Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Instantaneity

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds recommends several quotes for bloggers. Among them this one: "There is no inherent virtue to instantaneity."--Joseph Rago.

This reminds me of Richard Weaver's discussion of what he calls the "quest for immediacy" in modern life and thought in the introduction of Ideas Have Consequences:
It is characteristic of the barbarian, whether he appears in a pre-cultural stage or emerges from below into the waning day of a civilization, to insist upon seeing a thing "as it is." The desire testifies that he has nothing in himself with which to spiritualize it; the relation is one of thing to thing without the intercession of the imagination. Impatient of the veiling with which the man of higher type gives the world imaginative meaning, the barbarian and the Philistine, who is the barbarian living amid culture, demand the access of mmediacy.

The most apparent form of the "quest for immediacy" is the lack of patience with formality of any kind. You'll know what I mean if you have attended a church service lately. About the last place you can be formal anymore is at weddings and funerals. But now even those ceremonies are being fast deconstructed and evacuated of ritual--and, consequently, of meaning.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On Kentucky's victory over Clemson

Could this be the one day you wouldn't rather have Tommy Bowden than Rich Brooks as your coach?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Who is for Fairness?

The British Daily Mail ran an article recently about two elderly sisters whose appeal to avoid inheritance tax when one of them dies was thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights. The two sisters were simply asking for the same rights as same-sex partners have to avoid the tax. But the court ruled that even though the sisters had lived together their entire lives, their relationship did not warrant a hearing.

"If we were lesbians," said one of the sisters, "we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all. It is disgusting that we are being treated like this."

Now cross the Atlantic (due West) back across the Appalachias to Kentucky, where we are debating domestic partner benefits at our state universities. Anyone want to wager on what would happen in a similar circumstance under the kinds of plans UK, UofL and NKU are discussing (and that UofL has already implemented)? Would two sisters who had taken care of each other their entire lives be eligible to receive benefits under these plans that give such benefits to live-in sexual partners?


One of the arguments used by proponents of these plans is, ironically, equity. Exactly what is equitable about a benefits plan that gives benefits to live in sexual partners, but doesn't give them to a live in blood relative who has lived with and been cared for by the employee their whole life?

Maybe would could found a group promoting "fairness" for these situations. Wait a minute, I guess that name has already been taken.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Judges, heal thyselves!

There is an interesting debate going on in the past few days between the Intelligent Design people and the Darwinists. It started when John West, Jr. at the Discovery Institute pointed out that Judge John Jones, who struck down an attempt of a Pennsylvania school district to teach Intelligent Design (saying it was not science) lifted whole sections of his opinion from the ACLU brief against the school district when wrote his opinion.

According the Discovery Institute's press release, "'Judge John Jones copied verbatim or virtually verbatim 90.9% of his 6,004-word section on whether intelligent design is science from the ACLU’s proposed "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" submitted to him nearly a month before his ruling,' said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy."

The Darwinists fired back that it is common and accepted for judges to do this, and that West was betraying his ignorance about how the legal system worked by criticizing the opinion.


West's point was not that the judge was engaging in the illegal act of plagiarism. Rather, he was pointing out the irony that a ruling that had been hailed as "masterful" and the product of an "outstanding thinker" was actually, in large part, the product of someone else. Surely the advanced primates at places like Panda's Thumb can understand West's point and distinguish it from charges of plagiarism.

It may, in fact, be perfectly acceptable in the legal trade to copy sections of opinions, but over 90 percent of an entire section? Surely a judge has an intellectual and moral, if not a legal obligation to think (and write) for himself.

And by the way, while we're talking about ironies, has anyone noticed the glaring one here? That the very people who are given the job of deciding whether others have engaged in plagiarism are apparently allowed to engage in it freely themselves?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Domestic partner policy debate now available on the web

My Nov. 27 debate on domestic partnership benefits at state universities last week is now available on a video stream at KET's website. State Rep. Stan Lee and I argued against these policies, while and State Rep. Jim Wayne and Christina Gilgor, head of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, argued in favor.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

KY Republican signals surrender in minimum wage fight

Lest anyone were to get the mistaken impression that the national Republicans were now going to start standing up for conservative principles, the news came yesterday that they are giving up the fight on minimum wage before it has even begun. According to Kentucky Pol Watchers (The Herald-Leader), our own Mitch McConnell (now Senate Republican Minority Leader) is saying that he is fine with the minimum wage hike of about two dollars proposed by Democrats.

Sen. Chamberlai... er, McConnell described the Democrats opening agenda as "easy stuff". Whoever said surrender was hard?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Asking the wrong question about movies

Michael Billington at the Guardian asks "Have any unarguably great novels actually been improved by adaptation?" He is referring to adaptation to cinema or the theatre. This kind of question is asked all the time, and is one of the questions that comes up whenever some great (or simply popular) book comes to the screen or stage. How many times have you heard someone, perhaps yourself, say, "I don't think the movie was as good as the book"?

But if Billington's question is part of a discussion about whether a novel should be dramatized, then it's the wrong question to ask. Just because a story as it is portrayed in a movie is not as good as it is portrayed in print is irrellevant to the quality of the movie or whether it should have been dramatized in the first place.

The question is not whether a novel is improved by its dramatization, but whether dramatization is improved by having been based on a novel. What is important is not whether a novel is "improved by adaptation" (how could a novel be improved by anything other than the author rewriting it?), but whether a movie (and the same goes for a play play) is a better play for having been based on the story from a novel--as opposed, say, to having been written from scratch by a screen writer or playwright.

The question is not, for example, would I rather go and see the movie "Sense and Sensibility" or read Jane Austen's novel. I can do both and profit by it. The question is whether I would rather go see the movie "Sense and Sensibility" or some other movie based on a story by what is likely to be an inferior writer.

The comparisons between movies and books is seldom helpful. They are very different art forms, and should be judged by very different criteria. The purpose of a movie is not to be a good book, any more than the purpose of an apple is to be a good orange. Nor is the purpose of a movie to improve a book through adaptation.

The purpose of a good movie is to be a good movie, and that purpose is often served by adapting the story from a good book.

Milton Friedman, RIP

News today is that Milton Friedman has died. It makes you wonder if the looming prospect of the minimum wage being raised might have been the final straw.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Meet the New Atheism, Same as the Old Atheism: A review of Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion"

Richard Dawkins believes in the resurrection. He believes in it so much, that he is leading a crusade to convince others of it, and, like the revivalists of old, he has hit the circuit looking for converts. The resurrection Dawkins believes in is not the Resurrection (the one with a capital 'R'), but another kind altogether. His faith is not faith in God, but faith in science--or rather, Science. It is not the Resurrection of Christ he is preaching, but the resurrection of a movement.

With his new book, The God Delusion, Dawkins places himself at the head of what one journalist has called the "New Atheism." His book is one of several released over the last year that have attempted to reverse the rise of evangelical Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, fundamentalist Islam. He is the first person in the new atheist trinity, which includes Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, both of whom have written similar anti-religious tracts, and both of whom, like Dawkins, are filled with the spirit, and shouting their message from the street corners.

Before Dawkins begins the business of calling hellfire and brimstone down on the believers, however, he points his finger at those who pretend to be standing on the sidelines in the debate over the truth of religion and the existence of God. He first goes after the agnostics. With the earlier and more eloquent atheist George Bernard Shaw, Dawkins charges agnostics with the sin of being atheists without the courage of their convictions.

Well, most of them anyway. He makes a distinction between the kind of agnostic who temporarily suspends judgement until he has more evidence one way or another, and the kind of agnostic who believes that the question of God's existence is unanswerable. The first are the sheep, the second the goats. The first he can abide, but for the second he has little but disdain. It is this second school of thought that Dawkins refers to when he talks about the "poverty of agnosticism." It is here where Dawkins parts company with many of his allies in the scientific establishment, and it is here where Dawkins distinguishes himself from the great atheistic philosophies of the 20th century, returning instead to the 19th.

Although the title of "New" has been placed on his brand of atheism, Dawkins is an atheist of the old school. He is preachy, condescending, and a bit of a scold. Apparently impatient with philosophical subtleties, he seems to have shirked off the more sophisticated criticisms of early 2oth century philosophy. Beginning with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, skeptical philosophers began to argue that religion was neither true nor false, but simply meaningless. This view received its most articulate treatment in A. J. Ayer's 1928 book, Language, Truth, and Logic. The first chapter of Ayer's book, "The End of Metaphysics," remains one of the few persuasive attacks on religious belief, although Ayer himself later gave up on much of the views expressed in the book. This view has dominated higher level discussions of religious truth questions ever since.

Dawkin's approach, however, harkens back to days of Robert Ingersoll, Joseph McCabe, and Joseph Lewis. He is not quite their equal in severity and lack of a sense of humor, but he rivals them in fervor. Like these stern atheists of old, Dawkins prefers to face religion head on, and his contempt for less direct approaches is transparent.

