Monday, March 31, 2008

Gay Anxiety

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars is touting a study recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that finds "homophobic" men (whatever "homophobic" means) are more aroused by homoerotic imagery than "non-homophobic" men (whatever "non-homophobic" means). And by "touting" I mean that Brayton indicates that these findings are "interesting"--by which I think he means "I would really like them to be true because they comport with my scientistic assumptions about the world and so I am willing to grant them immediate provisional credibility by using the term 'interesting' rather than, say, 'patently absurd'."

That Brayton would report on a the study the way he has is particularly interesting given his constant criticism of Intelligent Design as not being science. Funny, isn't it, how those who are the most vocally skeptical about anything that purports to be science that might favor a religious view of the world are the most credulous when it comes to a purportedly scientific "study" that backs up their own presuppositions?

It is particularly ironic that instant credibility should be granted to a claim coming out of the world of psychology, the scientific status of which has been repeatedly debated over the course of its existence. Not only that, but we are talking about a profession that has a history of responding more readily to political agendas than it does to science. The professional psychological associations didn't change their view that homosexuality was a psychological problem because of any new evidence--they changed it because they were responding to political pressure. In fact, the "research" done on issues related to homosexuality is constantly being compromised by ideological conflict of interest.

"Interesting"? You can say that again.

In case you hadn't noticed, activist homosexuals take it as a personal affront that you disagree with them. Why? Heterosexuals do not take it as a personal affront if homosexuals disagree with them. So what gives? Why do homosexuals have this deep-seated need to be agreed with? And why the violent reaction when you disagree with them? It has nothing to do with anything you might want to do to them. You may very well want to mind your own business and prefer them to mind theirs (and, possibly, not want their homosexuality waved in your face every five minutes). It's not what you might do that bothers them: it's what you believe. They simply can't stand the fact that you won't accept what they do.

I come back once again to Joseph Sobran's great observation that what homosexuals want more than anything is to force everyone else to say that what they are doing is okay.

The preferred way of assuaging this anxiety is the cherished shibboleth of homosexual rights groups: that the people who don't approve of their homosexuality are really homosexuals themselves. This is a great example of what C. S. Lewis called "Bulverism": it is like saying, "You're just saying that because you're a woman." It has absolutely no bearing on the objective validity of arguments against homosexuality, but it has the psychological effect of making homosexuals feel better about themselves to think that those who disagree with them are really in-the-closet homosexuals.

Of course, it would be rather strange if the claims of this study were true, since what we would then have would be a group of people, one faction the members of which are so insecure about their sexuality that they have a deep-seated need to believe their detractors are really just like them but don't want to admit it, and another faction the members of which are so insecure about their sexuality that that they they have a deep-seated need to hide their homosexuality from the homosexuals who have a need to believe that the latter group really are homosexuals.

Now there's great topic for the Journal of Abnormal Psychology to explore!

Oh, and has anyone noticed that the very people who scream bloody murder when anyone implies that their sexual habits constitute a psychological malady are the very people who are trying to claim that their opponents are psychologically disturbed merely because they happen to disagree with the practitioners of these particular sexual habits? Isn't that, after all, the primary purpose of the term "homophobic"--an ideological bully word?

The positions of gay rights groups are nothing if not rich in irony.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The problem with education is not money

Nicholas Stevens at Cyberhillbilly has this to say about the demise of the casino bill in the Kentucky legislature:
The casino bill is dead, what is not dead is the realization of education in the state with being overall underfunded and not performing to national standards, which even our national education standards are behind.
Let's see now. We were whining about education being underfunded in the 1980's in this state, so we instituted the lottery in 1988. So what were we whining about in 1990? Not enough education funding. So we passed KERA, the financial part of which was the greatest increase in state history. So here we are again. And the problem? Not enough education funding.

Exactly what do we have to do to please the people who say we are not doing enough to fund education? We currently spend about 65 percent of the state budget on education. How much of the state budget is it going to take to satisfy them?

The answer to the question, of course is: No amount of education funding will cause the people who say there is not enough education funding to stop calling for more.

The irony is that the problem with education is not money. For one thing, there is little correlation between more money spent and better education. Not only are the states with the best education systems necessarily the ones who fund it at higher levels--nor are the ones with the worst systems the ones who spend the least, but private schools, who spend less that public schools per student, generally outperform public schools.

Could it be that THE PROBLEM WITH EDUCATION IS NOT MONEY? Maybe the biggest tax increase in Kentucky history did not produce what we hoped because of what was done with the money. Instead of doing things that have demonstrably worked in education, like a greater stress on basic skills and a greater emphasis on solid content (and less on amateur psychology), we spent the money on warmed over experiments from the 60s, like nongraded primary programs, whole language, and the newest version of the New Math.

I say we put a moratorium on new money for education until we have some assurance that the money now being given to schools isn't being misspent on the newest educational fads and gimmicks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why P. Z. Myers should be wearing the short pants and sneakers

I have theorized elsewhere about the Darwinists' diminishing status in the gene pool, but there is new and even more alarming evidence of the deterioration of the Darwinist subspecies--further proof that those who believe in the survival of the fittest are less fit for survival. It is becoming increasingly evident that there is a serious lack of creativity among a few Darwinists that could threaten their station on the evolutionary tree.

These days I get most of my news via my Google Reader, and about half of it over the last week seems to be about an attempt by biologist P. Z. Myers to sneak into a private viewing of the new movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," Ben Stein's expose of Darwinist thought control in our institutions of higher learning. Myer's attempt to get into the private screening (which was invitation only) was foiled when he was recognized and told that the private screening was, well, private.

From the indignation with which this incident has been received by the anti-ID crowd, one would think that he was beaten with truncheons by big men in steel-toed boots and physically dragged away from the theater. But, alas, it is not so. Turns out he was just standing there dumbly in line waiting to get in to see the movie, was recognized, and was then asked by theater security to go away, which he did, according to reports, without a struggle.

Such is the state of the Darwinist mindset these days that so unimpressive a performance is considered the stuff of heroism. But P. Z. thought it was something, and he has recounted several times now how he bravely endured his confrontation with theater security (and we know their reputation). I mean what was he supposed to do? They had badges.

But P. Z.'s story about being "thrown out" gets even more gut-wrenching. After being separated from his family (who security apparently let in to see the movie), Myers ended up at a local Apple store at the Mall of the Americas, where he blogged about his experience.

Talk about being in the belly of the beast.

In any case, what are we supposed to make of all this hoopla? Well according to the Darwinists, this is an example of the hypocrisy of Intelligent Design advocates, who throw people out who disagree with ID from the showing of a movie about how people who disagree with Darwinism are thrown out of the academy.

But is limiting the attendance at the pre-screening of an admittedly partisan movie by its creators to invitees only really the same thing as throwing professors out of their academic jobs for having beliefs at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy in their particular discipline--particularly when the institutions engaging in the heave-ho make so much of their respect for academic freedom?

