Thursday, December 31, 2009

Throwing coconuts at Stephen Meyer

Bradford at Telic Thoughts makes a great point about the convulsive response in the ape section of the science park to Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell, a book that argues the case for Intelligent Design, in response to the most recent review of the book by Darrel Falk:
Here's a challenge for those of you who agree with Falk. Cite something Meyer said in his book, show that there is a problem with Meyer's citation of facts or his reasoning from them and then back up your claim with links to papers supporting your position. This might be difficult for many of you because it requires that you actually take the effort to read Signature in the Cell. Then you would have to use your brains to analyze a specific passage from it and support your arguments with outside references. But why not break from the mold and give it a shot. Don't be afraid to lock horns with harmless tards. You have nothing to lose but your pride.
Just go around and look at the reviews of the book by its detractors and see if you can find much evidence that the people who criticize it actually read the book. Instead what you will find is the usual howling and chest beating characteristic of those who think they are merely a form of higher ape and who seem enthusiastic about proving it.

Flying the unfriendly skies

Ann Coulter on the increasingly ridiculous security procedures travelers are forced to endure in the nation's airports:
For the past eight years, approximately 2 million Americans a day have been subjected to humiliating searches at airport security checkpoints, forced to remove their shoes and jackets, to open their computers, and to remove all liquids from their carry-on bags, except minuscule amounts in marked 3-ounce containers placed in Ziploc plastic bags -- folding sandwich bags are verboten -- among other indignities.

This, allegedly, was the price we had to pay for safe airplanes. The one security precaution the government refused to consider was to require extra screening for passengers who looked like the last three-dozen terrorists to attack airplanes.

Since Muslims took down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, every attack on a commercial airliner has been committed by foreign-born Muslim men with the same hair color, eye color and skin color. Half of them have been named Mohammed.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decline in heart attacks

Researchers almost had a heart attack recently when a study purported to show that anti-smoking bans caused a huge reduction in heart attack admissions to hospitals. As Michael Siegel explains:
In October, Dr. David Meyers and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in which they reported the results of a meta-analysis of published studies on the effect of smoking bans on heart attack admissions. The paper concluded that smoking bans were associated with a 17% decline in heart attack admissions in the 11 studies that were reviewed.

These results were disseminated widely in the media and heavily touted by anti-smoking groups as supporting the conclusion that smoking bans immediately and dramatically reduce heart attacks and that brief exposure to secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants causes a large number of heart attacks.
But then, like so many of these anti-smoking pronouncements, it went bust:
As it turns out, the study findings were due to a careless error. In the original study, the authors had inadvertently reported the Pueblo study has having reported a 70% reduction in heart attacks (a result that is completely implausible and clearly should have been noticed as having been in error). Instead, that study actually reported a 34% reduction in heart attacks. The meta-analysis authors published a correction in which they re-analyzed the correct data.

It turns out that the 11 studies did not find a 17% reduction in heart attacks, but only found an 8% reduction in heart attacks.
In other words, the increase was overstated by over half. That would seem to suggest that these bans might still be effective, even if not as pronounced as before. The study, however, like so many politically motivated studies, apparently did not contain a control. But you can get the rough equivalent by going outside the study to see what the total national decline is:
This level of decline in admissions for heart attacks is obviously not significantly different from the levels of decline in heart attacks that are being observed in the absence of smoking bans, which have varied between 5% and 10% per year in many communities.

For example, in the United States as a whole, heart attack admissions declined by 8.2% in 2004. The decline of 8% in communities/nations with a smoking ban is comparable to this. Therefore, the meta-analysis result fails to provide any evidence that the smoking bans resulted in a decline in heart attacks.
That's what you call the research equivalent of an exploding cigar. You would think the Science Integrity Patrol would be all over this kind of thing. But when it comes to the War on Tobacco, just one front in the Politically Correct Health Crusade, we must are all instructed to just go on as if nothing unusual had happened.

Funny how that works.