Dawkins first takes on Stephen Jay Gould, now conveniently dead (as are many of Dawkin's chosen opponents). Gould, a Harvard paleontologist and popular science writer, believed that religious questions such as the existence of God are simply not scientific questions, and that science cannot therefore adjudicate them. It is a version of the Two Truths doctrine of the medieval Arab philosopher Averroes, who held that there are truths of reason and truths of faith, and that truths in one sphere may be falsehoods in the other.

"[T]o cite old cliches," Dawkins quotes Gould as saying, "science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven." Dawkins will have none of it: "What are these ultimate questions," he asks, "in whose presence religion is an honored guest and science must respectfully slink away?" Dawkins denies that there can be two truths, one for science and one for religion: "... a universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?"

In fact, Dawkins castigates the American scientific establishment for assuming this Two Truths doctrine in their debate with the Intelligent Design movement, denouncing the National Center for Science Education and their ilk as the "Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists." On this question, ironically, Dawkins is on the side of the Intelligent Design movement--and Christianity in general. Religious truth claims make a difference in the world, but while Christianity maintains the claims are true, Dawkins pronounces them false.

Dawkins summarizes the argument of his book this way:
Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. a delusion; and, as later chapters show, a pernicious delusion.

There are several problems with his argument that ultimately make The God Delusion a great disappointment. The first is his tendency to avoid proving his own theses in favor of simply assuming them and hoping the reader will find the implications of them as attractive and self-evident as he does. The scientist in him wants to test the predictability of his theory, in this case with speculative theories of how things might have come about solely by virtue of material conditions. He uses this method in his discussion of the origin of religion and of morality, and it falls flat.

His entire discussion of the origin of religion requires you to have previously accepted his naturalistic world view. "Knowing that we are products of Darwinian evolution..." he begins, and then we are off to the races. "The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain," he declares. But the ultimate cause, he thinks, lies in his theory that religion is "a byproduct of something else." He then launches into various theories of what religious belief may have been useful for, all of which are pure speculation.

Dawkin's whole discussion of the naturalistic explanation of religion assumes that such an explanation renders the beliefs thus explained illusory. But if a naturalistic explanation for a belief renders it illusory, and all beliefs can be explained naturalistically, then atheism too can be explained naturalistically, and is therefore illusory. He who lives by naturalistic explanations must die by them.

All of Dawkin's explanations seem stifled and contrived by his own ideological materialism. He uses his naturalistic world view as a Procrustean bed into which he tries to fit everything, however much he has to hack and stretch it to fit. And what a small bed it is.

The second problem with Dawkin's book is the condescending tone with which he dismisses the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. One religious argument is "amusing, if rather pathetic," another "a joke," another "silly," and another "a grotesque piece of reasoning." This glib attitude particularly plagues the section of the book dealing with the traditional arguments for Christianity.

St. Thomas's cosmological arguments for God's existence--that the universe requires an explanation--"are as vacuous." Anselm's ontological argument for God's existence is "infantile." And William Paley's design argument, he says, Charles Darwin "blows out of the water."

And where simple pejoratives won't do, and arguments actually employed, Dawkins fails to impress. In response to C. S. Lewis's trilemma--that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or God Himself--Dawkins simply posits the possibility that Jesus was honestly mistaken, despite the fact that anyone familiar with the force of this argument knows that is certainly not a possibility. And besides, "historically it is complete nonsense." Dawkins asserts that there is no good historical evidence that Jesus thought he was divine, but his response to the wealth of evidence that he did is nowhere to be found. He questions the historical existence of Jesus, a belief that has few adherents outside its friendly home in liberal theological seminaries.

In the end, Dawkins admits that Jesus probably existed, but that the Biblical documents are unreliable, his only argument being that "reputable" Biblical scholars (undoubtedly defined as those with whom Dawkins agrees) question them.

Somehow it all seems too easy.

Even if you didn't recognize the lack of philosophical sophistication in Dawkin's attempted refutations, you notice immediately that Dawkins has trouble even conceiving how anyone could ever have been convinced by these arguments. This is not only an intellectual weakness in Dawkin's approach, but a rhetorical one. Somehow, you are more persuaded by the detractors of a position who appreciate the strength of their opponents positions than those, like Dawkins, who don't. You feel as if the person hasn't really confronted the power of the arguments against his own position, and you therefore wonder how it would affect his opinion if he did.

In too many cases in the book Dawkins is justified in his dismissiveness toward the arguments he takes on, but only because he has cherry picked the weakest arguments for theism. And this is the third great deficiency of the book.

Outside of a few places in the second section of the book, Dawkins boxes at shadows that seem a poor imitation of historic theism. A close inspection of the index reveals how little familiarity Dawkins has with modern Christian apologetics. He mentions only a small handful of great modern Christian thinkers. There is even a passing mention of G. K. Chesterton. But none of these are carefully considered.

He admits Lewis into his book briefly (and, as we said, dismissively), but where is J. Gresham Machan, Cornelius Van Til, and John Warwick Montgomery, or, more contemporaneously, Alvin Plantinga, J. P. Moreland, and Francis Beckwith? They are glaringly absent. Instead, Dawkins prefers to take on the likes of Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jesse Helms, and Fred Phelps, the fundamentalist minister of Westboro Baptist Church who pickets funerals with signs saying that "fags" are "going to Hell". These names constitute a sort of religious bum-of-the-month club that allows Dawkins to avoid fighting the real contenders.

How convenient.

In his debate with the atheist philosopher C.E.M. Joad (who later became a Christian) in the first part of the 20th century, Catholic writer Arnold Lunn pointed out that a position must be judged on the basis of the strongest arguments for it, not the weakest ones you can find.

The God Delusion has received the usual plaudits from the expected sources. But criticism has come from places well outside the religious community. Two of the most stinging critiques have come from the philosopher Thomas Nagel, and literary critic Terry Eagleton. And indeed everything that Dawkin's attempts in The God Delusion has been done better in some other book. A reader interested in a naturalistic explanation of religion and a critical view of the historicity of Christianity will find it stated more convincingly in H. L. Mencken's Treatise on the Gods. Those who are looking for a philosophically sophisticated attack on theism would be better off with Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic. And, ironically, a much better argument against design in nature from an evolutionary perspective is Dawkin's own Blind Watchmaker.

And speaking of Mencken, atheism's last great popularizer, Dawkins seems clearly to be trying to emulate him, but to little affect. Mencken's attacks on religion were informed with a real wit that Dawkins sorely lacks. Mencken also had a poetic sense of the world that seems missing in Dawkins. Without the aesthetic appeal of Mencken, Dawkin's condescension sounds more akin to the more pedestrian likes of Madelaine Murray O'Hair. It wouldn't sound entirely out of place in this book to hear Dawkins utter an O'Hair line such as, "Jesus wasn't worthly to lick my boots."

Mencken was the last of the old school atheists, who openly declared their opinion that religion was absurd, and spared no effort in running it down. Mencken considered religious adherents to be boobs, largely because he considered most everyone to be boobs. Dawkins, however, is more selective in his disdain, choosing to scorn only the believers.

This refusal to take religious views seriously prevents Dawkins from convincingly dealing with them, and it is this consideration that prevents us from judging atheism on the basis of Dawkin's book. If we did, we would only be engaging in the very behavior that mars Dawkin's book itself: judging a position by something less than the best arguments for it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Some bloggers need a license

Over at the Pharyngula blog, atheist P. Z. Meyers is in a dogmatic mood. In fact, we are not aware he is ever in any other kind of mood. Lately he has been on a tirade about raising standards for home schools. His most recent post advocates that parents without a teaching license be barred from homeschooling their children.

Has he checked to see what happens to children who are taught by people with teachers licenses recently?

He is apparently unaware of the large and growing disparity between how home schooled students perform on standardized tests and how public school students perform on the same tests. This is inexcusable.

Maybe blogs should only be operated by people with a license.

What are Republicans For? The 2006 Elections as a teachable moment

The most important thing about great defeats is the lessons you learn from them. And the nice thing about political defeats is that there are always plenty of people around to tell you what these lessons are. At the risk of adding to the already formidable volume of such advice, here are a few observations Republicans should keep in mind after Tuesday's defeat at the polls.

There are three essential rules of political success, all of which the Republicans either ignored or rendered themselves incapable of following:

Rule #1: Say what you're going to do: In the case of the Republican Party in the 2006 election, their lack of any coherent agenda left voters with only two things on their minds: Iraq and political corruption, neither of which they seemed too crazy about. In other words, Republicans didn't say what they were going to do, so voters cast their votes on the basis of something else, in this case, what others said they were going to do (i.e., the same old thing).