Let's just say the question answers itself.

Memo to Richard Dawkins, P. Z. Myers, et al.: Go make your own movie and invite only the people you want to come and we promise we won't whine about it when we're not on the V.I.P. list. Oh, and if we decide to crash your party, and are so uninspired in the attempt that we can't even fool a few theater employees, we promise to do the honorable thing and blush in shame.

Hand it to Richard Dawkins: at least he was wily enough to actually succeed in getting in (his passport lists him as "Clinton Richard Dawkins")--evidence that Dawkins may possess important survivability traits Myers apparently lacks.

But wait a minute: do we really want them to go away and leave the movie alone? The irony of the sophomoric attempts by the neoatheist crowd to crash the ID party is that the more they do it--and the more they draw attention to the fact that they did it (or, in P. Z.'s case, tried to do it)--the more public attention they draw to the movie.

According to BlogPulse, which apparently measures such things, "Expelled" was the number one topic of conversation in the blogosphere last Monday. If I'm the producer of "Expelled," I pop a champagne cork every time a famous Darwinist tries to sneak into a sneak preview of my movie. More attention = more press coverage = more viewers at theaters when it opens in April.

So where are the rest of them? Maybe Sam Harris could avoid detection by using a false beard--and perhaps Daniel Dennett could avoid scrutiny by shaving his off. Or how about if Christopher Hitchens got a friend to open the exit door for him. We did this when we were kids at the local cineplex. Trust me. It works.

All we ask is that you don't embarrass other members of the species by trying to infiltrate the theater with attempts so unimaginative that you can't even get past theater security. In fact, they created the Darwin Award for just this kind of thing. Wouldn't it be fitting if it went to a prominent Darwinist?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Calling Rep. Watkins to practice what he preaches

For Immediate Release
March 24, 2008
Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Family group calls on state legislator to withdraw bill requiring HPV vaccine
for middle school girls

LEXINGTON, KY—“Now that we know Rep. Watkins opposes divisive legislation, we are calling on him to withdraw his HPV vaccination requirement for middle school girls,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. Rep. David Watkins (D-Henderson) announced in last week’s House Health and Welfare Committee meeting that he was opposed to controversial legislation when arguing against a bill barring domestic partner benefits.

“We see this not only as an opportunity for Rep. Watkins to walk the talk on his opposition to controversial legislation,” said Cothran, “but to show his support of parental rights—and, of course to avoid embarrassment for arguing against a bill he opposes on grounds that would also undermine his own legislation.”

HB 396, of which Watkins is the primary sponsor, requires that middle school girls be vaccinated with the Gardasil vaccine which prevents the transmission of some forms of the Human Papilloma virus as a condition of school attendance. The Family Foundation has opposed the requirement, arguing that the vaccine has nothing to do with disease transmission at school and that parents should make the decision about whether their children should be vaccinated with drugs that are still essentially experimental.

“We certainly understand Rep. Watkin’s concern about divisive legislation,” said Cothran, “and we realize that when he lectured a senator about sponsoring domestic partner legislation in last week’s Health and Welfare Committee meeting because it was controversial that he probably wasn’t thinking about his own bill, which has been one of the most divisive pieces of legislation over the last two sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly.” Watkins launched on what some have called a “tirade” during the consideration of SB 112, sponsored by Vernie McGaha, attacking the senator and The Family Foundation because the bill was “divisive.”

“I think some people do this so that they can get funds for their organization,” said Watkins. “I think they use that as a whip to create and work up division in our society, which is a negative thing. Sen. McGaha, don’t you see the negativity that you cause and the division that you cause in our state? You’re supposed to be up here representing people to help people, not to hurt us. You know, this is a divisive issue. Surely you’re intelligent enough to know that and to realize that this creates division in the Senate, and division in your House of Representatives.”

“We’re fairly certain that, after Rep. Watkin’s regained his composure, he must have realized that his own HPV vaccine bill was at least as controversial as Sen. McGaha’s bill. But we’re confident that Rep. Watkins doesn’t want to be criticizing bills he opposes for reasons that would also undermine his own legislation. And while he is searching his conscience about that, he might consider also withdrawing HB 443, his 70-cent tax on cigarettes, since that bill has turned out to be pretty divisive too.”


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Three Poems for Easter

Three poems from several of my favorite writers came across my Google Reader today which I thought worth repeating here for Easter:

Seven Stanzas At Easter

By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
thatpierceddied, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

He Rests in Rising

by Wendell Berry

What hard travail God does in death!
He strives in sleep, in our despair,
And all flesh shudders underneath
The nightmare of His sepulcher.

The earth shakes, grinding its deep stone;
All night the cold wind heaves and pries;
Creation strains sinew and bone
Against the dark door where He lies.

The stem bent, pent in seed, grows straight
And stands. Pain break in song. Surprising
The merely dead, graves fill with light
Like opened eyes. He rests in rising.


by Anthony Esolen

Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise,
That as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long;
Or since all music is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to strew thy way,
I got me boughs off many a tree,
But thou wast up by break of day
And brought'st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and the East, perfume,
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavor?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Evil Bender on Morality

Well, it's a couple weeks old now, but I wanted to respond to a post by "Evil Bender" on the rational justification of morality. Here is an excerpt from Evil Bender's post on Feb. 28 which adequately explains the circumstances (with those expressions for which in our house a bar of soap in the mouth is the preferred treatment censored):

Martin Cothran, DI contributer, praised a couple of posts on the supposed moral problems of evolutionary theory (1, 2). Cothran praises them as excellent challenges to the Neodarwinian synthesis, which is exceptionally embarrassing, because one doesn’t even need to deal with the specifics of these arguments to see how flawed they are. You see, they overlook two important points:

1. What moral conclusions you choose to draw from a scientific theory is not the result of the theory, but of your philosophical analysis of that theory, and

2. That you do not like the supposed moral implications of a theory doesn’t mean ****. The truth of a theory is not tied to whether you freakin’ like it.

The posts in question, which you can see at the Vulgar Moralist blog, discuss the positions of several of the neoAtheists, most specifically, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Stephen Pinker, that he believes imply moral nihilism. In other words, Vulgar Moralist argues that "NeoDarwinism," which he implicitly defines as philosophical naturalism, undermines the rational justification of morality. If NeoDarwinism (read NeoAtheism) is true, then any kind of objective morality cannot be rationally justified.

Vulgar Moralist uses the term "NeoDarwinist," which under many definitions does not imply atheism, as synonymous with "NeoAthiesm," but it is fairly clear from the post what Vulgar Moralist is talking about. Evil Bender's first point targets one statement in Vulgar Moralist's post that seems to imply that he is believe science per se implies philosophical naturalism. Once again, Vulgar Moralist's terminology is a little confusing here, but it is fairly clear from the post what he means to say. In addition, Vulgar Moralist states clearly elsewhere on his blog that he does not believe science per se is morally nihilistic.