Record low U.S. temperatures

According to Anthony Watts, numerous cold records have recently been set across the country. Here is his rundown:

Record Events for Sun Dec 6, 2009 through Sat Dec 12, 2009
Total Records: 2601
Rainfall: 992
Snowfall: 815
High Temperatures: 36
Low Temperatures: 304
Lowest Max Temperatures: 403
Highest Min Temperatures: 51

We are going to charitably assume that these record low temperatures are a result, as is every climate phenomenon, of Global Warming.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Warmers getting it wrong again

Anthony Watt's points out that David Viner at the CRU (that's the Climategate people) predicted in 2000 that winter snowfall would, within a few years, become "a very rare and exciting event."

Fast forward to 2010, where, in December 27th's Telegraph, which is warning of snow and ice that is to hit Britain during New Year celebrations. These people also failed to predict the plight of my mother, who is now snowed in on her farm in Kansas.

I'm thinking to myself, if these people can't even get short term predictions right, then how can we trust their long-term predictions?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Classical View of Nature [Part I]

This article is the first part of a more extended version of the article "The Classical View of Nature" that appears in the newest issue of "The Classical Teacher" magazine.

There are some questions so basic they seem unnecessary or superfluous. The question “What is nature?” is one of these. We never ask it because we think the answer is self-evident.

But is it?

What many of us do not realize is that the nature of nature is far from a settled question. We think it is settled because we live in a time dominated by the physical sciences, which are commonly attended with certain mechanistic assumptions about the natural world which we imbibe by osmosis from our educational and cultural surroundings. We catch them, to use the words of Samuel Johnson, like we catch the common cold: by contagion. We are unfamiliar with how these assumptions came to be and with the ideas they replaced. We know little about the reasons the older assumptions were abandoned or why the new ones took their place. In fact, the older view of nature has, among most of us, been completely forgotten.

Did the understanding of nature change because the new idea was better, or because it better fit with the cultural presuppositions of the time? Was the old idea of nature refuted or did it simply fall out of intellectual fashion?

Two Senses of the Word 'Nature’
The early 20th century British philosopher R. G. Collingwood pointed out, in his book, The Idea of Nature, that there are two senses of the word ‘nature.’ The meaning of the word with which we are most familiar is that which signifies the cosmos or the external world: the sum total or aggregate of natural things. The other, older meaning is that which originates with the Ionian Greek philosophers—Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximines—which signifies the essence or intrinsic principle of a thing. It is the intrinsic source of behavior. Alexander Pope writes,
Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said, "Let Newton be" and all was light.
Here Pope is using this newer sense of the word 'nature.' Then we have the anonymous author of
a nursery rhyme, who advises:
Dogs delight to bark and bite …
for ‘tis their nature to.
In this case, the word 'nature' is being used in its older sense. The older sense of the word—
nature as essence—started with the Greeks, who considered it the primary sense of the word:
This [intrinsic principle of nature] is the only sense it ever bears in the earlier Greek authors, and remains throughout the history of Greek literature its normal sense. But very rarely, and relatively late, it also bears the secondary sense … [Collingwood, The Idea of Nature, p. 44]
And even when the sense of nature as cosmos came into use, the earlier sense informed their notion of it. We might call the older sense of the word the philosophical sense, and the newer,
the scientific sense. This older, classical view of nature tended not so much to ask how nature worked so much as it asked why nature worked the way it did. "Interest was now directed to the how, the manner of causation" said Basil Willey, "not its why, its final cause." [Basil Willey, The Seventeenth Century Background, p. 14] What has happened in modern times is the philosophical sense has been subordinated to the scientific sense—if not eliminated entirely. The shift in terminology—and in world view—is easily visible in the hindsight of history.

What is the Classical View of Nature?
Every world view operates on the basis of some basic metaphor or analogy. For the Greeks, the analogy by which they viewed nature was the analogy of an organism: a living whole with a purpose, each of whose parts contained within it a purpose of its own, ordered toward the whole of which it was a part. Each thing, whether it was living or not, was like a heart, or a kidney, or a set of lungs: it served some purpose in the whole, and functioned in a way commensurate with
that purpose.

