says this Eichenwald person:
What the ESIM shows is that an angry crowd can be driven to riot if they believe they are being treated unfairly—for example, by being confronted by cops decked out with military weaponry. When police treat a crowd justly and humanely, the chance of an uproar decreases and participants trust law enforcement more, the research shows.
If the police in Ferguson were only up-to-date on their knowledge of modern law enforcement theory, they would know that the equipment police need to deal with violence is not a response to violence but that, instead, violence is a response to the possession by police of the equipment they need to deal with it.

It's science.

Not only that but, as has been pointed out by liberal commentators, the police force's resort to tear gas and dogs doesn't look very good on camera. It's not nearly as great viewing as, say, watching some guy on a security cam walking out of a store with an armful of goods he hasn't paid for.

As it turns out, actually enforcing the law is "bad optics."

If we're going to use tear gas and rubber bullets, they ought to be used on the complacent civilian population that does not care about the rights of violent protesters who clearly need to be brought into line.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why libertarianism is not conservatism

Thomas Hobbes
It's not hard to imagine why it is that more and more conservatives are converting over to libertarianism.

For one thing, it's a whole lot easier to be a libertarian. Like every other ideology, libertarianism dispenses with all other principles than one. It eliminates the need to think about anything other than the one political doctrine. In many ways, it's the path of least resistance.

Libertarians are the political world's One-Note Johnnys: Johnny can only sing one note/And the note is this: freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice has the political advantage of being a procedural belief. It is mechanical rather than organic. It is a political and social mechanism into which you can put a substantive belief on one end, and automatically get a specific policy prescription out the other. In this respect it is in complete alignment with the scientistic spirit of our time.

Classical conservative political philosophy requires thought and wisdom, but libertarianism, as a fully Hobbesian position, involves no real substantive thought at all, only a political calculation.

This position has gotten popular recently because by lopping off any substantive principles addressing the common good (such as those concerning marriage and the family) from their body of belief, they are absolved from having to engage in the difficult job of defending these essential institutions. Freedom of individual choice alone is insufficient as a basis for their defense and from this perspective marriage and the traditional family can be thrown to the political wolves with perfect political consistency and in seeming good conscience.

It also dispenses with the need for any intellectual heavy lifting.

Libertarianism cannot be considered a conservative political philosophy. A conservative political philosophy cannot be reduced to one axiom, to which all other considerations are subordinate.

Reductionist in its essence, libertarianism is an ideology, not a philosophy. In this respect, it is closer to American liberal socialism than to conservatism. In socialism's case, the one exclusive note is social justice (or, rather, their version of it) and to that one note the rest of their song must submit.

Libertarians are stillborn conservatives―as are socialists. This is what Allan Bloom meant when, in The Closing of the American Mind, he referred to "right-wing liberals" and "left-wing liberals." Libertarians are not conservatives at all: They are right wing liberals.

Libertarianism differs from conservatism in that it considers the freedom of the atomistic individual as an end; whereas conservatism considers freedom a means to the end of the common good. Libertarianism is John Locke for the non-thinker; it is Thomas Hobbes for Dummies.

The other means by which the common good is brought about include, among other things:
  • a belief in an permanent and perennial moral order that transcends the individual;
  • that tradition and custom are better indicators what is and what should be because they reflect the wisdom and knowledge of men over time and cultures rather than the narrow perspective of those who happen to be living now;
  • that political solutions require long-term thinking, not just a surrender to the individual whims of the hour;
  • that what works in one time and one place may not be the best thing in another time and another place;
  • that man is morally flawed and therefore Utopia is impossible;
  • that economic freedom presumes the respect for private property;
  • and that a properly operating society requires more than just the government and the atomistic individual, but also voluntary associations like the family, the church, and the civic group
These are, of course, restatements of Russell Kirk, the father of the modern conservative movement. But the Russell Kirks of conservatism have disappeared or fallen silent in the United States, and their place has been taken by the libertarian ideologues.