It is easy to take ambiguous terminology in someone's blog post and make it the main issue, as Evil Bender does, and think you have slain a dragon. But in doing it in this case Evil Bender just commits the very same error of which he accuses Vulgar Moralist: of conflating two positions that are, in fact, distinct. Vulgar Moralist was clearly arguing that philosophical naturalism which characterizes the thought of Richard Dawkins et al. is morally nihilistic. Making Vulgar Moralist's point out to be the science is itself morally nihilistic may make Evil Bender feel better about himself and his superior exactitude in his use of terminology, but it doesn't even tough Vulgar Moralist's main argument.

So I concede his first point while pointing out that it doesn't affect Vulgar Moralist's argument in the least.

On the second point--that the truth of a theory "is not tied to whether you freakin’ like it"--I will have to agree once again, pointing out, once again, that IT SAYS NOTHING ABOUT VULGAR MORALISTS ARGUMENT.

So far, the only responses I have seen have taken one minor terminological error in Vulgar Moralist's post and used it as an excuse to attack a position that Vulgar Moralist does not hold and to ignore the position he very obviously defends in his post.

There are a couple terminological ambiguities in the post, but it is clear that they are terminological ambiguities by just reading the post. Now get over it people and address his main argument.

KDE fudges numbers in new audit report on writing portfolio

Well, the Kentucky Department of Education strikes again. Just as we publicly released the 2005-2006 Writing Portfolio Audit Report (because they didn't), they release the 2006-2007 Audit, which makes it look like there has been improvement in the scoring of portfolios, which are a significant part of the way schools in Kentucky are assessed and held accountable.

We had gotten a hold of the 2005-2006 audit of the portfolios which showed that a startlingly high percent of them were graded higher than they should have been. Why is this significant? Because it calls into question the argument that Kentucky students are doing as well as proponents of the 1990 education reforms say they are.

But on his blog Kentucky School News and Comment, Richard Day responds to my post. His first argument against my statements was that my characterization of the audit as "closely held" was inaccurate:
Cothran's suggestion that the audit reports are "closely held" seems to lack justification. KSN&C asked for and received the current 2006-2007 report from KDE without objection or inquiry within an hour this morning. By law, KDE must audit portfolios annually to monitor the degree of inter-rater reliability and the report is public record.
Okay, several things: First, I didn't say that KDE was unwilling to release the report when asked, or that anyone had to pry it out of their grip by force. Secondly, I wasn't talking about the 2006-2007 report, but the 2005-2006 report. So I am still a bit mystified as to what was wrong with my characterization of the report. I chose the expression very carefully: I said "closely held" because very few people outside of KDE were aware of its existence until we outed it. No legislator was made aware of it and it was absent from their website.

The question isn't whether the audit was closely held: the question is why it was closely held. Here we have been arguing over the fate of the CATS test for weeks and KDE has a report which bears directly on the issue and we're the ones to end up having to make it public. What gives?

But then Day gets directly to the issue of reliability, admitting it is a problem, during the course of which he quotes KDE apologist Lisa Gross:

KDE spokeswoman Lisa Gross told KSN&C,

As students become more refined writers, it is sometimes more difficult for two scorers to agree completely on their ability levels. The complexity of their work can cause a score to be "on the edge," meaning that another scorer could consider the work to be of slightly higher or slightly lower quality...What the overall audit results tell us is that we need to enhance scorer training and ensure that everyone is comfortable with the analytic model.

The results, and human nature, might also imply that close calls get bumped up. The only way to even approach reliability is through carefully described process.
And how long has KDE had to do this? Sixteen years. So what was the hold up? And why is it so easy to "bump up" the portfolio scores? Could it possibly be because THEY ARE COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE!!!

Then Day argues that the process of grading has been changed, implying that this has solved the problem with the scoring. But has it been solved? One would think, if it was, then the results would be appreciably different in later audits. And, indeed, if you were to look at the figures Day posts on his blog, you would get that impression. Day posts the pages from the 2006-2007 audit which was released the same week as we released the 2005-2006 audit.

Lo and behold! The agreement between the original portfolio scores and the audited scores looks much higher! In the new 2006-2007 charts there are now figures of 90%+ where in the 2005-2006 there were figures as low as 8.89% They must be doing a better job of scoring! You would think so, anyway, given the way it is presented.

Think again.

Day uncritically posts the pages of the new audit without pointing out that, in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that the new audit shows that the problem is just as bad as it was the year before, the new audit changed the way it reported the figures. Whereas the 2005-2006 audit reported the percentage of portfolios that received the same ranking (Novice, Apprentice, Proficient, Distinguished) by the original grader and the auditor, the new audit reports portfolios that received the same grade or the next grade above or below it.

In other words, if one of the 2005-2006 portfolios received a "distinguished" ranking by the original grader but only a "proficient" grade by the auditor (one full step down), it was counted as having been scored differently. But in the 2006-2007 audit, the same situation was not counted as having been scored differently: it was considered to have been close enough. In the original audit, a portfolio was considered incorrectly graded if it was scored differently. In the new audit, it has to have been so far off as to be practically an act of incompetence to count as being scored incorrectly.

Look at the headings on the charts. On the 2005-2006 Audit, it says "Percent Agreement." But on the 2006-2007 charts it says "Percentage Agreement Exact and Adjacent." Heck, why don't they just say, "Percentage Agreement Exact and Inexact"? It would be no less accurate a characterization.

Now this is a fairly transparent attempt by education bureaucrats to make it look like there has been improvement where, in fact, there has been none. If you look at the actual numbers, they are about as bad as they were the year before. Fortunately, Mark Hebert of WHAS-TV in Louisville reported the numbers correctly, observing that they were just as bad as the year before.

What is ironic about this is that what KDE is doing is trying to hide the fact that portfolio scores (and therefore CATS scores themselves) have been inflated. And how do they accomplish this little exercise in deceit? By inflating scores!

I have dealt with KDE cant and deception for 18 years now, so it doesn't surprise me a bit. I lost any respect I had for these people a long time ago. But what does surprise me is that there are still people out there who fall for it.

Now Richard Day is a fair and honest guy, and I'm assuming he just didn't notice the fudged numbers, or didn't see it as necessary to not the difference between the way the two audits reported the numbers. But I can't resist throwing back the words he threw at me in his post, and point out that any belief that the scoring has improved "lacks justification."

Now Richard knows why he got that new report with so little coaxing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CATS portfolio scores overstated, says audit

For Immediate Release
Contact: Martin Cothran
March 17, 2008
Phone: 859-329-1919

LEXINGTON, KY—A closely held portfolio audit conducted by state education bureaucrats calls an important aspect of the state CATS tests into question, according to a family advocacy group supporting proposed changes in state education testing. “This report is a blow to the idea that the CATS tests are a reliable indicator of how our students are performing,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky. “The portfolios are a key element of the state CATS tests. If this audit says what it looks like it says, then we’ve got serious problems that lawmakers cannot afford to ignore.”