Rule #2: Do what you said you were going to do: The modern Republican Party is the party of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich brought the Republicans to prominence in Washington on the basis of a principled and clearly articulated agenda: The Contract with America. The Republicans were going to make government smaller, less intrusive, and more responsive to the voters. There was also the implicit understanding that values issues would receive the attention they deserved. As long as they stuck to this agenda, they succeeded. But two things happened that undermined the success of the party. The first was the fall of Gingrich. The second was the rise of Karl Rove.

Unlike Gingrich, who, though personally unpopular, understood the importance of principles in political strategy, Rove was pure Machiavellian. Rove calculated that if the Republicans co-opted the Democrats on two issues, education and health care, they could deprive the Democrats of a political agenda. The Gingrichless Republicans went along with the strategy. They passed the "No Child Left Behind Act" which dramatically expanded the role of the federal government in education, and they passed Medicare drug legislation that created another huge federal entitlement program. And although these actions did deprive the Democrats of an agenda, they went against the very principles on which the Republicans had been elected in the first place.

For the last half of their twelve-year reign, Republicans have been talking like Ronald Reagan and acting like Lyndon Johnson. Republicans need to learn that if they act like Democrats, they are likely to be replaced by them.

Rule #3: Clearly articulate how you did what you said you were going to do: Thanks to Karl Rove's strategy, the Republicans neutered the Democratic agenda, but, in the process, they neutered themselves. They rendered themselves incapable of telling voters that they had done anything they said they were going to do. This left voters in a position of having nothing to vote on except the War and political corruption, about which neither party had anything particularly compelling to say.

Karl Rove mistook good political strategy for good politics. Hopefully, he knows better now.

And this brings us to Rule #4: When disenchanted voters have no particular reason to vote for either party, they will vote for change: There comes a point when voters begin to think that the Devil they don't know might possibly be better than the Devil they do know. We could also call this the "What the heck" rule in politics. Neither party is particularly compelling, but all you know is you don't like how things are going, so, what the heck, let's try the other guys for while.

Today, the great national conservative governing coalition forged by Ronald Reagan and fashioned by Newt Gingrich lies in ruins. The party that once enjoyed a unified front of fiscal and social conservatives is dispirited, leaderless, and bereft of an agenda.

As the national Republican Party uses its time in the wilderness to ponder what went wrong, it needs to consider what it was that made it successful in the first place.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A paean to hypocrisy

It's so tempting to pile on when someone like Ted Haggerty, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, falls from grace. Hypocrisy seems to be the only universally recognized sin left to us, and evangelicals, with their tendency towards personality cults, make themselves especially vulnerable to it.

I have noticed several interesting responses to Haggerty's alleged (but, I suspect, real) failings.

The first kind of response is self-righteousness from people who don't like evangelicals. According to Steve Manning at blog On the Right, "The sooner the GOP cleanses itself of these religious nuts and hypocrites the better!" Another species of this (if you can believe it) is blaming Bush. Here is Mark Nicholas's lucid observation at "Hey evangelicals, wake-up. You been Punk'd in the worst way by Bush, the GOP and their buddies."

Hmmm. Wonder what these people were saying during the Clinton scandals.

In fact the Clinton comparison is instructive. Both claimed to be Christian believers, and both, when caught (not quite literally, but almost) with their pants down, claimed not to have inhaled. But there is an important contrast as well. Haggerty apparently has some semblence of shame as evidenced by the fact that he stepped down from his position, whereas Clinton did not. Not that Haggerty doesn't sound more Clintonesque by the day.

And this brings us to the most interesting comment about the scandal, that by P. Z. Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota who runs the Pharyngula blog. Myers despises Haggerty, but is upset at the whole affair. Why? Because Haggerty is going down for the wrong reasons. Listen to his argument:

The bottom line in this business is that Haggard did nothing illegal. He may have cheated on his wife, which is deplorable, but it's an entirely personal issue, not one that we should be concerned about, and not one that should cause him to lose his job. Having sex with someone isn't a crime, and shouldn't be the cause of all of this outrage. Being a moralistic hypocrite is also not an actionable business.

I'm also not too thrilled with Democrats pointing fingers and using this and the Mark Foley case to accuse the Republican party of being a hotbed of corruption and iniquity. These are people (creepy, unpleasant people, perhaps) who had consensual sex with other adults. Stop acting as if this is a sin or an evil—that kind of narrow moral certitude is the other party's schtick! By playing that game, you've been coopted to serve the right-wing's social agenda, reinforcing that homosexuality is a damnable offense.

Why don't we instead see Haggard's sanctimonious lies, his authoritarian propriation of the church for the Republican party, or his ignorance, which he foists off on his congregation as wisdom, as the real crimes here? I really don't care what he does with his ******* in his private life, but that seems to be the major concern of everyone right now.
Well, there goes my theory about hypocrisy being the universally acknowledged sin. Seems even that must be set aside in order to make way for complete sexual license. This brings us to the old maxim that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. There can be no hypocrisy in Myer's world, because there is no virtue.
The presence of hypocrisy is a sign that virtue is still honored. When the consciousness of hypocrisy goes by the wayside, then we will know that we have abandoned virtue. I'll take hypocrisy with my virtue, thank you very much.
I suspect this is what National Review's David Frum was getting at in his post "Hypocrites?" when he compared a case like Haggerty's, in which there was a public profession of virtue and a private life of vice, and another, imaginary case in which the person openly professes his vice and wears his open profession as a virtue.

Frum says the first person is more moral than the second, since, in his hypocrisy, he at least pays his tribute to virtue. Myers would say that the second person is more moral than the first because he is honest, and, besides, the vice he professes is not really vice in the first place, because there is no virtue--except in the open admission of vice.

This recognition of virtue implicit in hypocrisy is the almost universal assumption in the Christian West, as articulated by Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3--thanks to Philip Klein at the American Specator's blog for pointing it out):
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.
Hypocrisy, like guilt, is necessarily attendant upon virtue. Woe be unto us if it should ever disappear.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More Prichard Committee Mischief

It appears that the Prichard Committee, one of the culprits behind the Kentucky Education Reform act boondoggle of the early 90's, has filed an amicus brief in support of the forced busing in Louisville. With friends like the Prichard Committee, education needs no enemies.

I think I am beginning to notice a pattern with Prichard: in both cases--KERA and forced busing, Prichard is in the position of supporting policies that drive more students into private schools. Busing led to a mass exodus in Jefferson County, and the enactment and implementation of KERA directly preceded a similar exodus on the statewide level.

As a private educator, I may have to reassess the Prichard Committee. Maybe it is on our side after all.

Are all indescretions in state judicial races treated equally?

For Immediate Release
November 3, 2006 A. D.

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Are all indiscretions in judicial races treated equally, asks state family group?

LEXINGTON, KY —The state family group that successfully sued to overturn restrictions on the campaign statements of judicial candidates is asking whether a state committee set up to oversee the conduct of judicial candidates is treating all the candidates equally. Specifically, the Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky is asking why the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee had criticized some judicial candidates for making statements betraying conservative beliefs while candidates in other judicial races, who have reportedly stated their more liberal views, had been ignored.

“According to one liberal activist group,” said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, “judicial candidates answered a questionnaire committing themselves on gay and lesbian issues, yet, as far we know, nothing has ever been said by the Judicial Conduct Committee.

“It just seems to us that if candidates for the bench are going to be called on the carpet for committing themselves on issues they might be ruling on, it needs to be done even-handedly.”

Cothran pointed to the fact that the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee had criticized Court of Appeals Judge Rick Johnson, who is running for the state Supreme Court in the 1st District against Judge Bill Cunningham. Johnson had indicated his support for traditional marriage and the death penalty and his opposition to abortion on demand and gun control. Yet several other candidates for judicial office have received endorsements from C*FAIR, the political action committee of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, on the basis of answers C*FAIR has said indicate they are “favorable to the lesbigaytrans community”.

The C*FAIR questionnaire asks candidates about their positions on several specific court cases having to do with abortion and gay rights, as well as about their views on whether sexual orientation should be included in discrimination laws. C*FAIR indicates on its website that it makes its endorsements based on the candidates’ answers. Based on their answers to these questions, C*FAIR has endorsed Justice William McAnulty for Kentucky Supreme Court, as well as Joan L. Byer, Joseph W. “Joe” O’Reilley, Donna Delahanty, Rebecca Swope Atkins, and Eleanor M. Garber for Family Court. It also endorsed Joan A. “Toni” Stringer for District Court.

“If Judge Johnson was wrong in indicating that he is conservative on social issues, then why doesn’t the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee think it is wrong when candidates express their liberal views on the same subjects?” asked Cothran.

“We understand the importance of making sure judges remain impartial. But we also think those who have placed themselves in a position to monitor judicial races should themselves be impartial.”


Monday, October 30, 2006

On the Usefulness of Being Used: Cynical observations on the relationship between social conservatives and the Republican Party

I have not read David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith, an account of his experience as a social conservative in the Bush administration, but by all accounts the book is at least partly an expression of Kuo's shock that evangelicals are being used by national Republican Party leaders to gain and keep power.