Nature had a purpose, and this purpose in nature was like a mind:
Greek natural science was based on the principle that the world of nature is saturated or permeated by mind. Greek thinkers regarded the presence of mind in nature as the source of that regularity or orderliness in the natural world whose presence made a science of nature possible ... They conceived mind, in all its manifestations, whether in human affairs or elsewhere, as a ruler, a dominating or regulating element, imposing order first upon itself and then upon everything belonging to it, primarily its own body and secondarily that body's environment.

Since the world of nature is a world is a world not only of ceaseless motion and therefore alive, but also a world of orderly or regular motion, they accordingly said that the world of nature is not only alive but intelligent; not only a vast animal with a 'soul' or life of its own, but a rational animal with a 'mind' of its own ... a plant or an animal, according to their ideas, participates in its own degree psychically in the life-process of the world's 'soul' and intellectually in the activity of the world's mind. [Collingwood,p. 3]
It is a view, Collingwood points out, that seems alien to us, inured as we are to the mechanistic view of the world, which assumes that the order and repetition in nature is evidence not of any life in it, but of dead mechanism. It is a view which Chesterton argues is based on a false assumption:
All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. [G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 107-109]
These repetitions in nature were not the effects of the dead clockwork which the modern mechanistic view articulated through its "laws of nature," but of something seemingly alive. You may have been a pagan who interpreted this as evidence of things being gods or a Christian, like Chesterton, who thought that God permeated nature by having created it and being immanent in it:
This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career. I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. [Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pp. 109-110]
Part II of "The Classical View of Nature" will appear tomorrow at Vital Remnants...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another from the Vault: The "Two Jones" Thesis on Intelligent Design

In response to my critique of the reasoning of Judge John Jones in the Dover v. Kitzmiller decision, which purported to have shown, among other things, that Intelligent Design was not science, Richard Hoppe at Panda's Thumb and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars both responded. This is the response to them that ran as the companion piece to the original critique. I rerun these because the state of the arguments has not changed appreciably over the last two years. There are still two Jones. Furthermore, this bipolar logical malady--whereby one affirms a blatant contradiction on the way to his preferred conclusion--is taken as a sort of logical presupposition in the argument that Intelligent Design is not science which must not itself be analyzed, as the article below demonstrates. Instead of actually defending this illogical maneuver, its practitioners merely restate it over and over, hoping by mere repetition to establish its legitimacy.

Well, it appears that my article about the inherent contradiction in an important section of the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision is making evident some potentially dangerous developments among Darwinist opponents of Intelligent Design. Both Richard Hoppe at Panda's Thumb ("The Disco 'Tute's New Man") and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars ("ID and Testability") have offered arguments against my position, and with each other--and, it turns out (at least in Brayton's case), with themselves.

I had pointed out that Judge John Jones affirmed a blatant contradiction in his opinion. He argued that the alleged unsoundness of the argument from irreducible complexity is a blow to Intelligent Design, since it is "central to ID", and then later argues that even if irreducible complexity were true, it wouldn't confirm ID because it isn't central to it, but "merely a test for evolution, not design".

I also said that this kind of argument falls into the trap of affirming two more general contradictory positions: that ID is not falsifiable, and that it is false.

I argued two points:
  1. That Judge Jones both affirmed and denied that irreducible complexity is "central to ID"; and
  2. That, as a consequence, he only allowed irreducible complexity to count against ID, but not for it.
This was completely lost on Hoppe, who just ran on about how ID makes testable claims he says are false, and untestable claims that can't be judged true or false:
What Cothran is apparently unable to comprehend is that while ID proponents occasionally make testable empirical claims, ID theory itself does not.
No, sorry. Cothran comprehends Hoppe, but Hoppe doesn't comprehend Cothran. I understand Hoppe's point. In fact, I understand it so well that it is very plain to me that it doesn't address my argument. It's a convenient distinction to make, but it isn't a distinction the Dover decision makes.