The Family Foundation is supporting Senate Bill 1, which would replace the CATS testing system with a more objective, easier to administer and grade multiple choice test that would give reliable scores for individual students.

The audit, conducted by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), shows that writing portfolio grades given by CATS graders in 2005-2006 were dramatically higher than they should have been and that the higher the grade given, the less likely it was to be an accurate grade. Some agreement rates between how the portfolios were actually graded and how they should have been graded were lower than 20 percent.

KDE Portfolio Audit Agreement Rates1





Grade 4

100% (24/24)

89.42% (186/208)

64.97% (230/354)

28.74% (25/87)

Grade 7

98.89% (178/180)

83.45% (237/284)

42.01% (92/219)

8.89% (4/45)

Grade 12

96.88% (31/32)

70.11% (190/271)

38.92% (65/167)

18.92% (7/37)


98.73% (233/236)

80.34% (613/763)

52.3% (387/740)

21.3% (36/169)

“The audit seems to suggest,” said Cothran, “that about 75 percent of the portfolios ranked as “distinguished” in 2005-2006 were graded too high, and almost half of portfolios rated “proficient” were given higher grades than they deserved. If this audit is an accurate picture of how portfolios are being graded, then the problems with CATS are even worse that some of us thought they were.”

Out of the 136 portfolios that were originally scored distinguished, only 36 were scored distinguished after the audit. Out of 740 portfolios that were originally scored proficient, only 387 scored proficient after the audit. “One of the justifications for doing this kind of testing under KERA in the first place was to avoid the ‘Lake Wobegone Effect’ of norm-referenced testing,” said Cothran, “which occurs when a majority of students score above average. But findings like this seem to indicate that the Lake Wobegone Effect is alive and well right here in Kentucky.”

The Family Foundation supports the use of portfolios for instructional rather than assessment purposes.


1Kentucky Commonwealth Accountability Testing System 2005-2006 Writing Portfolio Audit Report,” Appendix J, p. 24.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good poetry where you would least expect it

I'm sure someone has said this before, but poetry is like violin playing: When it is good it is good, but when it is bad, it is really bad. For that reason, most people just should leave it to the experts. Much of what you see attempted by amateurs on the Internet in particular is simply atrocious, so when you see original poetry that is good, it ought to be noted.

For this reasons, I wanted to draw attention to Doug Groothuis. Groothuis is a philosopher of religion at Denver Seminary. Now for some reason, philosophers don't normally make good poets and when they are protestants to boot, it can be even worse. Good poetic insight involves a sort of incarnational thinking which minds schooled in abstraction find hard to understand, much less employ. Abstraction is, of course, the philosopher's stock in trade. And for protestants, particularly those of a nonliturgical bent, abstraction seems to be the chief mode of thought.

So to find decent amateur poetry being produced by a protestant philosopher is doubly surprising. His last one, "Antique Inscriptions (ca. 1880-1985)," was particularly good.

I didn't subscribe to Groothuis's blog for poetry, but that has turned out to be an unanticipated pleasure. I hope he keeps it up.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Paying the nation's worst teachers--to go away

The Center for Union Facts is offering $10,000 a piece to the ten worst union-protected teachers in America to get out of the classroom. Richard Day at Kentucky School News and Views calls the move "a cynical gimmick designed to ramp up anti-public school sentiment."

Well, with all due respect to Richard, public schools seem to be doing a pretty good job of ramping up that sentiment all by themselves. Besides, some of us fail to see what is cynical about pointing out inefficiency and corruption in institutions that claim to be serving children, but instead routinely let self-serving and dishonest teachers unions have their way with them.

"Partial vote abortion" performed by Kentucky House

For Immediate Release
Contact: Martin Cothran
March 13, 2008
Phone: 859-329-1919

“Partial vote abortion” performed by House,
says family group

LEXINGTON, KY—A family advocacy group called a vote today against pro-life legislation by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives a “partial vote abortion.” “This was an opportunity for the House to show that it is not under the control of a very left-leaning leadership. They chose not to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky after a 40-16 vote on a petition to bring Senate Bill 40 out of committee for a vote.

SB 40 would make partial birth abortion a crime in the state, would ensure that an ultrasound be done on the pregnant woman, and that women undergoing an abortion be fully informed of the procedure. “We are thankful that Jeff Hoover and the House Republicans stood firm for life,” said Cothran.

Cothran said his group considered abstaining from a vote to be the same as a “No” vote on the bill. “We’ve said for years that abstinence can help prevent abortions, but abstinence from this vote can only serve to promote them. To have almost half the lawmakers in the House abstain from voting isn’t exactly inspiring. This was a partial vote abortion. When you get sent to Frankfort, your constituents should be able to expect that you’ll vote on important legislation. Leaders stand up to be counted, they don’t run for cover.”

Cothran also responded to Rep. Greg Stumbo’s argument against the discharge petition on the grounds that the committee system should be allowed to work. “We respect the committee process too,” said Cothran, “but when you appoint partisan extremists to head the committees that hear this kind of legislation, you better be willing to take responsibility for the results.” Cothran’s group had criticized last year’s decision by Jody Richards to appoint Kathy Stein, the House’s most vocal liberal, to head the House Judiciary Committee.


Reason to Home School #4576

They just keep coming.

Politically Incorrect Movie Titles

Okay, so why didn't they call the movie 10,000 B. C. E.?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Spot for Spitzer: Things the NY governor could have done, but didn't

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is expected to resign today in the wake of charges he frequented a house of ill repute. Some observers seem to think that the chief problem is that Spitzer has cultivated an image of such good repute, and that the activities he engaged in were in such stark contrast to his public image.

This is certainly a problem for the soon to be ex-governor. But there are things he could have done differently that would have lessen the public consequences of his acts.

Some have suggested that Spitzer quickly develop an alcohol problem so he could enter a alcohol rehab program, which in most such cases implicitly sends the message that the person was himself a victim, and not really responsible for his actions. This would have been an excellent strategy for Spitzer's handlers to suggest if it were not for the fact that there simply was not enough time to accomplish it. Developing an alcohol problem in a 48 hour period is close to impossible.

The biggest mistake Spitzer made was in how he performed the scandalous acts in the first place. Spitzer was in engaging in heterosexual scandalous behavior. Had he, like ex-New Jersey governor James McGreevey, engaged instead in scandalous homosexual behavior, he could have counted on a better reception in the media.

As I mentioned during the McGreevey scandal, it was noteworthy that the first thing McGreevey did was to take refuge in the fact that he was "a gay man," knowing that that would lessen the criticism of his acts. It would have made his general promiscuity more palatable, since everyone knows we're supposed cut gays slack on such things, and it would also have lessened his culpability in his relationship with is wife, since we don't hold gays who leave their families to pursue a gay lifestyle to the same standards in term of keeping their promises to their spouses as heterosexuals who do it.

