Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Pension Debate: Court Decisions and Double-Standards

When the Kentucky Supreme Court rendered its decision on the controversial case of the state's new pension law, the results were predictable: The (largely) Republican proponents of the pension bill assailed it and the (largely) Democratic opponents hailed it. 

As with most such things, it's a lot more complicated than that. In fact, both sides were wrong in major elements of their reactions.

The Republican Reaction
The Republicans argued that the decision was flawed and that it was some kind of power grab by the Court. It wasn't. To argue that the doctrine of separation of powers prohibits the Court from finding the General Assembly's actions unconstitutional is simply silly. In fact, the decision was quite correct in its conclusion that the General Assembly erred by violating the state constitution's provision that every bill must be read three times before its passage. The title of the bill was read, but the title was the title to the original version of SB 151, a sewer bill.

It inartful to say the least. But opponents of the bill characterized this as somehow malicious. It wasn't. Republican leaders were trying to get the bill through before the end of the session and they gutted another bill in order to do that. Democratic opponents of the law and their cheering section in the media cried their crocodile tears, but they were well aware that their own party has done this many times--and no tears were shed in those cases, nor was there any media outrage.

Pension bill advocates were trying to do the right thing and they did, they just did it the wrong way--a way that has been used many times in our legislature. In fact, I'm thinking there are lawyers out there searching the records to find out all the other laws we have passed this way that are now vulnerable to court challenge.

But in regard to the decision, the Court did what conservatives are always asking courts to do: Not to make policy, not to be a super-legislature, not to be activist, but simply to interpret the clear language of the Constitution.

What does the Constitution say? "Every bill shall be read at length on three different days in each House." (Section 46) Boom.

Why the Court Was Right
The court was right. As the majority decision declared:

... we agree that the mode chosen by the General Assembly to "read" a bill passes constitutional muster, we are constrained to the conclusion that SB 151, as finally enacted, never received such readings in either legislative chamber.

The Court said that, whatever else was the case, reading a title having to do with sewer legislation did not meet the criterion of "read in full." Again, the majority opinion:

The words "SB 151" were, indeed, "read" three times but the title read along with that designation each time was "AN ACT relating to the local provision of wastewater services." Although read only by title, the title by which SB 151 was read never had any connection with the subject matter of the measure enacted: "AN ACT relating to retirement," nor did it connote any information to signify that the act related to public pensions or the retirement benefits of public employees. Nothing in the utterance of the bill's numerical designation, SB 151, conveyed any information that the reading was related to a pension reform bill. The title as read in each chamber pertained to the local wastewater services measure that was discarded.

There is simply no disputing this. It didn't happen. Yes, everyone knew what bill they were voting on, whatever the title it bore. But the Constitution is the Constitution.

One Problem with the Decision
The only problem with the majority of the decision is that, if you read Section 46 literally, as they had to read it in order to overturn the pension bill, then no bill passed in the last session of the General Assembly in the last session or any session prior to it (unless you go back about a hundred years) was really read "in full." The only thing read is the bill's title. So, if we're getting picky, which the Court has to do to justify its ruling, then every piece of legislation passed in recent times is subject to being stricken down on Constitutional grounds.

The majority opinion clearly recognizes this, since it goes to Byzantine lengths to justify ignoring the full import of the language. After doing the Pepto Bismol dance for about three paragraphs, the opinion states:

We are satisfied that the common legislative practice of reading only the title of the bill and electronically publishing simultaneously the full text of the bill to the electronic legislative journal available on every legislator's desk satisfies the constitutional mandate of§ 46.

Oh, really? The problem with that just a few paragraphs later it rejects the identical argument from the state that gutting a bill and passing it under an incorrect title is common practice in the General Assembly. In almost thirty years of observing the Legisature, I have seen it time and again.

Is there a net you can make with holes small enough to capture bills read with the wrong titles but large enough to let through bills that are not, in fact, read "in full?" Probably. Gutless decisions can still be correct. But still, it weakens its rhetorical and judicial force. If you're going to use plain language to justify your ruling, you shouldn't equivocate on it elsewhere.

And if this sounds nit-picky, read Justice Vanmeter's concurring opinion, which makes just this point:

The primary concern advanced in this case is that the three-day readings requirement of§ 46 was not followed. I agree with that conclusion, but I also note other constitutional requirements regarding reading at length seemingly were not complied with either. "Reading by title" does not equate to "reading at length" as required by §§ 46 and 56. The Senate sessions are televised and are readily available through the Legislative Research Commission's website. Senate Bill 151, in its original form relating to the provision of local waste water services, purportedly had its first reading on March 12, 2018. It appears not to have been read at length. Are the plain provisions of our Constitution mandatory, or not?

Either be nit-picky or don't be nit-picky. But to do it one part of a sentence and not another looks like special pleading of a sort.

Would the result of observing the literal meaning of the Constitution in this context result in absurdity, as the Court says? Maybe. But Justice Vanmeter has a solution (different from the Court's, which was to fudge): 

A better solution to the concern that the exigencies of modern society make reading at length impractical is that contained within the Kentucky Constitution: amendment.

The Reaction by Pension Bill Opponents Was What We Have Come to Expect
Meanwhile the opponents of the pension bill, made up in large part by the credulous hordes commanded by the KEA and led by Attorney General Andy Beshear, made it sound as if the decision somehow implicated the content of the legislation, and, of course, it did nothing of the kind. The Court's objection was purely procedural. It had nothing to do with whether it was good or bad policy.

They also put on their outrage against a General Assembly that would (prepare yourself) pass important legislation by bending the rules. Um, ever heard of KERA? Where were these defenders of good government when the House physically stopped the hands of the clock in the chambers so they could, by violating the rules, pass the bill?

"[W"hy can’t Republicans govern openly and honestly? said Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "[W]hy can’t they follow normal rules and procedures for enacting laws?" Really, Tom? Like the Democrats always did? Do you miss Greg Stumbo, the great paragon of political probity? Where do you hide your outrage when its the Dems do these things? Is it hard to do? Do you feel bad about it afterwards?