Well, first of all, the only shocking thing is that anyone would be shocked by this. Anyone who has been around the political block knows that politics is not the place to go if you're looking for pure motives. Many in the Republican Party fought the evangelicals within their own party for years, but then the smart ones began realizing that it was stupid to fight them and much more expedient to use them to for their own political purposes.

The role of social conservatives in the Republican Party in many ways resembles the role of Blacks in the Democratic Party: they are alternatively valued and exploited, and there are people in the party who share their convictions and those who don't. Any competent social conservative leader knows this. The question social conservative leaders must ask is, given that they are being used, do the benefits of working with the party still outweigh the costs?

Is the Republican Party not only in the position of using social conservatives, but of being used by them?

The trouble social conservatives face is that that too many Republican leaders fall into one of two categories: those who don't share the convictions of social conservatives but pretend that they do, and those who do share the convictions of social conservatives and pretend that they don't. The history of the relationship between Republicans and social conservatives is a litany of demagoguery and dissembling, pandering and pusillanimity--peppered with myriad cases of genuine political courage and conservative statesmanship.

In any case, the only alternative for social conservatives is to judge their political leaders on their actions, pure and simple. Here at least there is some hope. If they concentrate on the motives of their political allies, they are in for little other than disappointment.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Herald-Leader pushes gay agenda again (...yawn).

The Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday ran an article titled, "Gay voters wary about Newberry," the upshot of which is that conservative voters should be wary about Newberry. Newberry's responses to question about "gay issues" were lackluster at best and disappointingly sycophantic at worst.

But the really interesting thing about the article was the lack of any compelling reason it should have run at all--particularly in a prominent place on the front page. Not that the Herald-Leader needs any particular provocation to run articles glorifying the gay lifestyle and portraying anyone who isn't enthusiastic about it as a neanderthal of the lowest order. It's no big secret the Herald regularly uses its news pages to push gay issues, primarily through stories that have no apparent news value which are given prominent placement.

But one interesting fact is that the day after the article (which basically assured readers Newberry was harmless on the issue) was published, the Herald-Leader endorsed Newberry over his opponent Teresa Isaac. Could the Herald have been using the article to justify an endorsement they had already decided to make in light of Isaac's incompetent tenure as Mayor? That would certainly explain the timing of the story.

Anyone willing to take odds on the Herald-Leader running a story on their front page assuring their readers that political candidates are solid on family issues?

I didn't think so.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who is losing the ability to think critically?

At Richard Dawkin's website, they have a post by Ben Hope attacking Patrick Henry College, a conservative Virginia school catering to conservative evangelicals and home school graduates.

Commenting on a documentary he had seen charting the lives of several Patrick Henry students, Hope says:
It was like watching an episode of Star Trek. You know, one of those where the crew has been taken over by a mysterious alien mind-virus. In this case, the symptoms are losing the ability to think critically, coupled with an uncontrollable urge to smile absolutely all the time, except when swaying open-palmed and shut-eyed at the sound of particularly naff, happy-clappy songs.

Sounds like like a bunch of ignorant cult members alright. But, wait a minute...

In 2005, the Oxford debate team failed to win moot court competition in England. The team they lost to? Patrick Henry College. The Patrick Henry students (you know, the ones are "losing the ability to think critically") defeated the Oxford team before a panel of distinguished British judges. Then, in 2006, the Oxford team flew to the U.S. to avenge their loss, only to lose again to the Patrick Henry team before an equally distinguished panel of American judges.

No wonder the Patrick Henry students in the documentary were smiling.

Dawkins, remember, is Charles Simyoni Professor of the Public Understanding at Oxford. So if Patrick Henry is a factory for producing mind-numbed robots, and it schooled Oxford's debate team for two years in a row, where does that leave the university that Dawkins teaches at?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pay a visit to the Crunchy Cons

Rod Dreher is the author of Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party). I haven't read it yet, although after finishing the subtitle, I feel like I have!

Dreher is a former editor with National Review Magazine who is now editor of the Sunday commentary section of The Dallas Morning News. He is what I call a "Wendell Berry conservative" (a designation I lay claim to as well). If his book is as good as his blog (as I understand it is), then it is good indeed.

He blogged my last post today over at Crunchy Cons. Check out his site, it's excellent.

If Republicans lose this fall, whose fault will it be?

Much of the talk surrounding this year's midterm elections is about whether this election constitutes a major political realignment. Ten years ago, the country went conservative and Republican. Is it now going liberal and Democrat?In the 1994 midterm elections, Republicans took control of Congress, largely based on the success of the “Contract with America,” a set of populist conservative political proposals that won widespread support among Americans. Now, some 12 years later, many pundits seem to think that Americans are poised to turn in another direction.

Are Americans disenchanted with conservatism?

If you were to ask this question of many liberal Democrats, the answer would undoubtedly be, “Yes.” And if Democrats take the field on November 8th, there will undoubtedly be those among them who will attribute the victory to a rejection of conservative rule.

But there are good reasons to reject this claim, should it come. First, the Democrats have not themselves set forth any coherent set of political principles by which they are asking voters to be judged. In other words, there is no liberal “Contract with America.” There is opposition to the Iraq war, and questions about the competence of Republicans to lead, but there is no set of positive political prescriptions they are asking voters to approve by voting Democrat, and there are legitimate questions about whether the Iraq war is the consequence of conservative policy.

The second reason to reject any claim that a Democratic victory is a victory for liberalism has to do with Republicans themselves. If voters reject Republicans at the polls, will it have been because they don’t like their conservative policies?

The answer to this question requires an answer to two other questions. First, has the Republican reign in Washington been a conservative one in the first place? The second is this: Have Republicans set forth any set of principles during this election that we can say would be rejected in a Democratic win?

If Democrats take congress on November 8th, will it have been a defeat for conservatism, or simply a defeat for the Republican Party? Will it have been because Americans are disenchanted with conservatism or simply because they are disenchanted with Republicans who claim, but may not actually act like, conservatives?

Serious conservatives need to ask themselves these questions partly because, if Republicans are sent home this fall, recriminations will come—and they will be aimed at those who Republicans think abandoned them at the polls. If a Republican defeat comes, conservatives—particularly social conservatives—will be held responsible.

The smell of blame is already in the air.

If Republicans should lose control of Congress, which now seems possible, if not likely, it should be clear to everyone, especially conservatives, why it happened. Leaders in the Republican Party need to be fully aware of why so many conservatives would not show up at the polls—and be holding their noses when they do.

How should conservatives assess the success of Republican rule in Washington since the Contract with America brought them to power? Is there a set of conservative criteria by which we can judge the success or failure of Republican dominance in Washington over the last decade?

I submit that there is, and that there are specific questions conservatives should ask themselves about foreign and domestic policy that can shed light on whether the national Republican Party, as a nominally conservative party, has failed or succeeded:

Has government become bigger or smaller? Is it more or less intrusive? Republicans will point to welfare reform legislation, probably the most significant and effective piece of conservative legislation passed in the 20th century. Disaffected conservatives, however, will point to Republican sponsored legislation implementing a costly new prescription drug entitlement as an act Lyndon Johnson would have envied. Many conservatives ask why, since Bush took office, the size of government has increase by a frightening 25 percent, and why so-called conservative Republicans cannot seem to find a voice to articulate the case against minimum wage laws. And note that the greatest success in terms of rolling back government power (welfare reform) came during the Clinton, not the Bush, administration.

Do American children stand a better or worse chance of being adequately educated? There are some good aspects to the No Child Left Behind Act, passed at the behest of President Bush. But why was it that many influential conservative groups opposed the legislation when it passed—and Ted Kennedy supported it? Many of these groups still see the bill as an egregious example of legislation that dramatically expanded a department of government (the Education Department) that many Republican leaders had vowed to downsize, and did little to practically affect what happens in the nation’s public schools. Some conservatives also want to know why, after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the administration put forth no further effort on important educational initiatives such as school choice?

Are our basic freedoms more or less secure? Liberals aren’t the only ones who have problems with the “Patriot Act,” as well as recent legislation giving the President the power to suspend habeas corpus at a whim . The questions many conservatives are asking themselves is whether the best way to protect individual freedoms is to pass laws that place limitations on those very freedoms. There are also questions as to the effectiveness of many of the policies implemented since 9/11. It is not good when your erstwhile supporters are going to the polls with images of an old lady with a walker being frisked at the airport while the next passenger, sporting a robe and turban, is whisked on through.

Has the issue of immigration been adequately dealt with? Why was it that an immigration bill took 12 years to get through Congress? And will a 700-mile fence along a border much longer than that solve the problem—if it is built at all (the bill provides the money to build the fence, but doesn’t actually require that it be built).