If you are married and commit adultery with someone of the opposite sex, it's "cheating". But if you are married and commit adultery with someone of the same sex, it becomes a matter of being "true to yourself." Being a "gay man" covers a multitude of sins.

What was Spitzer thinking?

Many are speculating that this scandal is the end of his political career, and it probably is. But it could be only the beginning of his academic career. As reported last year, James McGreevey got a teaching spot at Kean University, teaching (prepare yourself) ethics.

Surely there is such a spot for Spitzer at one of our institutions of higher indoctrination.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is home schooling legal in California, or isn't it?

More on the California home school decision from Mere Orthodoxy, indicating that the situation may not be as simple as those who think I made the issue too simple think it is.

The Explanation

Louisville was one of the cities recently found to have drugs in its drinking water. This could help explain a number of things, including the Courier Journal's editorials.

Lessons from the Masters: George Steiner on teaching

This is the first part of an ongoing series of "Lessons from the Masters," based on the writings of the Modern Wise Men I have listed in a earlier post. We begin with an outline of the introductory chapter of George Steiner's Lessons of the Masters. Steiner, an emeritus professor at the University of Geneva, is the quintessential modern wise man: he has succeeded in incorporating the best of modernist and postmodernist thinking into an essentially traditional world view. In Lessons of the Masters, Steiner discusses how wisdom is and should be passed on--as well as how it isn't and shouldn't be, bringing his incredible abilities as perhaps the worlds greatest polymath to bear on the subject.


"What empowers a man or a woman to teach another human being, where lies the wellspring of authority?"

I. The three scenarios or "structures of authority" between master and student.
A. Dominance of or Destruction by the Master of the Student: "Masters have destroyed their disciples both psychologically and, in rarer cases physically."

B. Subversion or Betrayal of the Master by the Student: "In counterpoint, disciples, pupils, apprentices have subverted, betrayed, and ruined their masters."

C. The Reciprocal Trust between Master and Student: "By a process of interaction, of osmosis, the Master learns from his disciple as he teaches him."
II. What is real teaching?
A. Teaching as Imitation: "an imitatio of a transcendent or, more precisely divine, act of disclosure." (incorporating Hiedegger's concept of alethia--that truth is an unveiling of a thing's being)

B. Teaching as Example: "only the actual life of the the Master has demonstrative proof." (incorporating Wittgenstein's denial of the possibility of textual instruction--that truth cannot be passed on through purely pedagogical means)

C. Teaching a Power Relation: "The Master possesses psychological, social, physical power...sustained by promise or menace" (incorporating Foucault's theory of power relations)

D. Refusals to Teach:
1. The master finds no disciples: Moses, Nietzsche--Zarathustra's tragedy.
2. Doctrine too dangerous to be passed on: alchemical and Kabbalistic lore.
3. Lost wisdom: solution to Fermat's theorem, Stonehenge, the Alexandrian library.
III. Teaching is dialectical: "I am most I when I am you" (Paul Celan)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Whiff of the Godfather at the Capitol" in today's Herald-Leader

My op-ed comparing the way organized crime operations and the way the disorganized Democratic leadership in the House operate ran in today's Lexington Herald-Leader.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Is the CA home school decision as bad as it looks?

There is another perspective on the In re Jennifer L. decision on home schooling in California. The argument goes like this: that basically the decision is not dangerous to home school families because the decision involved a family that was claiming the students were enrolled in a charter school (which is a public school), but wasn't, rather than claiming that their home school was a private school, which it was. Under this argument, the court could have decided differently if the family had argued the latter rather than the former.

Here is Ace of Spades HQ on the decision:
In the Longs' case, they attempted to claim that their children were enrolled in a "valid charter school" and that the school was supervising the mothers' instruction in the home. It is unclear from the court's opinion, but it looks like the parents tried to argue that the children were enrolled in a public school (since all charter schools in California are public schools). But since they obviously couldn't meet any of the attendance requirements for public schools*, the court also examined the question of whether the parents were credentialed. Since they obviously aren't, the court kicked it back to the lower court to order them to "enroll their children in a public full-time day school, or a legally qualified private full-time day school." It looks like the parents never bothered to argue that they were running their own private school in compliance with § 48222.
But this analysis ignores the fact that the decision does not limit its consideration to whether the student was or was not enrolled in a charter school. As I pointed out here, it asks instead whether the student qualified under any of the exemptions under California law.

So maybe, in fact, the decision was is really as bad as it seems.

Story on passage of CATS testing bill

I was quoted in today's Lexington Herald-Leader story on the Senate's approval of SB 1, which would replace the CATS test.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The faulty reasoning of the California home school case

The recent California appellate court decision that threatens home schooling has engendered quite a bit of discussion which will only increase over the coming weeks. Home schoolers are different from other interest groups: When their interests are threatened, practically every one of their members makes a phone call, not just 10 or 20 percent. This is what makes them such a potent political force in relation to their actual numbers.

In my previous post, Jah objected to my comment about this decision constituting judicial activism, and I'll have to admit he's partly right. I shot from the hip based on preliminary reports. Shame on me.

At the same time, while the decision isn't necessarily an activist decision, it's rationale certainly stretches the bounds of judicial restraint . What the court said was that the state has three categories of legitimate education: public school, private school, or a credentialed tutor. The court argued that home schools don't fall within any of these three categories, and that therefore they are not to be accounted as legitimate schools. But the fact is that in many states home schools are commonly categorized as private schools. It is this way in my home state of Kentucky for example.

One might ask the court precisely why a home school is not a private school? Is there some definition is California law that defines private schooling in such a way that home schools must be excluded? No, there is not, which is why the court takes refuge in the reasoning of Turner v. People of the State of California (1953):
Additionally, the Turner court rejected, and noted that courts in other states had
also rejected, the notion that parents instructing their children at home come within the private full-time day school exemption in then-section 16624 (now section 48222). The court stated that a simple reading of the statutes governing private schools and home instruction by private tutors shows the Legislature intended to distinguish the two, for if a private school includes a parent or private tutor instructing a child at home, there would be no purpose in writing separate legislation for private instruction at home.
But there is no reason (or at least no reason offered) for saying that this is what the legislature meant. Did the legislature really mean to exclude home schools as we know them today from the definition of private schools? Did it have home schools in mind when writing legislation about tutoring situations? The Turner case was decided in 1953 for crying out loud, and the education code it references was written some years before that. There were virtually no home schools in 1953, not at least as we know them now. Today there are home school organizations, home school cooperatives, and a burgeoning industry in self-instructive course curricula and online education technology that was not even dreamed of in 1953. The parents in Turner were raising their kids--and educating them--in a completely different world. So how could the court say that this is what the legislature had in mind?

In fact, forget the legislature, how could the court in the present case say that this is what the judges in the Turner case had in mind?