But libertarianism is an universal political solvent that will eventually destroy itself, largely because to justify itself it cannot depend on a calculus. It must have a substantive reason to ground its belief that the interest of the atomistic individual is supreme, but it cannot supply it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Nature and Grace: The Role of Reason in the Life of Faith

St. Thomas' view of reason:
Reason should minister to faith, that is, serve faith. How does it do this? The simple answer is that it engages in theological science. Theology has many functions. It clarifies first principles and strictly distinguishes them from the conclusions drawn from faith. It removes apparent absurdities and obstacles to faith. It raises and seeks to answer questions that believers might have. It clarifies the content of faith and so gives the believer a detailed account of what he believes. It generates plausible but erroneous or at least partially true opinions in order to expose their shortcomings. In this way, it staves off various heresies. Theology inculcates in believers the habit of thinking clearly about the most important thing in their lives. It serves as a check on emotionality and sentiment, which tend to warp our judgment and lead us astray in matters of faith. Finally, it is a check on self-appointed reformers within the Church, who seek to remake sacred doctrine in the image of their own ideologies, whether theological, social, political, or economic.
The post On Nature and Grace: The Role of Reason in the Life of Faith appeared first on The Imaginative Conservative.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bibles Booted from U.S. Navy Base Guest Rooms

Where is the outrage from the liberals who are always lecturing us about the evils of censorship?
The U.S. Navy will no longer allow Bibles and other religious materials in the guest rooms of Navy lodges, a decision that has infuriated some conservative groups, which recently learned about the new policy. 
The Navy’s decision came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter questioning the constitutionality of religious literature in the Navy lodges’ 3,000 guest rooms.
The June 19 directive from the Navy Exchange Service Command, which runs the Navy’s 39 guest lodges in the U.S. and abroad, allows religious materials to be made available to guests. 
But it forbids religious items to be placed in guest rooms, aligning the command, known as NEXCOM, with U.S. Navy policy, said NEXCOM spokeswoman Kathleen Martin.
On Tuesday the American Family Association made the directive the subject of its latest “action alert,” asking members to call Navy officials to reverse the decision. The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty has called on the Navy to do the same. 
But supporters of the Navy directive, said it rights a constitutional wrong, in that the Establishment Clause does not allow the U.S. government to promote or favor any particular religion.
read more

Monday, August 11, 2014

Does JCPS need its head examined for hiring 15 more mental health counselors?

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) are hiring 15 more mental health counselors in order to "decrease barriers to learning." Of course, there are some who would say that JCPS itself is a barrier to learning.

Public school educators have somehow gotten the idea that if you divert your resources into non-academic areas, it will help academics. No one has apparently noticed that the more time and money we spend trying to make schools into umbrella social service agencies, the less well they seem to do.

One wonders about the relative benefits of 15 new mental health counselors rather than, say, 15 new math or reading teachers.

It makes sense to me, but, then again, I don't have an education degree.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Take Off the Mask: Takeaway line from yesterday's oral arguments before the 6th Circuit

"There is a limit to the democratic process,"

 ―Laura Landenwich, Louisville, Kentucky, attorney representing same-sex couples wanting to redefine marriage.

Glad we got that cleared up.

We don't need a study to tell us that machines are taking our jobs―and making life more difficult

I remember standing in the hallway of the Hilton-Netherlands Hotel in downtown Cincinnati one day waiting for someone from the hotel to come fix at least one of the several broken computers in the "Business Center" with which I had planned to print out a speech I was scheduled to deliver in about 30 minutes.

As I stood there waiting, I noticed on the wall several large framed photographs of the old Netherlands Hotel from what looked to be the 1930s or 40s. The one closest to me was a picture of the phone staff. These were the switchboard operators who managed the hotel's phone system at the time.

That was back in the days, of course, when you used the hotel phones to call someone other than the front desk.

The staff consisted of what looked to be about 10 or 15 employees and consisted mostly of women, young and old. All of them were dressed nicely―in a way that we now would dress only for a formal occasion of some kind (This was back in the day when your job was a formal occasion). These were women who probably didn't have college degrees and didn't need them to do the work they did (as opposed to now when most everybody does have a college degree and doesn't need it for the work they do either).

This kind of job is nonexistent now. Phone systems don't need manual operators anymore. The function these women served is now performed by computers.

Not only are these women gone now, so are their jobs.