Hoppe agrees with Jones--and he doesn't. He agrees with the Jones who says that irreducible complexity is not central to ID, but disagrees with the Jones who says that it does. But nowhere does he deny my central thesis: that there are two Jones', and that they disagree with each other.

So what does Ed Brayton say to this? First, that he has heard my argument "many times" before. Shucks. And I thought my "Two Jones" thesis was my very own discovery. Turns out, claims Brayton, that someone beat me to it, although he doesn't say who it was.

Brayton, it turns out, is not only unimpressed by my argument (or the one I thought was mine before Ed informed me it wasn't--although, in a Jonesian logical maneuver, he's going to hold it against me anyway) but is less than impressed with Hoppe's refutation of it, saying that he gives my argument "too much credit":
I think he's actually making things more complicated than they are. There is no "ID theory" and there never has been. What ID proponents call "ID theory" is nothing more than a set of bad arguments against evolution, all straight out of the creationist jokebook. They all take the form of a basic god of the gaps argument: "not evolution, therefore God."
Note carefully what is going on here. Neither Hoppe nor Brayton addresses the two central points of my argument. Hoppe agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are not central to ID, and disagrees with the Jones who says they are, while Brayton agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are central to ID and disagrees with the Jones who says that they aren't.

Neither, however, denies there are two Jones': they simply disagree on which is the better Jones. In fact, when you put them together, not only do Hoppe and Brayton not address my argument, they actually confirm it: in agreeing with different Jones' they implicitly recognize that there are two of them.

Yet, in the final analysis, even Brayton can't resist the apparently contagious logical schizophrenia that is increasingly infecting opponents of ID:
ID argument like this can be falsified because they are tests of evolution, not of the non-existent "ID theory." ID is a purely negative argument that invokes supernatural causation, and that is why it cannot be tested on its own merits.
In other words, Brayton too argues that ID is both false and unfalsifiable. Not only are there now two Joneses, there are two Braytons.

Is it only a matter of time before Hoppe too--and all the other ID opponents--begin to experience this peculiar form of alogical reproduction? Considering the consequences (such as the potential twofold multiplication of bad reasoning), let's hope not.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From the Vault: The Key Fallacy in Dover v. Kitzmiller

In honor of the 3rd anniversary of Dover v. Kitzmiller, the decision in which a judge, with a wave of his jurisprudential hand (a scientific procedure much favored by the those who, under any other circumstances, would criticize such an action for not being scientific), rendered Intelligent Design non-scientific--I am rerunning my analysis of the core logical flaw in the decision which ran on Dec. 4, 2007, the first anniversary of the decision. I will be re-running the companion post, "The Two Jones Thesis," on Monday.

In the Dover decision, Judge Jones unwitting lays a trap for himself, and then spends a good part of the decision falling into it. On p. 64 of the decision, Jones gives three reasons for determining that ID is not science:

  1. It permits supernatural causation
  2. It assumes a "contrived dualism" in the argument for irreducible complexity
  3. Its negative arguments against evolution (like irreducible complexity) have "refuted by the scientific community"
In all of this discussion, there is a particular view of how to demarcate science from non-science. It is philosopher Karl Popper's demarcation criterion: that in order for something to be science it has to be falsifiable, or testable. We see this in the following comment by Jones:

Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller)). ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory. (p. 82, emphasis added]

It is in his statement of the second point where Jones sets himself up. He says that the argument for irreducible complexity is "central to ID". Otherwise, why would he include it in a discussion of whether ID is science? And, in reason 3., he also says it has been "refuted": in other words, falsified. But if the argument for irreducible complexity is, as Jones later determines, falsified, then ID is falsified, since irreducible complexity is "central to ID".

But if ID is not falsifiable, then (if you assume Popper's criterion, which is far from noncontroversial among philosophers of science) it is not science--and it cannot therefore be falsified. So how does Jones get around the fact that he just said both that ID is not science because it can't be falsified, and that an argument "central to ID" has been falsified?

His method is simply to skip back and forth between the two arguments hoping the reader will not notice.