Eblen calls defined benefit pensions "traditional, secure pensions." Is that why the private sector is abandoning them? Someone who talks about "careful analysis" doesn't exactly have a lot of credibility when he talks about "thoughtful solutions" and "careful analysis" to policy problems.

The fact remains that our pension system is both horribly underfunded and antiquated in its design. When I worked in employee benefits in the 1980s, defined benefit plans were already largely a thing of the past and the ones that remained were being phased out in private companies. But state governments like Kentucky, always trying to catch up with the trends of the previous century (just take a look at their websites), marched contentedly on. 

The pension law struck down by the court was flawed in the process of its passage, but it was about the best course available. In fact, the Republicans ought to be congratulated for dispensing with the practice of kicking the can down the road of their Democratic predecessors and being willing to take the political hits for doing the right thing.

And the Governor's decision to call a special session of the General Assembly to pass the bill? Good for him. It was swift and decisive. And, given that it comes near the holidays means we won't have ill-informed people shouting insults from the back of the room at legislators trying to do their work (as happened in at least one hearing I saw).

No one can argue now, after several months of discussion about the pension bill, that passing it now is rushed. We've talked plenty about it. Now do it, with three readings, please.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Schools should be teaching history, not protesting it

My most recent post at Intellectual Takeout:
A number of teachers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have pledged to withhold more than 2,000 grades in protest over the university's plans to house "Silent Sam" in a separate on-campus building. Silent Sam is a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood in the quad at the university until students illegally toppled it earlier this year. 

... Any faculty or student protester wanting to participate in the desecration of historical monuments should have to take a history test.
When student or faculty mobs begin to gather on the green of a college or university, and indicate by their mindless chants and sloganeering that they wish to take down a monument, and when college administrators (not the most resolute or principled people) begin to experience anxiety and cowardice in the face of established rules of behavior, there should be a team of people ready to run out on the green with portable tables, pencils, and test forms.

... You can't topple the statue until you pass the test. 

Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why is America Divided? Are contemporary political debates really more divisive?

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout:
In one sense political divisiveness has always been with us. The United States was birthed in political animosity ... 
... So why do we think the divisiveness of modern politics is so historically unique? How can some people say that the debates of our own time are worse than those which not infrequently consummated in two men firing pistols at each other? 
Is there some sense in which contemporary political debates are divisive in a way the older ones were not? How exactly does the attack on Fox News host Tucker Carlson's home differ from a duel?
Read the rest here.

Friday, November 09, 2018

#Logic and Meaningfulness: Do Truth Tables Imply a Limited View of Meaning?

I received an email the other day from someone who had come across my article "Logic and Reality Why Traditional  Logic Does Not Use Truth Tables" (an article that appears on this blog as "Why Traditional Logic Doesn't Employ Truth Tables"). He said that he understood me as suggesting that modern logic "isn't meaningful," and, if this was true, he didn't quite see how it could have value in scientific application or computer science as I seemed to suggest that it did. I thought I would share my answer to him, since posts on logic tend to be among my most read posts on this blog.

I think (and I have not thought this all the way through, so it is still a little experimental), broadly speaking, that the logical thinking that produces the truth tables (specifically Wittgenstein's early positivism) is a kind of thinking that inherently disallows meaning per se--or at least meaning as we think of it. 

When Wittgenstein, who invented the truth tables, says at the beginning of the Tractatus, "The world is everything that is the case," he seems to be positing a sort of sterile, Humean world in which there are things and relationships between things about which we make assertions that have "truth value." The truth tables, it seems to me, by virtue of the way they work, embody this view of reality. It would seem that meaning in such a world is problematized--or at least meaning as it manifests itself in such a world (rather than simply being read onto the world by the human mind) has little of the character we ascribe to it in normal mortal speech and thought.

In regard to modern symbolic logic's application to scientific application and computer science, I think the issue is how the tools of these disciplines limit their meaningfulness. Modern symbolic logic limits itself to the exclusively formal, and because of this limitation, it cannot encompass all we mean in our everyday speech (something Wittgenstein, if I understand him correctly, later realizes). Modern symbolic logic limits itself to the extensional or quantitative aspects of words and statements and does not take account of its comprehensional or qualitative character. 

Another way to say this is that the extensional use of language restricts us to seeing things only from the outside, while the comprehensional use of language allows us to see into the nature of things--and which kind of thing you are. Science, employing methodological naturalism, can only see things from the outside. Likewise computers, which are limited by their mechanical nature--the only difference between the two being that the scientist, being a human being with a soul, can step out of his scientific role and see into things (through philosophy, poetry, etc.), while computers, being mechanical, cannot. 

You have to have a very limited view of language to think that any language that can treated adequately in truth tables. Traditional logic does not limit itself in this way. It is comprehensional in a way that modern logic is not. Traditional logicians recognize that there are aspects of reality implicated in logic that are not purely formal, which is why it incorporates certain aspects of philosophical metaphysics in its study (mostly incidentally in formal logic, but fairly extensively in the branch of logic called material logic). 

So it isn't the kind of logic natural and computer science uses that would limit the meaning of what it expresses--it is rather the methodological limitation it imposes on itself that limits the meaning it can have, and the kind of logic it uses is used precisely because it suits their purposes.

In regard to conditional statements specifically, I'm not saying that the view of modern logic in which a conditional statement of the form "If P, then Q" is true when the antecedent is false is meaningless. I'm saying that viewing it that way is a denial of what we actually mean when we use such a statement. In other words, it may mean something, but it doesn't mean what we mean it to say in normal speech (or any other kind outside of the formalities of modern logic).

I don't think this is a matter of context; I think it is a matter of metaphysical assumptions. If you are a philosophical nominalist, then you will accept the truth conditionality of conditional statements and reject the everyday meaning of them. Whereas if you are a critical realist, you will accept the everyday meaning of conditional statements and reject the truth table view.

