Friday, January 18, 2019

#Donald Trump may be down but he is not out

My most recent piece at Intellectual Takeout:
Trump's lack of popularity is no surprise. Of course, he has brought much of this on himself. With the help of a hostile media, it is understandable why he can't seem to break the 45 percent ceiling. The result has been predictions of an imminent loss of the White House by Republicans, and that explains the burgeoning crowd of Democratic presidential primary challengers we see blocking the horizon.
Under normal circumstances, the prognostications of Republican disaster would ring true. How can a president with popularity as low as Trump's have any hope at all? 
Writing in the Jan. 10 Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger explains why it is the Trump shouldn't be counted out--at least not yet.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Why Books are Important

From my "Letter from the Editor" in the most recent issue of The Classical Teacher:
In 1929, children’s book author Anne Parrish was visiting Paris. She left her husband at a cafe to visit one of the city’s many bookstores. There she found a copy of Helen Wood’s Jack Frost and Other Stories, a favorite of hers from childhood. She returned to the cafe, sat down, and showed her husband what she had found. He opened the book, turned a couple of pages, and paused. He handed it back to her, opened to the flyleaf. There, in the hand of a child, she read, “Anne Parrish, 209 North Weber Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado. 
The book she had found half a world away turned out to be her very own childhood copy. It was as if she had found a long-lost friend 
A book is just a physical object. And yet, as every book lover knows, it is something more than that...
Read more here.

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."

Huh?

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.