In fact, what the court does is to say that home schools are tutoring situations in which the tutor is uncertified, in which it does not meet the criteria for a school. But it has no better reason for doing that than to rule that it is a private school in which the teacher is uncertified, in which case it would comply with the criteria, since private schools are not required to have certified teachers. In other words, the court has two categories under which it could consider a home school as qualifying, one in which it wouldn't comply, and another in which it would. But it gives no valid reason why it considers it under the former and not the latter.

How convenient.

This has, of course, pleased all the wrong people:
"We're happy," said Lloyd Porter, who is on the California Teachers Association board of directors. "We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting."
Right. And we know how the teachers unions have improved education in this country, don't we? And they've done it using "certified" teachers.

Press Release: Senate approves testing change

March 7, 2008
Contact: Martin Cothran

Phone: 859-329-1919

“It’s time to put CATS to sleep.”
Martin Cothran

Family group praises Senate vote to replace CATS

LEXINGTON, KY—“We are pleased to see that lawmakers are finally heeding years of calls for changing the state’s testing system,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation. “The CATS test has had 10 years to prove itself—18 if you count its prior incarnation as KIRIS—and it has yet to do so. How many generations of Kentucky’s children are we going to hold hostage to the reputations of those who have tied their political fortunes to the success of KERA? It’s time to put CATS to sleep.”

Senate Bill 1 was passed by the Kentucky State Senate in a 22-15 vote. The bill would replace the CATS testing system with a more objective, easier-to-administer-and-grade multiple choice test that would give reliable scores for individual students. CATS currently includes “open response” questions and portfolios that have been criticized as subjective and unreliable.

“This bill would give our testing system five things it doesn’t have now,” said Cothran. “It would be objective, easy to administer, easy to grade, reliable on an individual level, and would give us quicker feedback on how our students—and schools—are doing.”

Cothran was one of the most vocal critics of the testing system, and his criticisms led to some of the changes in KIRIS that resulted in the CATS test. He also served on the Assessment and Accountability Subcommittee of the Governor’s Task on Education Reform under former Gov. Paul Patton. He was the author of the minority report for the subcommittee.


Question for KEA: Where do your members stand on changing the CATS test?

Sharron Oxendine says her teachers union, the KEA, . Interestingly, the KEA also opposes Senate Bill 1, which would replace the CATS test with something that is actually valid and reliable.

Now I've got a question for Sharron: Are you telling Kentuckians that there are more members of your organization who support raising taxes than there are members who are in favor of changing the CATS test?

Here's your chance to demonstrate how representative you are of your members. Let's see the numbers, huh?

California Court decision threatens to shut down home schools

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that parents can no longer teach their children without a license--or something like that. The court decisions, according to the LA Times, says that parents must have a teaching credential to run a home school.

Oh brother.

With that kind of logic, why not just license parents in the first place? No parenting without a license. Maybe I shouldn't risk giving judges ideas.

Once again this points up the ridiculous double standard being employed: Public schools are doing a demonstrably poor job educating children, while home schools on the whole do a good job. So who are we going after? The ones that aren't a problem.

Liberal judges strike again.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Prichard Committee touting flawed critique of SB 1

Georgetown College's Center for Advanced Study of Assessment (CASA), it turns out, is not so expert after all. In a recent report being touted by the Prichard Committee, Skip Kifer, Ben Oldham and Tom Guskey criticized Senate Bill 1, which would replace the CATS test with tests that are actually objective, reliable, and useful. But, as it turns out, according to another testing expert, several of their criticisms got basic things wrong about the CATS test, calling into question the report's credibility.

George Cunningham, an emeritus professor from the University of Louisville, the author of numerous books on educational testing and a nationally recognized measurement expert, points out that the CASA report made fundamental errors in describing the CATS tests and what SB1 would do.

Is CATS a "standards-based" test?
The CASA report made the assertion that the CATS test was "criterion-referenced" or "standards based", and that SB1 would replaced it with a "norm-referenced" test:
The new legislation, while not requiring an off-the-shelf set of tests, appears to favor such an approach by requiring norm-referenced tests for individual students rather than the criterion-referenced or standards-based ones which historically the Commonwealth has used to measure school outcomes. (p. 7)

"The authors are confused," says Cunningham, "or perhaps just dated in their use of measurement terminology." "The criticism of SB1 tests that they will be norm-referenced is nonsensical because the current test, CATS, is also norm-referenced."

Oops. It might be a good idea, folks, before we start defending the CATS test to know what kind of test it is.

He points out that to say that CATS is somehow "standards-based" is misleading, and that it is only standards based in the same sense that all test are standards based:
The term “criterion-referenced” has lost its meaning. At one time it referred to the process of reporting results on an objective-by-objective basis and it was closely associated with mastery learning. Outside of special education, it would be difficult to find examples of this sort of criterion-referenced testing. Certainly, neither KIRIS nor CATS was ever criterion-referenced in this sense. Because the term apparently focus-groups well, a more modern usage of the term has emerged.

A "criterion-referenced" test is one that sets forth certain objective criteria and the score depends upon how a student meets those criteria. If a student, say, gets 6 out of 10 questions right, and 60 percent is a D on a predetermined grading scale, then the student gets a "D". A "norm-referenced" test is like test graded on a curve. If a student gets the same 6 out of 10, but the average in the class is a 6 out of 10, then the student gets a "C".

Cunningham's point is that neither the the KIRIS (the CATS before 1998) or CATS tests (KIRIS after 1998)--or the tests proposed by SB1 are "criterion-referenced". They're all norm-referenced. Of course Bob Sexton and the Prichard Commitee have been spreading this disinformation for years despite the fact that it has been pointed out publicly a number of times. In fact, I pointed it out in an opinion piece in the Herald Leader after the CATS test was first implemented.

Can multiple-choice tests measure complex knowledge and skills?
The CASA report repeats the completely unfounded assertion that multiple choice tests have some problem measuring advanced knowledge and skills:
The major strength of multiple-choice items in an assessment is that they are efficient. That is, in a relatively short amount of time, it is possible to get information about array of knowledge and skills. Their strength is not in measuring complex skills and knowledge.
Wrong again, Cunningham points out. "High quality, reliable and valid, off-the-shelf, standardized achievement tests are available to assess reading and math," he says, "...These available tests also do a good job of assessing high level thinking skills." In fact, Cunningham apparently considers the error bad enough to call CASA's credentials into question:
It is a little surprising to read a statement like this written by members of an organization that claims to focus on the advanced study of assessment. A more nuanced discussion about test type and high level thinking might be expected...It is axiomatic in educational measurement, that high level thinking is measured well by multiple-choice items. The authors should know this.
That's about as strong as academic take downs get. Once again, multiple choice tests can accurately and reliably measure high level thinking skills. In fact, it's done all the time. Just repeating a discredited view that they can't doesn't make it true.