I think it's that simple. But I'm always open to another view that makes more sense.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Dems who opposed #JeffSession's appointment now oppose his ouster

This is priceless:

Democrats today are protesting Trump's firing of Jeff Sessions. House Justice Chairman-to-be Jeff Nadler (D-NY) tweeted, "Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept."


Does anyone remember the Democrats position on Jeff Sessions when he was appointed? Anyone remember when all nine Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted against his nomination? Anyone remember all but one Democrat voting against him on the floor vote? Anyone remember then-Sen. Al Franken challenging his civil rights record?

Here is Elizabeth Warren on Jeff Sessions, circa June 12, 2017:
"He needs to be fired. He needs to be taken out of that job," Warren told “The Axe Files,” a joint podcast between CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics that is hosted by Democratic strategist David Axelrod.
Here was Warren's tweet today, November 7, 2018 AD:
.@realDonaldTrump’s firing of Jeff Sessions brings us one step closer to a constitutional crisis. Congress must act to ensure that Special Counsel Mueller can do his job without interference.
It has been said that Democratic positions are determined purely by Trump's positions: If he is for something, they are against it; if he is against something, they are for it. Today provides further evidence of this thesis.

Friday, October 05, 2018

What Anti-Black Lynch Mobs and the People Chanting "#BelievetheWoman" Have in Common

From Rod Dreher at the American Conservative:
In my rural Southern town, back in the 1940s, a black man and a white woman were discovered in sexual congress. The woman accused him of rape. The sheriff and two deputies hunted the black man down through the woods, captured him, dragged him back to the jailhouse, and lynched him. Days later, the white accuser broke down under the weight of her conscience. She confessed that the black man had been her lover. She had accused him of rape to save her own reputation in that white supremacist culture.
They "believed the woman." I guess that made it all okay.

The Bonfire of the Legalities: Niall Ferguson on the #KavanaughHearings

Oxford historian Niall Ferguson on the feminist Sharia law that White male-hating feminists seem to want to impose:
Having watched Ford testify, I have little doubt that she believes the truth of what she said. But as an historian who has spent many long hours interviewing people about past events, including in some cases highly personal matters, I do not regard that as good enough to destroy the reputation of a distinguished judge.

Human memory is, generally speaking, bad at history. Were I writing Kavanaugh's biography, I could not possibly depict him, on the basis of uncorroborated testimony provided long after the fact, as a man who attempted rape in his youth and lied about it later. His memory is also unlikely to be perfect. But his story — that, as a young man, he glugged beer and had the usual Catholic hang-ups about sex — is more plausible.

"Maybe so," comes the response, "but the Republicans used devious delaying tactics to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court." The difference is that Garland's reputation was not destroyed in the process.

The #MeToo movement is revolutionary feminism. Like all revolutionary movements, it favors summary justice. Since April 2017, more than 200 men have been publicly accused of some form of sexual offense, ranging from rape to inappropriate language. A few of these men seem likely to have committed crimes and are being prosecuted accordingly — notably the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. But #MeToo seems to have created a single catch-all crime, in which rape, assault, clumsy passes, and banter are elided into one.

With a few exceptions, reputations have been destroyed and careers ended without due process. "I believe her" are the fateful words that, if uttered by enough people, perform the roles of judge and jury.
Read more at http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1018/ferguson100418.php3#JABxeUIQT0wK8TpO.99

Monday, October 01, 2018

The "It's Not a Court Proceeding" Argument: The Left's Mob Mentality

I can't count how many times I have heard it during the Kavanaugh discussion: Someone points out the importance of due process and the presumption of innocence and the response is, "This is not a court proceeding. This is a job interview."

Uh huh.

Let's talk about the first issue, the presumption of innocence and due process. Why do these things characterize a court proceeding? Because they help assure that justice will be done. The consequences of a court decision are, in many cases, life-changing, and so we utilize rules that bring the greatest assurance of justice.

Of course a congressional hearing is not a court hearing, but does that mean its proceedings should not be just? Shouldn't the process of selecting a judge (who presides over court hearings, the whole point of which is justice) be just?

What exactly is the liberals' argument against justice?

You can have courtroom justice or mob justice. You can have the kind of justice you see in our justice system or you can have the kind of justice you see on The View.

In my opinion, anyone who doesn't believe that confirmation processes for judges should be just doesn't belong on a legislative committee that approves judges.

And a job interview? Yes, we all remember being asked by our prospective employers to submit our high school yearbooks for scrutiny.

Monday, September 24, 2018

It's time for the Republicans to show what they're made of

As I write this, another accuser has come forth accusing Kavanaugh of sexual impropriety. This one from college. Like the Ford charge, there are manifold problems, among them the lack of corroboration. They are charges that would have no force in a court of law and the Ramirez charge shouldn't even have been published by the normal standards of journalism (or at least the ones that used to be normal until ideology completely consumed ethical considerations among America's left-wing media).

In fact, there was a reason several other major mainstream news sources passed on the Ramirez charges (at least according to several reports): There was simply no corroboration of the charge and she wasn't even certain of what had happened until she had six days with people who had a political interest for her to remember it just right before she had any "clarity."

If these charges prove enough for Republicans to back down, then no one is safe. No conservative nominee will ever be confirmed.

Let's be clear on a couple of things.

First, we would not be where we are if Republican leaders in the Senate had done what they were supposed to do, which was to stick with proper protocol and go ahead with the originally scheduled vote. In diddling around they have lent credence to charges that of themselves have little credibility.

This is what happens when you don't have the courage of your convictions and instead start putting political calculation above what you know to be right. If they had gone ahead with the originally scheduled vote, the Ford charges would rightly be receding in the rear-view mirror of ignobility, and Ramirez would still be sorting out whether anything really happened.

Second, Tucker Carlson is right. I normally refrain from quoting Fox News hosts, since journalistic standards there can sometimes be as low as those at CNN. But it's a fact: If congressional Republicans can't confirm Kavanaugh, then there is no reason to vote for them.