He says first that the truth or falsity of arguments for ID are irrelevant:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.
Judge Jones then goes on an extended argument explaining why he thinks the argument or irreducible complexity fails (the argument for which essentially consists of the fact that lots of evolutionists say so). But then, obviously cognizant of the inherent contradiction in his argument (that the court takes no position on the truth of the arguments for ID and that it does), he points out that irreducible complexity is an argument against evolution, not an argument for Intelligent Design:

Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor Minnich. (2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich) (irreducible complexity “is not a test of intelligent design; it’s a test of evolution”). [p. 68, emphasis added]

He says this, in fact, in several places:

As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is
refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. [p. 76, emphasis added]
Jones' argument is that the alleged failure of irreducible complexity can be charged to ID's account only if irreducible complexity is not a part of Intelligent Design theory itself, since ID itself is not science and therefore not falsifiable. And yet, if it isn't a part of ID, then it obviously cannot undermine the theory itself.

Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID.
How can this be if irreducible complexity is "central to ID"? He wants to use the alleged refutation of irreducible complexity against Intelligent Design, but he doesn't want to do it at the cost of his argument that it isn't science. And he does this by employing an explicit contradiction: that irreducible complexity is both central to ID and not central to it.

He then complicates his position even further:

...[E]ven if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. [p. 79, emphasis added]
In other words, what Jones is saying is that the falsity of irreducible complexity can be held against ID since it is "central" to it, but that, even if it were true, it wouldn't count in favor of it, since it is not central to ID!

It is a clever bit of sophistry. No, take that back. It's just sophistry.

If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the debate over Intelligent Design was rigged, Jones dispels it here. In the duel between the scientific mystics and the advocates of Intelligent Design, the scientific mystics are the only ones allowed a loaded gun.

How can Jones justify this? The short answer is that he can't--not, at least, if he wants to maintain any kind of rational credibility. But if it is not clear how he can do this and remain within the bounds of reason, it is clear why he does it.

ID is science insofar as irreducible complexity (and other similar arguments) is part of it, and unfalsifiable insofar as it is not. And Jones knows this, but wants to have his cake and eat it too.

If opponents of ID want to hold irreducible complexity against ID, then they will have to abandon their argument that ID is not science. And if they want to preserve their argument that ID is not science, they will have to stop using arguments against irreducible complexity against ID.

Until they do, they are simply being irrational.

Friday, December 18, 2009

These are the people who want to control the climate?

The people who want to control the world's climate can't even competently run a conference:

The arrival of President Barack Obama and over one hundred other heads of state in Copenhagen for a photo op at the UN global warming conference has buried the really big story here. No, it’s not the fact that no agreement will be reached on a new international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That outcome was foreseen months ago.

The big news is that the grand alliance pushing global warming alarmism and energy-rationing policies has started to break apart here in a spectacular way. The official United Nations global warming bureaucracy have thrown out the twenty to thirty thousand environmentalists who traveled to Copenhagen to attend the meeting as officially-accredited delegates of non-governmental organizations (or NGOs). The environmentalists are extremely angry and have every justification for being angry.

This is potentially momentous because the two wings of alarmism are totally dependent on one another. The UN’s Kyoto bandwagon has been pushed along by the environmental movement and no new treaty to follow the Kyoto Protocol, when it expires at the end of 2012, will have a chance of being adopted without the continuing and unremitting backing of the environmentalists whom the UN has unceremoniously booted out this week. For the environmental groups, Kyoto and its successor treaty are the only viable vehicles for achieving their goals of reducing emissions and putting the world on an energy starvation diet.

What has happened this week in Copenhagen is not based on any ideological disagreements. It’s all the result of four things: the size of the room, the number of attendees, total incompetence, and poor manners. The UN chose to hold what was billed as “the most important meeting in the history of the world” in a conference center that only holds fifteen thousand people. The environmental NGOs sent lists of delegates that added up to over thirty thousand. The UN looked at these two numbers and decided everything would work out fine.