Are policies now more or less favorable to the traditional family? Social conservatives put Republicans in power. Have they been fully taken into account when it comes to the Republican policy agenda? Republican supporters will point to the fact that the Supreme Court has shifted significantly to the right--no mean achievement. But there are those who want to know how long it is going to take to revisit the disastrous Roe vs. Wade decision, and why, when Republicans control both the Presidency and the Congress, there appears to be no hope of passing a Constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage.

Is America more or less respected in the world? Although both Republicans and Democrats voted for the Iraq War when preparations were being made to go in, there were voices on the right warning against it. They included the likes of Pat Buchanan, whose book A Republic, Not an Empire, stated the conservative case against interventionist foreign policy with rare eloquence. But the neoconservative-dominated foreign policy establishment in Washington dismissed Buchanan’s warnings, and has lived to regret it. Now the war is the biggest drag on Republican aspirations to maintain their Congressional majority. Buchanan warned that adventurous military expeditions like that in Iraq would drain the nation’s financial coffers and hurt our prestige overseas. He was right on both counts.

Has the power of the federal judiciary over matters of policy been strengthened or weakened? This is the one area in which Republicans can claim relatively unadulterated success. Bush’s two appointments to the Supreme Court—John Roberts and Samuel Alito—are models of what conservative justices should be. In fact, many conservative voted for Bush during his second term solely because they knew the importance of replacing retiring justices with men or women who would interpret the law, not manufacture it.

But if you set the appointment of conservative judges aside, are there enough Republican successes to inspire any real enthusiasm among conservatives this election season? Should we somehow have expected more?

When liberals take office, they use their power to further their agenda with admirable aggressiveness. But to many of their conservative supporters, it seems as if Republicans have neither the courage nor the ability to articulate the case for conservative principles—nor to aggressively implement them when they get the chance. Republicans need to remind themselves what they believe in and why, and then they need to find the backbone to stand up for it.

There is no evidence that this election is about either the approval of liberal policies, since none have been proposed, or the rejection of conservative ones, since there are legitimate questions as to how aggressively they have been attempted. Americans are not disenchanted with conservatism; but many conservatives are disenchanted with the Republican Party.

If the Democrats win in November, it may well be less the result of the ascendancy of a rejuvenated liberalism than the revenge of a disenchanted conservatism.

© Martin Cothran 2006. All rights reserved. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

Post on Dawkins discussed at Dembski's blog

My post on why Richard Dawkin's book, "The God Delusion," weakens the case for Intelligent Design was discussed over at William Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent, in a post written by Denise O'Leary. It's an interesting post.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wall vs. Wall

As David Adams points out, Mexico's president-elect Felipe Calderon compares the 700-mile wall on the U.S. border with his country with the Berlin Wall. He has apparently forgotten that the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, while the U.S. border wall is to keep people out.

If he doesn't like the wall, he ought to implement policies in his own country that will encourage people not to flee from it--like maybe dismantling socialism.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Educrats at play

I remember a number of years ago when Time Magazine announced that having babies had come back into fashion. Until then, I had not been aware that such things were subject to trends, and wondered what it said about our culture that we thought of perfectly natural functions as somehow equivalent in significance to the hemlines on women's skirts.

I was reminded of this when I read Gene Edward Veith's post today at his blog "Cranach" concerning the news that grammar is now "in" again. Once again, I had to ask myself, are there not some things that should just be accepted in the common course of experience, rather than subject to the whims of some kind of craze?

Ooops. Bad question to ask when it comes to education policy.

Fact is the Paris fashion industry (if they still dictate clothing design like they used to) has nothing on the education establishment, where newest fads and gimmicks drive what gets taught in the nation's public schools.

According to Veith, The National Council of Teachers of English has reversed "it's long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as 'a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing.'"

That's right. The group that poses as the board of bishops for the teaching of English in America was opposed to grammar drills. That in itself should cause us to cover ourselves in sackloth and ashes and ask forgiveness for allowing such a group to exist in the first place.

Do people really believe this? That drilling kinds in grammar is bad for them? Unfortunately, the answer is "Yes". In Kentucky several years ago, the educational establishment found a convenient way to enforce this. Under the state's assessment system, teachers were supposed to collect a sample of the students work and include it in a "portfolio." Each school's student portfolios were then gathered together and graded by state education bureaucrats. The school's portfolio score was then used, along with other test scores to dole out rewards and punishments.

Portfolios have been a craze in education for a number of years now, and in Kentucky they were used in a high stakes testing environment.

Since any paper a student wrote could conceivably be included in the students final portfolio, any paper was considered to be, broadly speaking, a part of a "test." And since it was considered a part of the test, teachers were not allowed, in any way, to indicate the correct answers to students. Because of this, it was actually considered a breach of ethics for teachers to tell show students the right way to spell or grammatically construct a sentence when they were helping them write papers. Such activity was considered no different than telling a child which bubble to fill in on a standardized test.

But the question is why the education establishment is changing its mind on the dangers of grammar. Veith remarks on how this change is being rationalized: "'To diagram a sentence is to deconstruct it.' Sentence diagramming, when seen correctly, is not going back to a traditional approach to education that produced good writers. Rather, it is really postmodernist, and so it's OK."

And you wondered what was wrong with our schools.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My nominations for modern Christian satirists

The folks over at Worldviews, the World Magazine blog, make the observation that political satire is tres chic these days, citing such luminaries as Stephen Colbert and Ann Coulter. They then ask whether anyone has examples of contemporary Christian literature that "lampoons" the current state of the world.

Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "contemporary", but I would think that many of the novels of G. K. Chesterton (circa. 1874-1936) would have to count, as well as much of his non-fiction, particularly books like Heretics and Orthodoxy, and many of his newspaper columns. And certainly Walker Percy's novels, particularly Love in the Ruins, and The Thanatos Syndrome, which are wildly clever send-ups of the pathologies of modern life and thought, would have to be considered.

And while we're talking about Christian satire, a web search turns up the very interesting post at "John Mark Ministries" on the subject of Christian satire.

Another modern art outrage

G. K. Chesterton once said that all art involves "drawing aline somewhere." Some art critics are wanting to draw the line somewhere this side ofa a new exhibition at the Chapter Art Centre in Cardiff, England, where, according to the Daily Mail, a new exhibition that features, well, nothing. Artist Simon Pope says visitors to the empty exhibit hall are to use the opportunity to remember exhibitions at another museum. "You are asked to summon up these remote spaces - through memory, body, speech and movement - so that they exist at two locations simultaneously, both here and there."


Pope says the exhibition is to foster a greater awareness of psychosis by putting visitors in the frame of mind of someone suffering from "reduplicative paramnesia," a "rare delusional belief that a place or location has been duplicated, existing in more than one place simultaneously, or that it has been 'relocated' to another site."

This has not a few visitors accusing Pope of engaging in a practical joke. Maybe they should put stops on the checks they used to pay to enter the exhibit and ask the museum to "imagine" that the checks are good.

And museums wonder why it's so hard to find funding.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wait! There's one more booklist!

Well, discussions of book lists are sweeping evangelicaldom, and, like almost every other craze that hits it, it is being taken too far (and is this post just making the problem worse? Well, probably so). Christianity Today started it, with its list of the "50 Books that Influenced Evangelicals." Then came the lists of "50 Books that Should Have Influenced Evangelicals." Then the "50 books that You Should Leave on the Shelf."

Now evangelical publishing has come in for a lot of criticism for its trendiness and insipidity--almost all of it well deserved. But there's no better criticism than ridicule, and so you have to appreciate the folks over at Purgatorio, who have constructed the greatest evangelical booklist of them all: 50 Potential Christian Bestsellers.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • I’m Totally Depraved, You’re Totally Depraved
  • 40 or so Days more-or-less of Purpose
  • Steal This Book- Then Repent, Bring it Back, and Confess
  • Pretty Good People in the Hands of an Ambivalent God
  • Y3K - Countdown to Armageddon
  • Raptured By Mistake - Book I of the “I Should Have Been Left Behind” series
  • For Men and Women Only - A Straightforward Guide to Stuff You Already Know
  • I Kissed Bundling Goodbye
  • Noing God: Tales from the Bible on How to Refuse God and Live to Tell About it
  • What on Earth Am I Here For and Why On Earth Do I Keep Asking Myself these Questions?
  • The Openness of God: How 5 Theologians Go to Heaven only to find it ‘Closed for the Season’
  • Reimagining Jesus Until I Like What I See
  • Capitulating: Unveiling the Mystery of Keeping Your Wife from Getting Mad at You When You Want to Run Around and Do “Wild at Heart” Kind of Guy Stuff
You gotta love it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Taking Dawkins seriously

Apparently a link to my post on the debate between crusading atheist Richard Dawkins and Catholic journalist David Quinn was displayed over at (a web address that should explain itself).