In fact, Republican voters should pledge not to vote for any candidate who doesn't support Kavanaugh. Some of these people don't come with backbones and they need to be provided with them by the voters. Kavanaugh does not deserve having his life destroyed because Republicans couldn't stand up for him

Yes, Republicans are in a dilemma, but they are the ones who put themselves in it in the first place. Now their choice is between placating the left or responding to their conservative constituency. Choosing the former means they're irrelevant. Choosing the latter will cost them, but they will only have themselves to blame. 

Letting the left win now will only mean that they will win again and again and again.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part II

This is the second of two posts addressing some specific points made recently in a critique of my recent post "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," on the Sept. 20 broadcast of "Critical Thinking for Everyone," a show hosted by two critical thinking skills scholars, Patty Payette and Brian Barnes. The first post can be found here.

The first five minutes of the show seemed to be intended to address the question, "Who is this guy?" A description of me, apparently gained through a quick Google search, provided fodder for several minutes of speculation and criticism.

One of the key areas of concern seemed to be my qualifications for writing a logic textbook. I have written several texts for high school students (although they are used at the college level as well in several places) that are fairly widely used in classical liberal arts schools across the country and are now being translated into Russian and Dutch. But Dr. Barnes judges them deficient--despite the fact that he has never laid eyes on them.

"I would say," said Dr. Barnes, "that a B.A. [in philosophy and economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara] would not qualify him to write these books."

I'm not sure where one goes to determine the qualifications for writing high school logic texts. And I realize that in Dr. Barnes' world of higher education certification counts for, well, almost everything. Surely there is something to be said for gaining a Ph.D in a subject, particularly if you want to teach it on the post-secondary level (which I don't, which is why I never bothered to get one).

One of the reasons I find Barnes' criticism problematic is because I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program. In fact, I was one of the only undergraduates in the upper level advanced logic programs (taught by Francis Dauer, a student of Willard Van Orman Quine at Harvard, whose text we used) and I believe I took all the logic courses that an M.A. or a Ph.D would have taken. If I took the same logic courses as the graduate students in the program, then how exactly would a graduate degree have better equipped me in that particular subject? Would I be more qualified if I got a Ph.D and took additional non-logic courses?

Furthermore, is a Ph.D either a necessary or sufficient condition for being able to write a competent logic text?

Let's think about two scenarios. First, someone with a Ph.D writes a deficient text (it has been done); second, someone without a Ph.D writes a competent text. Under what circumstances would you ever prefer the former over the latter?

I am assuming Barnes would admit that both scenarios are possible. But to admit the possibility of the first scenario is to admit that a Ph.D is not a sufficient condition to do such work. And to admit the possibility of the second is to admit that it is not a necessary condition for doing it. So I am unclear as to how he comes to his judgement.

If my text is a good text, then I am ipso facto qualified to write it. In other words, my writing a good logic text is a sufficient condition for judging me qualified to write one. So the only way to make the judgment he made is to know whether my text is a good text. But he doesn't know this, since he has never seen it.

Therefore his judgment is completely unfounded.

Dr. Barnes might want to read William James famous essay, "The Ph.D Octopus," in which the great psychologist and philosopher discussed the absurdity of the academic obsession with what he disdainfully calls "the three magical letters"--a problem far worse now than when he wrote the essay in 1903.

The number of Ph.Ds per square inch in our society today is reaching alarming proportions. If we had detectors for such things, they long ago would have sounded their alarms. You can't leave your front door before tripping over unemployed Ph.Ds looking for a handout.

This is undoubtedly the result, not only of Ph.D's being too easy to get, but a proliferation of subjects in which you can get them. If we are intellectually honest, we will admit that a Ph.D is not necessarily a guarantee that the person who has it is a well-educated person. I meet them all the time: people who have letters next to their names who neither know much nor have acquired the skills to productively acquire knowledge. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that there are otherwise reputable institutions of learning out there that are little better than degree mills.

There are people with Ph.Ds in a particular subject who are qualified to write books on that subject and people with that degree who aren't. And there are people who have Ph.Ds in certain subjects who write books entirely outside their field. In fact James, who is considered by many to be the greatest American philosopher of the 20th century had an an advanced degree in medicine but he didn't even have a bachelors degree in philosophy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Critical Thinking Skills Crisis: A response to criticisms of "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," Part I

An essay I wrote several years ago and which Memoria Press recently republished was the subject of a radio discussion program at forwardradio.org yesterday. The essay was "The Critical Thinking Skills Hoax," and the radio program is "Critical Thinking For Everyone" (click "all shows" and scroll to the bottom, show #39), hosted by Patty Payette and Brian Barnes, two critical thinking scholars at the University of Louisville.

The link to the show that discusses my article does not appear to be up yet, but you might check in later if you are interested.

Although the title of my article was intentionally hyperbolic, in the thesis of my article there was no hyperbole at all. It was that the vast majority of educators who talk about "critical thinking skills" are incapable of defining the term, and that it serves, practically speaking, as a promotional slogan and an excuse for the failure to do things essential in education, such as teaching academic content to students.

In the article I said, "Not one in a hundred even knows what he means by this term," a common figurative expression like "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," or "her eyes were as wide as saucers," or "he was as skinny as a toothpick." But apparently critical thinking professionals are more literally-minded that most. Near the beginning of the program, Barnes challenged this statement by pointing to a study that purportedly found that fully "nineteen out of a hundred" educators could define critical thinking skills.

Of course this assumes that those performing studies to determine the percentage of educators who could define critical thinking skills could themselves define critical thinking skills. And I contend that not one in a hundred researchers who do such studies could define critical thinking skills.

I said "vast majority," but, in fact, in my own private, unofficial survey of educators, I have yet to encounter anyone who can give me a coherent definition. And I have talked to far more than a hundred educators on this topic.

In fact, I was waiting to hear a definition of it on the show, but I never heard one. At one point a list of examples of critical thinking skills practices was given. I guess that constitutes a rudimentary connotative definition, and that is certainly informative, but it doesn't constitute the kind of clear, essential, delimited definition (what one would be called a denotative definition) that one would need to have in order to properly design and implement programs that would be useful in schools, which I gather is one of the themes of this show.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll discuss that in a later post.