I should point out here that I have questions concerning how well writing skills can be assessed using any system of measurement. Only another competent writer can assess competent writing. But that is not what is at issue here.

Are multiple choice tests less reliable for assessing schools?
The CASA report argues that the CATS test is a better measure of school performance than the more objective tests proposed by SB 1:
SB 1 changes the fundamental purpose of the assessment from emphasizing school outcomes to measuring individual student achievements. This, of course, has consequences. The most important one is whether the new emphasis and assessment is a better measure what Kentucky wants its schools to do ... The assessment envisaged by SB 1 would take, by design, a substantially narrower sample of the domain of desirable outcomes. (p. 8)
Well, not so fast. Says Cunningham, "There is no reason that test scores cannot be valid for both individual students and schools. Actually, the validity of school scores is dependent on the validity of individual students."
Kifer, Oldham, and Gusky acknowledge that matrix sampling renders individual students scores unusable but they claim that they make the school scores better. They assert that the SB 1 test sacrifices the validity of the school scores to get individual scores. While it is true that it is possible to include more open-ended items if multiple forms are used, by using a multiple-choice format even more items can be included, more than enough to compensate for the broader coverage from matrix sampling.
One wonders if the Prichard Committee had a role in getting this self-serving report produced in the first place, or whether they were attracted by the misinformative nature of it after the fact, and simply saw another opportunity to serve up disinformation. We do know that Helen Mountjoy, the Governor's education secretary requested the report, and that Mountjoy has long been a blind apologist for the state's flawed testing system. She has worked hand in glove with the Prichard Committee to oppose attempts to address the flaws in the tests. In any case, one wonders why there are those who still consider these people reliable sources of information.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Time to Put CATS to Sleep

Richard Day over at Kentucky School News and Comments offers coverage of Gov. Steve Beshear's press conference today attacking Senate Bill 1 , which would replace the controversial CATS test, saying, "The governor said the proposal has multiple flaws, and called on lawmakers to reject it."

Uh, wait a minute. Isn't that the exact argument being used against the CATS tests in the first place?

Bad choice of words, no doubt. But it does point up the incredible double standard going on here. Why are flaws in a bill an argument against the bill, but flaws in CATS--which have been pointed out, documented, argued over, fussed about, bemoaned, and, of course, swept under the rug--are not considered an argument against CATS?

Let's just cover briefly several qualities a test should have that CATS doesn't have:

  • Objectivity
  • Accuracy on an individual student level
  • Reliability
  • Ability to receive scores back in a reasonable amount of time
  • Promotes basic skills

Now if you were told that a test you were considering didn't have these qualities, what in the world would possess you to use it? And how could you justify spending millions of dollars and countless man hours on the part of teachers and administrators to administer it?

Despite having no good answer to this question, we are still spending way too much money on the test, and there are still people willing to risk their credibility to defend it.

Go figure.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Leave the Amendment, Take the Cannoli: The House Democrats are going to make us an offer we can't refuse

Recent actions by casino proponents in the House of Representatives have prompted suggestions that there may be a more fitting slogan for the pro-casino effort than “Let the people decide.” A more appropriate slogan might be “We're going to make you an offer you can't refuse.”

State Rep. Dottie Sims (D-Horse Cave) was one of five state lawmakers on the House Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee who voted against casino legislation being pushed by Speaker of the House Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), causing it, along with a competing casino bill, to fail. Sims then went about the rest of her business, until, later in the day, when she found herself sleeping with the fishes.

Sims got word in the afternoon that several members of House Democratic leadership had thrown her off the committee and replaced her with two other legislators. It could be that these House leaders were simply acting in accordance with the old Sicilian adage: “Women are more dangerous than shotguns.” In any case, another committee meeting was quickly called, and Richards casino bill was passed.

The lesson can’t have been lost on rank and file House members, who have to see the actions taken against Sims as a sign of what may happen to them should they go against the will of the Speaker, who led the move against Sims.

In fact, some legislators might be advised to check under their sheets in the morning at their Frankfort hotels. According to recent news reports, there is an oversupply of retired thoroughbreds, and the horse industry is at a loss as to what to do with them. The casino industry can’t fail to have asked why they shouldn’t be employed to further the pro-casino cause, and whether, if the horse industry really means business, they don’t have a few horse heads they can spare.

There are, after all, those in House Democratic leadership with the requisite skills to do what needs to be done. Charlie Hoffman (D-Georgetown), the House Caucus Chairman, and one of the three members involved in giving Sims the axe, is one of them.

He is a professional meat cutter.

One serious problem casino forces have faced is the lack of internal cohesion. There has been increasing dissension among Democratic House leadership on how to approach the issue, resulting in an internal split between the families—er, rather, factions. The dominant faction seem to be the one led by Richards, whose legislation does not guarantee that casinos will be run by the horse tracks. Despite repeated attempts by Beshear to bring the warring parties to agreement have failed. In a recent meeting in the Governor’s office, he tried, unsuccessfully in the end, to impress upon them the importance of unity and cooperation.

This prompts the obvious question: Was cannoli served at this meeting?

The strong-arm tactics of House Democratic leadership stacking the House committee resulted in approval of the bill, but most observers think the infighting between different pro-casino factions has doomed the legislation. In light of all this, what might be the next step for groups like the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), which has been pushing casino legislation? Since things are not going its way, is there a chance it might become more aggressive?

In their last attempt to impress lawmakers, they organized their members for a day at the capitol. KEEP members arrived in riding gear and other horse paraphernalia, with their shiny trucks and horse trailers. Look for the next KEEP rally to feature long dark sedans carrying men wearing trench coats and wielding violin cases.

Of course, casino advocates will bristle at comparisons to the Godfather. And they may have a case. After all, anyone viewing recent events in the House will have noticed one obvious difference between pro-casino Democrats in the House and organized crime: House Democrats are clearly not organized.

Still, there are a few things they’re going to have to explain. One of them is the day Beshear chose to officially launch casino legislation: February 14.

St. Valentines Day.

Obama cites Sermon on the Mount to support same-sex unions


In an Ohio speech, Obama cites the Sermon on the Mount in his support of same-sex unions:
I don't think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.
The presidential candidate and aspiring Biblical interpreter said he thought the gospel passage, which doesn't say anything about homosexuality, was clearer than Paul's statement, which does say something about it--a novel hermeneutical approach to be sure.

Here is what Paul says about it in his letter to the Romans:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Paul, however, is not running for the Democratic nomination, and would apparently have trouble winning it if he did.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kentucky Enquirer takes note of legislators dissappearing off Frankfort committees when they vote the wrong way

Pat Crowley in today's Kentucky Enquirer covered my comments regarding the Kentucky House Democrats handling of casino legislation last week:
You know it was a wild week in Frankfort when the conservative Family Foundation is quoting the Mob.