I suppose it would be good web manners to return the favor and direct readers over to their site where you can find the transcript of the Dawkins/Quinn debate. They can't be all bad over at The Raving Atheist: a G. K. Chesterton quote is prominently displayed on their home page. I'm sure G.K.C. would have found it amusing that he would be approvingly quoted in an atheist publication.

The result of the post has been quite a few hits on this blog, several, apparently, from cheerleaders for Dawkins. I thought Quinn clearly bested Dawkins, and I explained why in a comment on the earlier post. That doesn't mean atheism has been vanquished; it just means he didn't acquite himself well on that particular occasion. The cheerleaders don't see it that way, but then again, it's not the job of cheerleaders to engage in substantive critiques of their own side. They're just there to wave the pom-poms.

I thought, on the other hand, that Dawkins was smooth and competant in the exchange with Stephen Colbert. Colbert was funnier, but that's his job. Dawkins job is to be persuasive, which in that interview, I think he was.

I posted the links to the debate not because I think Dawkins is to be dismissed; quite the contrary. I posted the link precisely because Dawkins cannot be dismissed and any Christian who does so needs to have his head examined.

I think Dawkins is the most dangerous living opponent of Christianity. He is smart, articulate, and--to many people--convincing. That doesn't mean he's right; it just means he's persuasive. So when someone does as well as Quinn did against someone as formidible as Dawkins, it's an event.

It is because he is so capable at defending his position that his new book, The God Delusion, is such a great disappointment, and it is a great disappointment because Dawkins himself has failed to fully appreciate the strength and persuasiveness of the arguments he attacks. It is his fatal flaw.

I will have more to say on that in a review of the book that will be posted here next week.

Friday, October 20, 2006

NKU joins the domestic partner benefits rebellion

Another state university has put taxpayers on notice that it doesn't consider itself beholden to anyone but special interest groups. This time it is Northern Kentucky University, announcing it is considering domestic partner benefits. I was quoted in the story that appeared in the Kentucky Enquirer (which seems to be the same story the CJ ran on the front page with a little added for the local angle). You can find the story here.

Crusading atheist meets his match

Richard Dawkins, who is making the rounds of English and American radio and television talks shows promoting his new book, The God Delusion, is about as articulate as they come--which is one of the things that makes him so dangerous. But he met his match recently on a British radio program in Catholic journalist David Quinn.

The mp3 file can be found here.

Then there is the hysterically funny interview Dawkins had with Stephen Colbert at Comedy Central that you can find on YouTube here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What are humans evolving into?

Over at the SOMA Review, the weblog of the "Society of Mutual Autopsy", they are discussing recent comments by British evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry, of the London School of Economics, who says that human beings will reach their biological apex by the year 3000.

Wouldn't it be amusing if, by the year 3000, human beings all evolved into creationists?

State family group condemns threat made by domestic partner supporter

For Immediate Release
October 19, 2006 A. D.

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Threat against conservative lawmaker condemned by state family group

LEXINGTON, KY. —The Family Foundation of Kentucky today condemned a threat made in a newspaper comment section against a state lawmaker who recently introduced legislation barring benefits for live-in sexual partners at state universities. An opponent of the legislation posted the family address of State Representative Stan Lee, the sponsor of the legislation, in the comment section of the article on the bill’s introduction in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The person posting the message called on opponents of the bill to protest outside his home “’round the clock,” and ended the message by saying, “Trick or Treat, anybody?”

“We hope this is not a sign of things to come from the supporters of domestic partner benefits,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation. “To attempt to intimidate people just because you disagree with them is hardly furthering the message of tolerance and diversity.”

Cothran pointed out that the media was quick to jump on the incident during the debate over the Marriage Protection Amendment in 2004 in which a supporter of the amendment allegedly spat on an aide of openly gay State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone at the State Capitol. “Some quarters of the media seems to have a trigger finger when it comes to pointing out the warts of conservatives, but reticent to say anything that could be conceived as reflecting badly on left-wing critics. We certainly hope that this gets the same kind of attention the media gave to the alleged incident at the Capitol two years ago.”


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Dawkins book provides ammunition for Intelligent Design advocates

Opponents of Intelligent Design can't seem to agree on why they think it is wrong. In fact, their reasons for rejecting it are completely contradictory.

The whole reason some opponents say that Intelligent Design cannot be taught in the science classroom is that it isn't science, and it isn't science, they say, because it doesn't make falsifiable claims. But other opponents say that the claims Intelligent Design makes are false claims. But if it is true to say that ID's claims are false, then ID's claims must be falsifiable. And if ID's claims are falsifiable, then they must be scientific claims. But if ID makes scientific claims, then the argument that ID cannot be taught in the science classroom because it doesn't fall within the realm of science is completely undermined.

Among those that say ID isn't science at all is the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the leading opponent in America of teaching ID in schools. In fact, this belief was at the heart of the recent Dover court decision. Among those that say that ID is science (but bad science) is Richard Dawkins, whose new book, The God Delusion, is a frontal assault on religious belief (and the number 1 seller on

Dawkins, an Oxford scientist and the most popular contemporary defender of evolution, directs withering criticism at NCSE for wimping out in its argument with religious opponents of evolution by saying that the realms of science and religion are totally separate concerns--that scientists should stay on their side of the line and theologians on their side, and everybody can live in peace. Dawkins maintains that religious claims (and, ipso facto, the claims of Intelligent Design) are broadly scientific in character, that they make claims that are falsifiable--and that, in fact, they are false.

Dawkins calls the NCSE's position the "Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists," a reference to the British prime minister, who, before the outbreak of World War II, misguidedly tried to appease Hitler.

Not tender words, these.

The problem, then, for opponents of Intelligent Design is that these two anti-ID arguments are mutually exclusive: if one is right, the other must be wrong.

In the meantime, whenever advocates of Intelligent Design hear the argument that Intelligent Design is not science, all they need to do is point to the new book by the man who is perhaps the leading advocate of evolution today who says that this argument is not only wrong, but an example of intellectual cowardice.

Story on bill banning domestic partner benefits in CJ today

I was quoted in an article in today's Louisville Courier-Journal on domestic partner benefits at state universities. A couple of interesting things about the article:

1. Politicians on either side don't seem to want to touch it (at least not now, before the election). Mark Pitsch, the reporter who wrote the story, couldn't get any politician (other than Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington) who sponsored the bill) to comment.

2. According to the story, "U of L defines an employee's domestic partner as a person of the same or opposite gender who is at least 18 years old, in 'a long-term relationship of indefinite duration with an exclusive mutual commitment,' financially responsible for a partner's financial well-being and debts, unrelated by blood and not married or committed to any other partner." Why are we excluding people who are "unrelated by blood"? Why can't we include a live-in relative who we are taking care of? Why do they take a back seat to what are essentially live-in sexual partners?

3. And in case there was any doubt about the fact that this policy is kowtowing to special interest political groups, there was this: "Wes Wright, the [Fairness Alliance's] legislative director, said the group has been mobilizing faculty and staff at state universities in anticipation of a bill like Lee's."

According to Kyle Dippery, staff senate chairman at the University of Kentucky, the bill, "sends a message that Kentucky doesn't want ... tolerant, forward-thinking people here." Ohhhhhhhh. Tolerant, forward-thinking people. Are these "tolerant" people the ones who consider anyone who disagrees with them to be "hatemongers"? And is it forward-thinking for our taxpayer-funded public institutions to bow the knee to special interest groups and institute policies that alienate the taxpayers who support them?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bill to prohibit university domestic partner plans introduced

For Immediate Release
October 17, 2006

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Family group supports legislation prohibiting domestic partner benefits introduced today

LEXINGTON, KY.—The Family Foundation of Kentucky said today that it was in full support of a bill designed to prohibit health care benefits for live in sexual partners of state university employees. The bill was prefiled today by Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington). “The leadership at UK and U of L needs to know how taxpayers stand on the idea of using their money to provide benefits for same sex and opposite sex partners of university employees,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

The legislation comes in the wake of plans at the University of Louisville to implement a domestic partner benefit plan as well as the announcement by the University of Kentucky that it is looking into implementing a similar program.
“We need our taxpayer funded institutions to support marriage, not undermine it,” said Cothran. “Parents who are looking at colleges for their children are going to start looking elsewhere if our state universities continue to undermine the values of Kentucky taxpayers.”

Cothran also criticized the universities’ priorities. “Why are these schools looking to spend taxpayer resources on their employees’ live-in sex partners when there are other issues, such as an explosion in class size, that need to be addressed?”

### Hating the hatemongers

If liberal Democrats have a conscience, it is surely political consultant Mark Nicholas of the popular weblog: The former campaign chief for Ben Chandler is the closest thing they have to a Jiminy Cricket. He says what they know they should be saying if they were being honest with themselves--but refuse to say because they know they would be sent packing if the voters discovered it.

Hence the longer-than-normal noses sported by not a few politicians.