I will be posting several responses to comments made on the show, none of which, I hope, will not be so impudent as to cause the "Critical Thinking for Everyone" people to retract the gracious offer they have made to me to come on their show to respond, which, according to Patty Payette, the show's host, should be sometime in October or early November. I'll post the date here when we have one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My appearance on last week's "Kentucky Tonight" on Sports Wagering

Renee Shaw and guests discuss sports betting. Scheduled guests: Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky; State Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg; Stan Cave, Lexington Attorney; and State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, Licensing, Occupations, & Administration Regulations Committee Chair.
(Click on image to see the show)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The #CatholicChurch #priest abuse scandal is not primarily about #pedophilia or clericalism, says Phoenix priest

"The secular world which promotes homosexuality as a positive good had no choice but to spin the sex abuse scandal as predominantly a problem of pedophilia, the abuse of children to avert the attention from the truth staring them in the face..."

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Scientific Hubris: Why #Science Can't Answer All the Big Questions

Big Think has printed another of a class of essays, written by scientists, common these days, announcing in triumphant tones all the things that science can do outside its particular and limited domain. It was a reprint from an earlier post at Aeon. Almost without exception, these essays, which implicitly aspire to philosophical eloquence, fly too close to the sun. The only difference being that, while Icarus was able to gain a little altitude before the wax started melting, these writers never gain much altitude at all before flaming out.

These articles have a number of characteristic features. First, they are usually written by scientists almost completely unfamiliar with the philosophical issues they seem to feel qualified to address; second, they betray a marked ignorance of their own unquestioned metaphysical assumptions, assumptions outside the realm of science altogether, and which, moreover, are often question-begging; and third, their chief rhetorical mode of procedure is not reasoning, but a kind of naive optimistism that often descends into cheer-leading.

"Science," says author Peter Atkins, in his article "Why it’s only science that can answer all the big questions":

has proved itself to be a reliable way to approach all kinds of questions about the physical world. As a scientist, I am led to wonder whether its ability to provide understanding is unlimited. Can it in fact answer all the great questions, the ‘big questions of being’, that occur to us?

Well, first of all, why should we think it is unlimited? There are obvious limitations to science. Like all disciplines, it is limited by the unique tools at its disposal: in the case of science, it is the tools of mathematics and empirical observation. The tools of science are quantitative; they are therefore limited in the possible answers they might give to quantitative answers. 

When a scientist is faced with a non-scientific, qualitative question, he should realize that he is out of his water and would be better off treading lightly.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. History has produced a number of scientists who were also formidable philosophical minds. Alfred North Whitehead was one. Henri Poincare was another. A number of physicists (I'm thinking of Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, and, more recently, Paul Davies) have been able to cross over and still make sense. Even popular science writers like Martin Gardner and Stephen Jay Gould were able to sound articulate even when they took off their scientific hats.

Unfortunately, Atkins is not among this august assembly.

First, he makes a distinction between two kinds of "big questions." The first, he says, 

include questions of purpose and worries about the annihilation of the self, such as Why are we here? and What are the attributes of the soul? They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence. Thus, as there is no evidence for the Universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul (except in a metaphorical sense), there is no point in spending time wondering what the properties of that soul might be should the concept ever be substantiated. Most questions of this class are a waste of time; and because they are not open to rational discourse, at worst they are resolved only by resort to the sword, the bomb or the flame.

"They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence." Hmmm. How do we know this? What evidence is there for the statement "The only real questions are questions based on evidence"? It is a metaphysical assumption that is simply unverifiable in itself and suffers from not being able to comply with its own criterion, since there is no evidence for it.

Then he takes a little, hidden leap: These kinds of questions "are not open to rational discourse." In other words, metaphysical questions are not rational because there is no evidence for them. But there are all kinds of mathematical questions that depend on no evidence at all. Geometry is full of them: They're called axioms and postulates. There is no evidence for them at all. We simply assume them.

The field of logic itself has all kinds of assumptions for which there is no evidence that even Atkins would be loathe to reject, among which is the Law of Non-Contradiction.

And then there is science itself. As the 18th century philosopher David Hume pointed out, the major premise in induction is that the future will always be like the past. There is no evidence for it. None. In fact, it is impossible for there to be evidence for it. Scientists postulate that there is such a thing as cause and effect. But these are metaphysical conceptions which, again, as Hume pointed out, are completely beyond the reach of evidence. Empirically speaking, there is only correlation. To posit cause and effect is to go entirely beyond the actual evidence.

And even supposedly empirical science goes beyond the evidence. Where, for example, is the empirical evidence for dark matter?

The second kind of "big question" is the kind of questions that 

include investigations into the origin of the Universe, and specifically how it is that there is something rather than nothing, the details of the structure of the Universe (particularly the relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles), and the nature of consciousness. These are all real big questions and, in my view, are open to scientific elucidation.

Well, okay. This is a mixed bag. The question of the "nature of consciousness" is something very different than the "relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles." How is the nature of consciousness even conceptually empirical? He gives no account.

And here is where Atkins employs a typical scientistic trope to make something sound scientific when it is not: "How is it that there is something rather than nothing?" is a disguised form of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is the trick that Laurence Krauss pulls in his book A Universe from Nothing (somewhat unfortunately subtitled Why There is Something Rather than Nothing), as I pointed out in my review of that book.

To get the general idea, compare Atkins reasoning here:

The first class of questions, the inventions, commonly but not invariably begin with Why. The second class properly begin with How but, to avoid a lot of clumsy language, are often packaged as Why questions for convenience of discourse. Thus, Why is there something rather than nothing? (which is coloured by hints of purpose) is actually a disguised form of How is it that something emerged from nothing? Such Why questions can always be deconstructed into concatenations of How questions, and are in principle worthy of consideration with an expectation of being answered.

With Krauss' here:

At the same time, in science we have to particularly cautious about "why" questions. When we ask, "Why?" we usually mean "How?"