Last week's committee votes on the casino gaming constitutional amendment captured much of the attention and news in Frankfort this past week. The bill was dead after it failed to garner enough votes Tuesday morning. One of the opponents was Rep. Dottie Sims, a Democrat.

Sims was quickly dismissed from the committee by House Speaker Jody Richards, who then re-stacked the committee with lawmakers favorable to his version of the bill. The legislation passed and is now headed to the House floor.

Cothran, a senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation, used references from "The Godfather" to slam Richards in a press released entitled, "Dottie Sims sleeps with the fishes."

"House members who vote against this measure beware," Cothran said. "You might wake up to find a horse's head under your sheets - most likely a thoroughbred."

Cothran referenced not only one of the most shocking and notable scenes in the history of American cinema, but he also took a shot at Kentucky's race industry, which opposes Richards' version of the amendment.

"Too much more of this," Cothran said, "and the casino lobby is going to have to change its motto from 'Let the people decide' to 'We're going to make you an offer you can't refuse.' "

The only correction I would have is that I certainly didn't intend, and don't think you could derive from the press release, that I took a shot at the horse industry, although you could take it as a shot at the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), which is still supporting the legislation despite the fact that it sells the horse industry down the river.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Conservatism is NOT an ideology: A reminder of what conservatism really is

There have been a lot of tributes to William F. Buckley, Jr. written since his death earlier this week. Almost without exception they have been laudatory--even those written by people who argued with him during his lifetime. They have all commented in some way on Buckley's conservatism. But I came across one tribute that reminds me that there are a lot of people, even those who would admire Buckley's beliefs, who don't necessarily know what conservatism is--or what it isn't.

The remark, well-intended to be sure, was this one:
As an ideological conservative, an historian, and a member of “Generation X,” I am keenly aware that whipper-snappers like me owe a debt of gratitude to men like Buckley, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, Henry Regnery, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and a host of others who were willing to publicly argue for worthy ideas.
Take careful note of the part of the first clause in italics: an ideological conservative. The author, being a self-described member of "Generation X" (is there anyone else who abhors these generational distinctions as much as I do?), obviously has not had as many opportunities to read the writings of the people this young conservative attempted to honor with the label "ideological conservative" as we baby boomers have had (oops, there I go), so he can be excused. But had he had that opportunity, he would probably have discovered that, at least in the first two instances (Buckley and Kirk, who both co-founded National Review magazine), they would have bristled at being described this way.

Conservatism is not an ideology.

Those who think it is need to read Russell Kirk's The Politics of Prudence, where, on the first page, he contrasts prudential politics with ideological politics, and identifies conservatism clearly with the former, and contrasts it with the latter:
"Politics is the art of the possible," the conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom ... The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward utopia, the ideologue is merciless.
In establishing this thesis, however, a further definition of 'ideology' itself is probably in order.

Kirk points out that the term 'ideology' was first coined by Destutt de Tracy in Napoleonic times, as an "abstract intellectual of the sort since grown familiar on the left Bank of the Seine, the haunt of all budding ideologues..." Ideology encompasses the positivist notion that there can be a "science of ideas" that, if implemented properly, can bring about a human utopia. Kirk points out that Napoleon himself rejected this doctrine of the ideologues, pointing out that the world is governed not by abstract ideas, but by imagination. Ironically, Napoleon's view had its analog in Einstein's own view of science.

Ideology produces, not "harmony and contentment," but a destructive messianic mentality that, in the 20th century, brought about the deaths of millions. It is the idea that salvation can be had in this world, and that it should replace those doctrines that believe it can be found in the next. It is political religion, or divinized politics--or, as Flannery O'Conner put it in her novel Wise Blood, the "Church of Jesus Christ without Jesus Christ." It is, in Kirk's words, "inverted religion," "a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise."

Now of course there are many people who describe themselves as conservatives who are ideological, and insofar as their beliefs are ideological, they are simply not conservatives. I have met them, plenty of them. They sincere and well-meaning, but ultimately their beliefs are just as destructive as those they claim to be fighting against. The idea, for example, that it is the purpose of the United States to "bring Democracy to the world," is one such ideological notion that plagues much conservative thought--or at least thought that goes by that name. Such an idea would have been foreign to the founders, one of whom, John Adams, called ideology, "The science of idiocy."

I am sure there are those who would contest this notion of conservatism, but they need to be aware that, in doing so, they are questioning the whole tradition of conservative thought that goes back to Edmund Burke, a tradition whose best tribute was penned by Kirk in The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, and whose most effective exponents were Kirk and Buckley.

So if conservatism is not ideology, what is it? Once again, we go to Kirk, who, in The Politics of Prudence, sets forth the following conservative principles: (the descriptions are a mixture of Kirk's remarks and my commentary)
  • The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order: Order is made for man, and man for order, and both human nature and moral truth are unchanging and permanent.
  • The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity: Tradition is the best source for good political ideas, and the best foundation for society's rules and institutions is the trial and reflection of the generations who went before us, not the novel ideas that just sprung up yesterday.
  • Conservatives believe in what may be called the "Principle of Prescription": We should resist the siren song of those who claim to base their ideas on "reason" in contrast with tradition. "The individual is foolish," said Kirk, "the species is wise." If you base your political ideas on tradition, you get the Boston Tea Party; if you base them on so-called "reason", you get the Terror.
  • Conservatives are guided by their "Principle of Prudence": That we should be guided in all of our political decisions by how it affects society in the long-run, not by how it might improve things tomorrow. "Providence moves slowly," said John Randolph of Roanoke, "but the Devil always hurries."
  • Conservatives pay attention to the "Principle of Variety": The variety of traditional cultures should be preferred to the "deadening egalitarianism" of modern ideologies, and the reality of local cultures should be preferred to the artificiality of so-called "global culture". Note that "Diversity," as currently promoted and practiced, is "variety's" evil twin.
  • Conservatives are chastened by their "Principle of Imperfectability": Because of man's imperfections, Utopia is impossible. Original sin. Apostle Paul. Check out.
  • Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked: The respect for private property is the most necessary of all conditions for a free society, although not necessarily sufficient. When H. L. Mencken said that "economic freedom is the only freedom worth a damn," this is probably what he meant.
  • Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism: The best government is that which is closest to the citizen. In fact, the best and least dangerous kind of government is small and inefficient. Oh, and the only real community is local community: any other kind is simply a mirage of some well-meaning but delusional person who has never actually been a part of a real community. Ignore them--or better yet, defend yourself against them.
  • The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions: This was the idea behind the checks and balances incorporated in our form of government.
  • The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society: "A body that has ceased to renew itself," says Kirk, "has begun to die." To call for change for the sake of change us just as counterproductive as saying that we should do what we are doing now because that's the way we've always done it.
This was the philosophy of William F. Buckley, Jr. When those who call themselves conservatives are successful, it is, in large part, because they adhere to these principles, and when they fail, it is largely because they deviate from them.