In a blog post today, Nicholas launches into a mini-tirade against State Rep. Stan Lee, who has introduced a bill to prohibit taxpayer-funded colleges and universities in Kentucky from providing health care benefits to the live-in sexual partners of their employees:

The hate mongers are back:

Legislator Files Bill To Prohibit Partner Benefits At State Colleges
By Art Jester

A state legislator from Lexington has prefiled a bill for the 2007 General Assembly that would prohibit domestic partner benefits at Kentucky's state universities and community and technical colleges.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, would prohibit the benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples.

So sad that the very people who cry for the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public building and seem to have a copy of the Bible Velcro-ed to their belt are the ones that have so much hate built-up inside of them.

It's disgusting if you ask me.

I can't imagine Nicholas would advise one of his clients to take this position. In fact, ten bucks says Nicholas would advise them to say just the opposite in any political race outside of Louisville and a couple of exotic precincts in Lexington near the UK campus.

Of course, one of the things that constitutes hateful behavior is name-calling, which Nicholas seems to feel little inclination to spare in his charges of hateful behavior in others. I don't remember a single opponent of domestic partner benefits uttering an epithet against those with whom they disagree. But Nicholas, apparently oblivious to the definition of hypocrisy, sees no need to skimp on the insults.

Why is it the people who are always accusing others of being hateful seem to feel exempt from the rules they demand that others follow?

Maybe they ought to have a course on consistency at political consultants school. Or maybe they could just install a few mirrors over at

Monday, October 16, 2006

A response to the Fairness Alliance on domestic partner benefits

Paul Brown of the Bluegrass Kentucky Fairness Alliance responded in the Lexington Herald-Leader today to my piece on UK's proposal to provide domestic partner benefits. Needless to say, he didn't like the piece.

This is a great load off of my mind.

Brown makes several criticisms of my original article. He says first that I failed to back up my arguments. "[H]e fails," says Brown of my piece, "to provide much evidence to back up his arguments..."


My argument was that the University of Kentucky would make better use of its time and resources by trying to solve real problems like classes that are too big and professors' salaries that are too low. I listed the size of several freshman classes, some of which boasted over 600 students, and I pointed out that faculty salaries were 89 percent of UK's benchmark schools.

What other evidence does Brown need? Does he think these things are less important than domestic parther benefits policies?

Brown says, "Unfortunately, those issues [class sizes and staff salaries] have zero to do with domestic partner benefits." Actually they have a whole lot to do with each other if you are trying to set your priorities as an institution. The whole point of my piece was that, while Todd other supporters of this policy somehow think this is going to gain them favor with organizations that rank schools (which they won't), there are other more pressing problems that are not being dealt with that rankings agencies really do care about.

He says, "Truthfully, we don't know to what school of thought either UK President Lee Todd or the staffs of school-ranking organizations subscribe." We don't? Todd has expressed himself several times on this issue. When he first came to UK he said his own company had such a policy and that he saw no reason UK shouldn't have one as well. And we certainly know where school rankings organizations stand in regard to the relative importance of benefits for live-in sexual partners and class sizes. In fact, the U.S. News and World Report criteria include nothing about domestic partner benefits policies. They do, however, include class size as a major factor in their rankings decisions.

Brown also takes issue with my terminology. "Suggesting that domestic partners are merely 'live-in sexual partners' is reprehensible," he says. It's not reprehensible, it's accurate--and honest. The single and only qualification for receiving domestic partner benefits is that you be having sex with the person you are claiming as a domestic partner. Period. If not, then we can all sign up our best friends who happen to be rooming with us.

Is Brown really denying this?

Brown goes through laundry list of things he says domestic partners do together: "These partners own houses together. They go to work in the morning and come home to each other at night. They cook dinner together, split the household chores, divide the bills, share the yard work, watch TV together and fall asleep together." The appropriate response to which is, "So what?" None of these things qualifies you for benefits under a domestic partner program.

So let's say this clearly one more time: you can't get benefits under domestic partner programs unless you are having sex with the person who wishes to qualify.

And Brown accused me of bring up extraneous issues?

Finally, Brown says that benefits for live-in sexual partners will help UK's students. His argument? That they will "attract a more diverse, talented faculty." Well let's take these two things in turn. Let's start with "diverse". Well, if by diverse you mean that UK's faculty will have more people who are living in non-married sexual relationships with each other, then, yes, the faculty will be more diverse. But how does this help students?

Does Brown think that if we surveyed UK parents, they would agree that having more faculty living in non-married sexual relationships helps their children learn? I seriously doubt it. In fact, a good portion of them would think that UK was a less attractive place, not a more attractive one, to send their kids.

And what about "talented"? Will benefits for live-in sexual partners help UK attract a more "talented" faculty? How? Brown claimed my editorial presented no evidence for my argument (which, in fact it did). What is Brown's evidence for this claim? What study has shown that these policies do what their advocates claim? Where is it?

It doesn't exist, and Brown knows it.

There is no proof that domestic partner benefit policies will attract more talented faculty. None. There is no study. No research. Not a single solitary piece of evidence.

Where is your evidence, Mr. Brown? Don't bother getting back to me until you can produce it.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Islamic Leaders Respond to the Pope

A letter in response to Pope Benedict's Regensburg comments, signed by 38 Muslim leaders, has been released. The Pope's original remarks can be found here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gays have only themselves to blame in Foley affair, says family group

For Immediate Release
October 13, 2006 A.D.

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

State family advocacy group says Fairness Alliance "almost stumbled on the truth"

"Gay rights groups have created an environment that may very well have made the Foley situation worse," said a spokesman for The Family Foundation of Kentucky today. The comments came on the heels of the release of a statement by a state gay rights blaming congressional leadership for not dealing sooner with gay former congressman Mark Foley.

"Actually, they almost got it right," said The Family Foundation's senior policy analyst Martin Cothran. "The Fairness Alliance is dead on right in its observation that Foley's sexual orientation may have delayed action on Foley. But most likely the only homophobia involved was not fear of gays, but with fear of gay rights groups like the Fairness Alliance who do not want to talk about gays who abuse children and who don't like anyone else to talk about it either."

"House leadership's own homophobia," said the Fairness Alliance's statement, issued to the Lexington Herald-Leader, "and their desire to protect their power led them to this crisis. Their apparent eagerness to avoid talking about Foley's sexual orientation gave them impetus to look the other way."

"If the fear of accusing a gay colleague of sexually predatory behavior really prevented Congressional leaders from dealing with Foley earlier, then gay rights groups have only themselves to blame," said Cothran in response.

"The very groups who are now charging House leadership with failing to deal with the Foley affair are the same groups who have created an environment in which people like Foley are allowed to get away with sexually predatory behavior," said Cothran. "Anyone who has the temerity to suggest that there is any kind of connection between homosexuality and sexually predatory behavior is immediately and unceremoniously read out of polite society. Do you really expect people--congressional leaders or anyone else--to be enthusiastic about outing sexual predators who are gay in that kind of environment?"

The Fairness Alliance accused the House of having an informal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that enabled Mark Foley to continue his behavior uninhibited. But Cothran said gay rights groups like the Fairness Alliance have their own similar policies when it comes to sexual predators who are gay: "Let's call them 'Don't Talk About It At All' policies," said Cothran.

"If gay rights groups are going to lecture other people on how to act when it comes to sexual predators, they should get their own house in order," said Cothran. "In fact, has anyone noticed that it took a lot longer for gay rights groups to expel open advocates of pedophilia from their own midst than it did for congressional leadership to come to terms with Mark Foley?"

More troubling news about the troubling relationship between gay rights groups and troubling relationships

How gay rights groups and their friends on the political left talk out of both sides of their mouths on the issue of pedophilia from David Horowitz's Front Page magazine.

Pence on "Partners"

Lieutenant Gov. Steve Pence had this to say in yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal on U of L's plan to provide taxpayer funded benefits for the live-in sexual partners of its staff: "I don't necessarily disagree with it."

Let's give him 10 out of 10 points for honesty, 2 out of 10 points for sentence construction (a really limp double negative to blunt the political implications of his position) and 0 out of 10 points for political acumen. This is, after all, the man who says he may run for the Republican nomination for governor against Ernie Fletcher in a state that passed a same-sex marriage ban by a politically numbing margin.

Go Steve.

Churchill Downs exempted from the rules everyone else has to live by

Louisville's metro council yesterday passed a smoking ban for every public building and workplace in Louisville--except, that is, Churchill Downs. Now how did Churchhill Downs not only convince councilmen to exempt it from the ban, but to vote down several measures that would have protected children from all that evil second hand smoke on the racetrack premises? It couldn't be because they have more political influence than the small businesses who now have to follow rules that Churchill doesn't have to follow, could it?

Perish the thought.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More on the books that influenced evangelicals

I had an earlier post with a link to Christianity Today's list of the 50 books that most shaped evangelical thought in the 20th century. Needless to say, it has started a discussion.