... So I am going to assume that what this question really means to ask is, "How is there something rather than nothing?" "How" questions are really the only ones we can provide definitive answer to by studying nature, but because this sentence sounds much stranger to the ear, I hope you will forgive me if I something fall into the trap of appearing to discuss the more standard formulation when I am really trying to respond to the more specific "how" questions.

This is the practice Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek has likened to throwing a dart against a blank wall and then, only afterward, drawing a target around it. You take the why question, change it into a how question, and, presto, it becomes amenable to scientific resolution.

It's hard to believe that this move is not just intellectually dishonest. "Why" questions "are often packaged as Why questions for convenience of discourse"?!!! No, actually they're not. They're two entirely different kinds of questions, and Martin Heidegger, who famously asked the "Why" question about something and nothing, would have had a good laugh (which is a rare thing for a serious German philosopher) if he had heard this kind of nonsense.

Then, as if he had not already displayed enough hubris, Atkins says:

I see no reason why the scientific method cannot be used to answer, or at least illuminate, Socrates’ question ‘How should we live?’ by appealing to those currently semi-sciences (the social sciences) including anthropology, ethology, psychology and economics.

Wait a minute. I could have sworn that Atkins said that questions like this "are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence." And now questions of how we should live are open to scientific inquiry?

As Chesterton once said,

To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value. I want my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.

Finally, possibly because he is clearly having problems operating an argument, Atkins just settles for an altar call and asks everyone to come forward:

The lubricant of the scientific method is optimism, optimism that given patience and effort, often collaborative effort, comprehension will come. It has in the past, and there is no reason to suppose that such optimism is misplaced now. Of course, foothills have given way to mountains, and rapid progress cannot be expected in the final push. 

Amen, Halleluiah. 

In the rest of the paragraph whence those sentence came I counted four maybe's and one perhaps. Would if the enthusiasm were supported by actual, shall we say, evidence.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Do you use too many exclamation marks? Stop it!!!

My newest post at Exordium:
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Katherine Bindley writes of the debate over whether exclamation marks are overused. It is an issue teachers in particular should read, they being among the most cavalier of exclamation mark users. 
How many times have you seen a note from a teacher that reads, “You did a great job!!!” or “It’s so good to have you in the class!!!” “Awesome!!!”
Let’s admit it: There are some teachers who end literally every sentence with an exclamation mark. 
It isn’t as if we are more enthusiastic than we used to be. John Keilman at the Chicago Tribune writes: 
This grammatical sea change has been a rough transition for a lot of us old timers, given that our teachers trained us to regard exclamation points as the Donald Trump of punctuation: loud, overbearing and best endured in small doses. Using them for anything but the most passionate interjection was the sign of a lunatic or an airhead. 
But oh, how times have changed!!!
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What #Putin is Doing and what the West is Not Doing At All

My newest post at Intellectual Takeout:
This weekend's Wall Street Journal featured an interesting article about Hungary, a former Soviet bloc country that fled to NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is now moving closer to Putin's Russia. As the article mentions, it is one more example of the break up of the Cold War anti-Soviet alliance, and another diplomatic victory for Putin.
But more importantly, it returns us to the issue of why it is that the West is experiencing this long, slow breakup--and what Putin is doing right.
Here is what Putin is doing right and what the West is--not doing wrong--but not doing at all: First, he is providing his people with a transcendent meaning and purpose through an official religion, that of Christianity, while the West thinks it can keep cultural cohesion through meaningless secular liberal abstractions.
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

#Science 's Useful Fallacy

My article in the most recent Classical Teacher magazine:
The expression “the science is settled” has been invoked as a way to end numerous discussions of scientific importance. On issues involving evolution, dietary science, or exercise physiology, it is not uncommon for one side to claim that the research has settled the issue. But, however much evidence there may be for any particular scientific theory, is the science of it ever really “settled”? 
Although many scientists don’t like to hear it, the nature of scientific reasoning itself prevents any scientific theory from ever being settled. The problem of the level of certainty in scientific judgments goes much deeper than any specific issue. It has to do with the very kind of logic science must employ in order to come to its conclusions. To put it bluntly, scientific reasoning is based on a logical fallacy, and because of this fact, science is never settled. 
...The fact that the chief mode of scientific reasoning is a fallacy is not an excuse for dismissing science. Far from it. But it should be a lesson to us that, though certain theories may be said to be well-established, the findings of science are always to some extent tentative.
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Three Classical Terms

My article in the most recent issue of the Classical Teacher magazine:
I have given many speeches and written many articles on the subject of what classical education is. One of the things I have realized in doing so is that, among the many impediments to understanding what classical education is, there is the simple problem of the lack of clarity in the words we use to talk about it. There are three terms that those of us involved in classical education like to throw around, terms we sometimes use interchangeably and simultaneously or in some other way that obscures their meanings. 
We are in no danger of being arrested by the language police over this, but our approach to classical education and our execution of it depend on our understanding of what these terms mean and how they are distinct. 
The three terms are: “classical,” “liberal arts,” and “humanities.”
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wynton Marsalis: Hip-hop "is more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee"

Where are the demonstrations? Where are the grandstanding politicians?
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis didn’t hold back during a new interview in which he discussed the impact rap music has had on the Black community. He believes hip-hop is more damaging to African-Americans than statues of the confederate leaders who fought to preserve slavery.

In a recent interview with journalist Jonathan Capehart on his Cape Up podcast, Marsalis shared that he’s never been fond of the vulgarity some rappers spew on the microphone.

“My words are not that powerful. I started saying in 1985 I don’t think we should have a music talking about ni**ers and b*tches and h*es. It had no impact. I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me, that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is the #Bible one of the 21 most overrated #books ever?

A new article in GQ lists the "21 most overrated books ever." Of the 21 books GQ lists that aren't worth reading, one of them is the Bible. It's enough to make you wonder if GQ is a magazine worth reading.