As I stood there in front of the photo I started to think of all the jobs that once required actual people to do them that no longer require people because their function has been eliminated or because their job is now performed by something mechanical or digital.

I wondered if the Luddites were right after all in thinking that machines were eliminating jobs and whether those who told us that it would all work out were telling the truth.

We were told that the jobs lost to machines would be balanced by the jobs made by the need to make the machines. But that was when machines were made by people. They are now made by other machines.

The other thing we were told is that the increasing automation of life would make things easier and more pleasant. Well, think again.

I submit that we don't need studies to prove that jobs are being eliminated across the economy by machines. All we have to do is think about all the jobs there used to be that are now gone―thanks either to machines that now do them or by the expectation that we should do them ourselves.

Remember gas station attendants? I guess you have to be of a certain age to remember them, but I am old enough to remember the guys who came to the window of your car when you pulled up at the pump and asked, "Fill her up?"

They were polite. They wore uniforms. And they washed your windows for you and asked if they could check your oil. You paid for your gas and sometimes, if they did a really good job, you handed them a little extra.

They are gone. Replaced by the self-serve pump with the automated credit card processor, which is not nearly as polite. But at least it takes less time―if there is enough paper in the receipt dispenser, which, if there is not, you have to go inside and stand in line at the cash register to request one.

But I'm on my way to the airport. I park in long-term parking and make my way to the ticket desk where I tell the person that I need to check a bag. "Please use the kiosk, sir."

The last time I did this (Recommendation: don't fly American Airlines) there were four kiosks, and it was unclear whether there was one line or two―one for each set of two kiosks. An employee who could have been checking my bag announced that there were two lines. I chose one.

But when one of the two kiosks I was in line for became available, I couldn't get to it because the person standing at the first one was in the way. I did my best, but someone else from the other line―the one that was supposed to be for the other two kiosks got there first. When I finally got there, it took me almost ten minutes to get my bag checked in because the computer was so slow.

Oh, and I got my boarding passes too―which I didn't need, since I had printed them off the evening before from the Internet.

Some twenty-five minutes later, I got my bag checked in when a person finally got involved and gave me a label with a number. Then I was able to get in line at the security checkpoint. And we won't even talk about that.

But the kiosks have this advantage for the airlines: they eliminate the need for the people who once were able to check your bag in a matter of seconds. They don't require health care or a retirement package.

So you arrive safely in the next town, hungry because of the meager fare on the airplane. Plus you need a few toiletries. You stop at the grocery store, where you can now check yourself out, eliminating the need for human cashiers. Having an aversion to self-serve anything, I go do the human operated checkout. The one with the conveyor belt which efficiently transports my hair gel, granola bars, and a travel size shaving cream dispenser about two feet from where I am to where the cashier is.

It must have saved, oh, I don't know, one step, which I have to take anyway to pay for my stuff.

But there's no price on the hair gel and it doesn't seem to be listed on the computer. The cashier has to stop the whole process and call the manager, much to the chagrin of the three people after me in line. But they eventually get there, swipe some card that hangs from the lanyard around their neck, punch a few buttons that allows the process to resume.

While I am waiting I am remembering the ladies that used to punch the keys of the manual cash registers when my mother dragged us to the grocery story when I was little. I remember watching their fingers flying on the keys as they grabbed one item after another and threw them in a bag at a speed at least as fast as the automated checkout process you see now.

When they came to an item that didn't have a price sticker, it didn't matter. They knew the price. Apples? They were ten cents each that week. What competent cashier didn't know that?

If there was a price they didn't know, they didn't have to call a manager, stranding numerous people in line. I don't know exactly what they did do to determine the price, buy I imagine they  probably just made it up on the spot and no one ever knew any better. And when she was done (a brief process), the guy bagging the groceries helped you put them in your car, a favor for which you often gave him a couple quarters.

But these cashiers are all gone, replaced either by people who are entirely dependent on a machine to detect the price or by self-serve checkout machines which have replaced some person entirely. And at some grocery stores there's a bagger, but he's just there to bag, not to help you with your groceries to the car.

No quarters for him.