Erik Thoennes, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology at Biola University now weighs in on the top ten books he thinks influenced evangelicals, as well as (and perhaps more importantly), the top ten books that should have influenced evangelicals.

Then there is this list (in the "should have influenced" category) from C. J. Mahaney at Sovereign Grace ministries.

And this from Jim Hamilton, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Houston Campus), and this from Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries, and this from Philp Ryken, Senior Minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia... heck, just go to "Between Two Worlds," the excellent blog of Justin Taylor in Wheaton, Illinois, to see the whole discussion now going on about books and evangelicaldom.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Republicans Foley Dilemma

In a letter to the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Dennis Stutsman of Lexington repeats the mantra of the liberals on the Foley episode: "Maybe if these conservatives would put less energy into repression and division, pedophiles like Foley could be caught much earlier."

It apparently still has not occurred to them that the very fear of accusing a gay colleague of sexually predatory behavior may have been just what prevented Congressional leaders from dealing with it earlier.

The Democrats must know they have Republicans in a dilemma: either violate the anathema issued by the priests of political correctness (Never speak ill of gays) and risk being accused of intolerance, or follow it and be accused of a cover up.

Unfortunately, rather than try to find a creative way out of it, the Republicans have proved themselves weak-kneed enough to fully impale themselves on one horn of the dilemma.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

If you're going to wave the flag, make sure it's the right one

In their zeal to show their patriotism in the form of support for American veterans, the Democratic Party posted a picture of a soldier on their official website. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the picture was of a Canadian soldier.


According to Michelle Malkin, when the error was discovered, the picture was quickly taken off the site and replaced by the flag. Fortunately, there was enough familiarity with things American at Party headquarters that the image posted was that of the American flag, not the Canadian flag--or (perhaps more popular at their offices) the United Nations flag.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Latin in the News: "Habeas Fascismus"

I'm starting a new little feature just for fun. Being a Latin teacher (among other things), it always interests me to see Latin phrases used in the media. This one, habeas fascismus was used in this article as a play on habeas corpus. Habeas corpus means "you may have the body." The article argues that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 suspends habeas corpus and weakens individual rights in the United States. Habeas fascismus means "you may have fascism."

Log Cabin Conservatives: an Oxymoron

Meanwhile, over at the "Kentucky Conservative Blogs Networks: KY Conservative Views on News and Life," there seems to be some confusion over the definition of "conservatism". There is this jewel of an observation made by "Dawn" from "ConservaChick" in response to Democratic criticisms of Republicans for not being "diverse" enough:

Um, hellooooo, Demmmmmms? Ever hear of a little organization called the Log Cabin Republicans?! (If not, fergawdsakes click on the link.) In all seriousness, Conservatism is not the sole property of the Religious Right; as a matter of fact, many of the ideas that the Religious Right tries to push through as legislation on the Hill are not Conservative ideas. Many true Conservatives fully embrace all people, regardless of their sexuality, as being an important part of the larger community of Conservatism. It is small-minded, bigotted, and ridiculous to believe otherwise about a political ideology that promotes personal responsibility and freedom.

Not all Conservatives are Evangelicals, nor are they for government endorsement of marriage. It is this Conservative's opinion that all unions should be considered "civil unions" if performed by a government authority. Marriage is a religious concept that can only be recognized as such by a church, in my opinion. Our federal government has no business defining marriage -- Civil unions, sure; marriage, no.

Apparently Dawn is under the impression that marriage as a unique societal institution recognized (and often encouraged) by government originated with the Religous Right. This is a rather curious viewpoint given the fact that marriage is as old as civilization, and the Religious Right has only been around, oh, about 40 years.

If conservatives aren't interested in conserving and promoting the institutions that are necessary for the healthy, stable functioning of society, then they're not really conservatives.

When Republicans start buying in to Democrats rhetoric on "diversity" instead of resisting it, it's time to ask whether the Republican tent has become so big that there is really no difference between being inside it and being outide it.

The best way to defeat somebody is not to become just like them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The "Gay Pass": Were Foley's actions ignored because he was gay?

Was Mark Foley's harassment of male congressional pages allowed to continue because he was known to be a homosexual? So far, no one in the media has asked this question. They ought to.

The scandal, which involved sexual harassment through e-mail and instant messaging of young male House pages, had allegedly been reported to House leadership, who are now being accused of allowing it to continue. If House leadership did indeed know the true nature of Foley's behavior, then why would they not have done something about it?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to ask another one: What would have happened if a man who was widely known to be gay was accused (in the absence of a media feeding frenzy) of chasing after young boys? What happens in general to anyone who says anything about any connection at all between homosexuality and sex with children--or, for that matter with any kind of sexual predation?

One of the things we know without any question is that anyone who is politically reckless enough to suggest that there is any kind of connection between homosexuality and sexually predatory behavior is immediately and unceremoniously read out of polite society. A brief survey of several past sex scandals involving children is all that is required to establish the fact.

The controversy over Boy Scout policies on scoutmasters is one recent example of the anger and outrage that can be generated by the suggestion that homosexuals might be interested in boys. Policies barring homosexuals from being scoutmasters were put in place because of actual incidents in which boys were molested by older males. But opponents of these policies have responded with spluttering indignation at the suggestion that gay men can in any way be blamed for this.

Being gay and being a male pedophile who abuses boys, the public is assured, are two entirely different and unrelated things. In fact, the Scout policy is considered so out of bounds that Scout troops all over the country face threats of defunding by corporations and municipalities because of it.

The other example, is, of course, the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. Although the secular-minded media showed little restraint in reporting the issue, and seemed content enough to see the Church's reputation marred by the scandal, how did it handle the facts of the case? Most significantly what did it do with the fact that the vast majority of the abuse was of boys rather than girls?

The answer is, it did its best to underplay it. And when it was suggested that the problem could stem from the overabundance of gay priests coming from Catholic seminaries, the response consisted mostly of shock and indignation.

Despite their protestations, gays haven't helped themselves on this issue. Homosexual rights groups have a history of supporting laws to reduce the age of consent for sexual activity. They also have a long history of relationships with groups openly supportive of pedophilia. In fact, it took a lot longer for gay rights groups to expel open advocates of pedophilia from their midst than it did for the Republican Congressional leadership to come to terms with Mark Foley.

The bottom line is this: male on male pedophilia--or any other predatory sexual behavior, because it threatens the image gays have carefully cultivated of themselves in recent years, is something you simply try to talk about as little as possible.

What does all this have to do with Foley?

When Foley's attorney spoke to reporters the day after the story broke, there were three things he said Foley wanted the public to know. The first was that he was abused by a clergyman in his youth. The second was that he was an alcoholic. The third was that he was a "gay man."

Pop quiz: What does that last of these have to do with the first two? Answer: it is an excuse that Foley perceived would somehow help mitigate the culpability of his actions. It was an implicit way of saying, "I'm gay, and therefore I can't be a sexual predator, since, as we all know, homosexuality and sexual predation have nothing to do with each other."

Politicians caught in sexual escapades know instinctively that they can latch on to the polished public perception that gays are no different from heterosexuals when it comes to pedophilia and promiscuity. When Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey resigned in the wake of revelations that he had had an affair with a former male aide, he quickly announced he was a "gay American." Why? Because he thought he could find protection in the prestige of the gay persona in the media.

Being perceived as "gay" is the last refuge of a sexual predator.

Of course, when politicians do this, they tarnish the reputation they bank on, which is why gay advocacy groups cringe every time a politician tries to cash in on their slick public persona. Just as gays tried to shun James McGreevey, they are now shunning Foley, and not so quietly grumbling that their image will be tarnished.

So, if you're in leadership in the U.S. Congress and you are faced with the decision of whether to accuse a colleague who is known to be gay of being a sexual predator, are you going to do it? The answer is that you would probably have to think about it a little longer than you otherwise would.

Let's call it "the gay pass": the idea that, if you're gay, you get extra political capital that you can spend when it is discovered that you are a sexual predator. Rep. Gerry Studds redeemed his pass in 1973 when he had an affair with a 17-year old male page. So did Rep. Barney Frank when it was discovered in 1990 that a male prostitution ring was being run out of his Washington townhouse. Both Studds and Frank were quickly forgiven and subsequently reelected.

One of the questions being asked in the wake of the Foley episode is whether Republicans should be held to a higher standard when it comes to sex scandals because of their family values rhetoric. They probably should. But it is also legitimate to ask whether gays are held to a lower standard in such circumstances, and whether the tendency to do just that was what reduced the enthusiasm around the Capitol to do something about Foley.

© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.

Making Fun of Foley

National Review magazine comments on the Foley episode: "Mark Foley has checked himself into rehab for alcoholism. We hope the scotch was older than the boys."

The 50 books that shaped evangelicals

Christianity Today Magazine has compiled their list of the 50 books that have shaped evangelicals. For better and worse, I think it is a fairly accurate list.