The Bible gets the boot, along with Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and Farewell to Arms, Cormack McCarthy's Blood Meridian, David McCullough's John Adams, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and the book that British readers voted the best book of the twentieth century, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

As an act of literary vandalism, the article isn't exactly convincing. In some of their complaints, the authors (the apparently culturally illiterate GQ editorial staff) sound like women's studies professors having a bad hair day (some of the books are "sexist")--or like Jesse Jackson on, well, any day (some are "racist"). It adds, "but most are just really, really boring."

Say this for the Visigoths: At least they didn't pretend they were pursuing some high-mined ideological agenda when they helped destroy civilization, nor did they find what they were vandalizing to be particularly "boring."

In each case, GQ recommends another, usually more obscure book to read for each of the classic books it denigrates.

Old Man and the Sea is to be replaced by The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, a "series of vignettes about a grandmother and granddaughter living on a remote Finnish island." I'm sure it is good--as far as books about remote Finnish islands go. 

And displacing Blood Meridian is The Sisters Brothers, the New York Times #1 bestseller (not really) by Patrick deWitt, about two hired killers in the Old West--but an Old West, we can be sure, sanitized of racism and sexism.

Instead of the Bible? The new-wave European Notebook by Agota Kristof. If you've never heard of it, don't worry. You're not alone. But among GQ editors, it's all the rage.

And even though their unwanted list happily includes two J.D. Salanger books, they make the mistake of admitting that they actually enjoyed them in school. Never trust anyone who liked Catcher in the Rye. Even in school.

The article is written in a tongue-in-cheek tone, but still, an article like this makes you wonder whether you can trust GQ on anything. The magazine is, according to the its online self-portrait, devoted to men's fashion, style, grooming, fitness, and lifestyle.  Given the bad taste evinced here, can you even trust these people on men's fashion?

Soon they'll be trying to bring back ... wait. They are! Wallabees? Seriously? 

All in all, the GQ editors find that the body of great Western literature is just too filled with "rigid masculine emotional landscapes," "misogynistic gender roles," and "masculine bluster." I'm guessing that if the editorial staffs for GQ and Ms. magazines were secretly switched one day, no one would ever notice.

Except the Ms. editors would at least have enough fashion sense not to think that donning wallabees was a particularly compelling fashion statement.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I will be speaking at the CiRCE Institute's liberal arts conference in Louisville May 18-19

 The Fruitful Garden

I will be speaking at the CiRCE Institute's regional conference in Louisville on the liberal arts on May 18-19, along with Chris Perrin, Professor Carol and Hank Reynolds, Adam Andrews, Brian Philips and Matt Bianco. It's at the historic Seelbach Hotel. Check it out.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Classical Education is More than a Method: The Secondary Place of Dorothy Sayer's Trivium

My article in the newest Classical Teacher is now up at the Memoria Press website: "Classical Education is More than a Method: The Secondary Place of Dorothy Sayer's Trivium."

If you were to ask most classical educators what classical education is, you would find them hard-pressed to give a short, coherent answer. That is the way with a lot of movements: It’s easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm, but when asked to formulate what it is that excites you, it’s hard to articulate.

But when you can get an answer to the question, “What is classical education?,” it is almost always in terms of Dorothy Sayers’ trivium, her three “states of development”—the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. These together, we are told, are what constitute a classical education.

The origin of this conception of classical education can be found in a speech Sayers gave to students at Oxford University during a vacation term in 1947, titled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Despite the lack of attention paid to it at the time or in the succeeding decades, its republication in Douglas Wilson’s 1991 book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, made it a rallying cry for thousands of classical home and private schools across the country.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

This Just In From the Cultural Authorities: "Civilization" a Bad Word

A new update of Kenneth Clark's famous "Civilization" mini-series turns Clark upside down.

Kenneth Clark's "Civilization" mini-series, produced by the BBC and aired on American public television in 1969, celebrated the Western art and culture it depicted and explained. The show was one of the most widely watched and re-aired shows of its kind at the time, and is still discussed today, almost fifty years after its television debut.

In fact Clark, the famous British art critic who hosted the original show, was unambiguous about why he was doing the show in the first place. According to Eric Gibson, who reviewed public television's new update of the show, Clark "developed his series as a response—even a rebuke—to those 'advanced thinkers [of his time]…who have begun to question if civilization is worth preserving."

One wonders what he would say of the new show.

Called "Civilizations" (note the additional 's' in the title), the new program isn't nearly as keen as Clark was on the civilization on which it purports to be describing. Rather than focus on Western civilization, which apparently fallen into disrepute by the cultural philistines who run things like public television, the new show takes a "global approach."

Says Gibson, the very word "civilization" is now politically charged, "implying as it does hierarchies of achievement and value judgments, not to mention its opposite: barbarism."

That someone would say that our culture is better than any other or that some other culture is deficient in some way is the kind of thing that causes fainting spells among our intellectual class. They have reached such a high level of cultural sophistication that they can now declare that all cultures are good--except the one they live in.

But this is the thing about those who pretend to be value-neutral: The very moment after congratulating themselves on the fact they they don't make judgments, the contradict themselves.

"But there is one respect in which “Civilizations” is decidedly not value-free," says Gibson, "and that is in its attitude toward the West. If there are any barbarians in this series, they are the denizens of Europe, who are nearly always depicted as racists, conquerors, looters, slave owners, colonialists and originators of the lurid 'male gaze' in art."

No viewpoint is better than any other (except your own). There are no barbarians (except the people you don't like).

And as we might expect from the postmodernist cultural elites, there is a bias against traditional religion: "The history of Christianity is recounted variously as propaganda or 'a blood sacrifice' along the lines—and I’m not making this up—of the Aztecs’ ritual practices."

Are we supposed to take that as a slight on Christianity, which these people hate? Or as a PR upgrade for the Aztecs who, being indigenous Americans, are a privileged race? It is hard to tell.