But this new process allows me to use a card that the store gives me to use when I make purchases that the computer records so I can save money in some way that I have not exactly figured out because I never have time to read the pieces of paper they give me that explain what I have saved. So when the cashier asks me if I have a ****** card, I tell her I do not have one because not only do I not have time to figure out the process by which the card saves me money, but if I had a card from every store that offered one to its customers, I would have to carry five wallets around with me.

If you remember back far enough, you can think of all kinds of jobs that used to exist that are simply no longer there: from the guy who shined your shoes to the boy that delivered your afternoon paper.

But I am not thinking about that right now. I am thinking that I need a place to stay.

But it turns out that checking into a hotel is now a very lonely experience. Where once there was a bellhop to help with the bags, there is a cart―if you can find it. In fact, the only person you usually see is a person behind the desk who puts your name into a computer.

Theoretically, this should be quick and efficient. And since the computer can easily record information, if you stay there again, it should be even quicker.


But in fact, it is much slower. There seem to be multiple screens which the behind-the-counter person has to fill out, taking much longer than it theoretically should. If I didn't know better, I would think he was completely reprogramming the machine every time.

Every time this happens, and it is often, I think of the little motel I stayed at a couple of years ago in some little prairie town I stopped at late at night. An older gentleman took my card, swiped it on one of those old manual card swipers and handed my card back with a receipt, along with my room key.

Ninety seconds. Boom. No taking ten minutes to fill out useless computer screens. Just taking my money and giving me my key.

I stay at hotels in Louisville once every week or two. Sometimes I will stay at the same hotel several weeks in a row. I have yet to have the computer recognize me, despite the fact that I may have stayed at the very same hotel repeatedly. The hotel employee has to re-enter my information every time.

The process is slower and the only advantage the computer has over a manual process―that it can remember data―is not, in fact, an advantage.

And, by the way, where is the bellhop to help with the bags?

Tired from lugging my bags to my room with no help, I decide to arrange for a wake-up call. I'll call the front desk and the person there (assuming he's not reprogramming the computer again) will arrange it for me.

No need.

I pick up the phone and am confronted with a computer that allows me to punch in the time I need to be woken up. It should work. But then, so should my new smart phone alarm. But the last time I tried that, it never went off. Turns out there were multiple volume controls, one of which specifically controlled the alarm, and it was turned off. Since the last two wake-up calls I had arranged at a hotel never manifested themselves into actual calls the next morning, I set my smart phone alarm as well, increasing the chances that I would actually wake up on time the next morning.

But I am daydreaming. In reality, I am still standing there in the hall of the Netherlands Hilton, waiting for the human person to come and fix the non-human computer I need to print my speech. I am thinking that I could have spent that time rewriting my speech by hand.

I am still looking at the photo of all those ladies at the hotel phone switchboard.

I know that one of them would have remembered my wake up call.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Sexual reactionaries on the loose

Oooh. Look. Someone is sympathetic to "traditional sexuality." You remember that: when males had sex with females. No kidding. And they had children. And were raised by a mother and a father who were married.

I know: It's so retro. I mean, is this Ozzie and Harriet or whut?

As it turns out, there are people who actually believe this is, like, the best thing for children. Like it's natural or something.

Isn't there a law against this somewhere?

We go now to Damon Linker for a report on these outliers:
The objections aren’t trivial. Western civilization upheld the old sexual standards for the better part of two millennia. We broke from them in the blink of an eye, figuratively speaking. The gains are pretty clear — It’s fun! It feels good! — but the losses are murkier and probably won’t be tallied for a very long time.

Is the ethic of individual consent sufficient to keep people (mostly men) from acting violently on their sexual desires? 
What will become of childhood if our culture continues down the road of pervasive sexualization? 
Do children do best with two parents of opposite genders? Or are two parents of the same gender just as good? Or better? How about one parent of either gender? What about three, four, five, or more people in a constantly evolving polyamorous arrangement? 
Can the institution of marriage survive without the ideals of fidelity and monogamy? What kind of sexual temptations and experiences will technology present us with a year — or a decade, or a century — from now? Will people be able to think of reasons or conjure up the will to resist those temptations? Will they even try? Does it even matter? 
I have no idea how to answer these questions. 
What I do know is that the questions are important, and that I respect those who are troubled by them. 
And maybe you should, too.
HT: Rod Dreher.