As Gibson points out, all fifteen episodes of the original "Civilization" series are on Youtube. If you want an account of our civilization by someone who is on the side of civilization, you'd best go there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Villa of the Papyri

The following is my Letter from the Editor in the spring, 2018 issue of The Classical Teacher:
In 79 A.D., the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in eastern Italy covered nearby towns in ash and completely buried many of them. Accounts of the ancient eruption paint a horrific scene: Volcanic pumice rained from the skies and waves of searing hot gas and debris swept over the nearby landscape. Thousands died where they stood, and others fell while in flight.
One of the towns that was buried in the eruption was Herculaneum, which at the time was a popular vacation spot for wealthy Romans. According to some historical accounts, Julius Caesar‘s father-in-law, Calpurnius Piso, owned an elaborate seaside villa in the town. He is reputed to have had one of the great libraries of ancient times.
For almost seventeen centuries the ancient town lay in darkness underground. Excavations of Herculaneum were conducted in the mid-eighteenth century, and Calpurnius Piso’s villa was located. But nearby landowners put a stop to the excavation, and the location was forgotten.
Then in the 1980s excavations were begun again, and special attention was given to Calpurnius’ villa. When excavators began their work they discovered numerous statues and other works of art, many of them in pristine condition.
Then they began to discover something else—scrolls, some of them in the boxes in which they had been placed for transportation during the panic, others littered on the floor. The scrolls were carbonized by the intense heat of the gas from the volcano and solidified into stone. They began to call Calpurnius’ Villa the Villa of the Papyri.
With the development of modern multi-spectral imaging, the burnt scrolls are just beginning to be deciphered. Some scholars are holding their breath over the works of philosophy and literature that might come to light, many of them unknown or lost. We only possess a small fraction of the works of ancient times. St. Augustine cites Cicero‘s Hortensiusas a formative book in his thinking, but all we know of it is what he and a few others quoted in their works. The vast majority of the works of the Greek tragic poets—AeschylusSophocles, and Euripides—were lost long ago.
Could these works lie hidden in ash in the library of Calpurnius Piso? It is exciting to think that they might.
But while we yearn for the discovery of heretofore lost works, what are we doing to learn the ones that have been preserved, and which we have yet to read? Are they not as much lost to us as the works in the Villa of the Papyri? Shouldn’t we wonder as much at the works we have but do not know as at the prospect of the discovery of others?
The treasury of our culture may be missing important things, but it is rich nevertheless. And in many ways, too, this treasury has been covered up by time and neglect. It has been buried in disinterest and distraction and hidden by layer upon layer of modern educational fads and gimmicks.
The work of classical education is to excavate the deep and rich tradition of wisdom and virtue that lies at our very feet, and to decipher the scrolls we have had all along.
We don’t need a spade or multi-spectral imaging. We don’t even need to go to Italy. The works are here at our fingertips. All we need to do is take the trouble to read them.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

As it turns out, the debate over SB 48 had nothing to do with #childbrides at all

WDRB's story about the passage of SB 48 today, a hearing in which I testified in favor of the bill which the Family Foundation had an important part in strengthening:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A bill designed to prevent Kentucky’s children from getting married at a young age passed a key hurdle Tuesday in Frankfort. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 10-0.
Currently, Kentucky has no minimum age limit for marriage, but anyone under 16 must have permission from a judge.
Senate Bill 48 -- known as the Child Bride Bill -- raises the legal age of marriage in Kentucky without parental consent to 18, and officials won't be able to issue marriage licenses to anyone under the age of 16 regardless of parental approval.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Carnival of Absurdity on #SB48

Yesterday, the Courier-Journal wrote an error-filled article titled "Kentucky's 'child bride' bill stalls as groups fight to let 13-year-olds wed." Its author, Deborah Yetter, a liberal writer for the paper, took what seemed to be all of the wild rhetoric of some supporters of the bill, and enshrined them in a news story. Then the story was taken by national newspapers and broadcast all over the country.

Not only was the title blatantly false to the point of being scurrilous, but the story itself blatantly misrepresented the Family Foundation's position on SB 48. 

"A bill to make 18 the legal age for marriage in Kentucky has stalled in a Senate committee amid concerns about the rights of parents to allow children to wed at a younger age, according to several lawmakers," says Yetter. And good luck trying to correct this falsehood, given that Yetter contacts the Family Foundation office only about an hour and 15 minutes before she posts her story and is then able to write "Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander did not respond to requests for comment."


She never attempted to call me (which she's done frequently in the past), who was the one handling communications on this issue.

First of all, this bill does not ban child marriages if by that anyone means the prohibiting all marriages of minors. It allows 17 year-olds to marry under certain conditions. The only debate was over what those conditions were. The Family Foundation wanted to keep current provisions that allowed parents to consent and opposed taking away the right of all parents, bad and good, and handing it to judges.

The Family Foundation has always supported the provisions in the bill that prevent children under 17 from marrying. The only issue with the bill was that it took away parental consent in the case of 17 year-olds and gave it to the very judges who, we now know (if all the rhetoric about the crisis of child marriages is to be believed) were allowing children under 16 years-old to get married (Under KY law, only a judge can do this).

Second, the Foundation just asked the chairman for a week to fix this problem. He recognized that the concerns were reasonable and was kind enough to do this. And we never asked that it be delayed past the first week. In any case, I believe we are going to see an improved bill come out of the committee next week.

The Foundation never said anything publicly about the bill until inaccurate stories like Yetter's hit the web, after which it became imperative to correct the misapprehensions that were on the loose. It didn't even lobby against the bill, with the exception of conversations that were had with three or four committee members, none of whom were asked to vote against the bill, since negotiations were still happening.

But the carnival of absurdity that the talk surrounding this bill has engendered is a wonder to behold.

Partly thanks to the Courier-Journal's ethically-challenged journalism, people think the opposition to the bill is about whether 13 year-olds can marry. 


Of course, it doesn't help that nobody who thinks they are qualified to comment on this online bothers to know the facts, read the bill, or even understand the legislative process (the bill was never "killed" as some online sites reported). 

Inaccuracy and bias is not something the CJ has ever shied away from. But they've almost outdone themselves this time.