Ah, those pesky numbers. Turned out they didn't add up:

... [T]he approximately thirty thousand NGO delegates who traveled from around the world to Copenhagen to attend COP-15 were limited to seven thousand on Tuesday and Wednesday and to three hundred for the last two days.

... Consequently, there are many thousands of environmental activists in Copenhagen without a lot to do. Many of them are extremely angry. It snowed Wednesday night and gusting winds have made Thursday bitterly cold. The news reports say that four thousand protesters tried to push their way past police barricades and into the conference center. Two hundred sixty were arrested. I don’t know what might happen on Friday outside.

Warmers, left out in the cold by their own people. Maybe managing a political movement really is harder than managing the weather.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Global Warmism in the service of Liberalism

The very heart and soul of modern liberalism is placing more and more power in the hands of people further and further away. Thomas Sowell pointed this out in A Conflict of Visions. He called it the "locus of discretion." For liberals, the locus of discretion--the place where power should be placed--is in the hands of bureaucratic elites. And the further away these elites are from any kind of real accountability, the better.

State bureaucrats are better than local bureaucrats; federal bureaucrats are better than state bureaucrats; and international bureaucrats are better than federal bureaucrats. And this has the extra added benefit that it gets liberals out of the uncomfortable position of having to vote for unpopular legislation that the voters don't like: they can just have faceless bureaucrats do it without anyone noticing.

The other aspect of all this is the money involved. We want more money going to further away as well, and this helps in another liberal goal: the redistribution of wealth. Liberals want to take money from taxpayers in wealthy nations and send it to poorer nations. Ostensibly, the money goes to poor people in these countries, but in reality it goes to bureaucrats in those countries who are even further outside any working system of accountability than the bureaucrats here.

Charles Krauthammer tells us how this is not working out in the age of Global Warming Alarmism:

WASHINGTON -- In the 1970s and early '80s, having seized control of the U.N. apparatus (by power of numbers), Third World countries decided to cash in. OPEC was pulling off the greatest wealth transfer from rich to poor in history. Why not them? So in grand U.N. declarations and conferences, they began calling for a "New International Economic Order." The NIEO's essential demand was simple: to transfer fantastic chunks of wealth from the industrialized West to the Third World.

On what grounds? In the name of equality -- wealth redistribution via global socialism -- with a dose of post-colonial reparations thrown in.

The idea of essentially taxing hard-working citizens of the democracies in order to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques ...

Read more here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Church/state separatist agrees that Christian legal group can exclude gays

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars disagrees with his fellow church/state separatists on Hastings Law School's denial of recognition of the Christian Legal Society for excluding students who do not agree with its beliefs:

My position on this issue tends to be at odds with most of my fellow advocates of church/state separation. In a press release, Americans United is urging the court to rule in favor of the college. My friend Barry Lynn, for whom I have enormous respect, says:

"This case is about fundamental fairness. If the student religious group wins, it will mean some students will be compelled to support clubs that won't even admit them as members. That's just not right."

I must disagree. Well, I agree that this means some students are compelled to support clubs that won't admit them, I just don't think this is a big deal. In fact, it's true of any student club that is based on a common set of ideas. By the usual funding arrangements for student groups -- usually a small amount of money is given to each club out of student activity fees or some other similar fund -- Democratic students are "compelled" to support Republican student groups and vice versa; white students are "compelled" to support Hispanic and Asian student groups; anti-environmentalists are "compelled" to support student environmental clubs; and so forth.

All student groups that are formed on the basis of a common set of beliefs -- whether they advocate environmentalism, a political party, an ideological position like Students Against Sweatshops, etc -- are allowed to restrict their membership to those who share those beliefs. I see no reason to treat religious students groups any differently.

This is a logical result of the Court's open forum analysis. The university establishes an open forum by allowing students to form groups and get recognition. A student who is not allowed to join one group has the option of forming his own group and getting all the same benefits. A non-Christian can form their own student group; I see no reason why a Christian group should be forced to grant them membership (or an atheist group be forced to admit a Christian either).

Read more here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Caveman-induced Global Warming

We are shivering here in the Midwest, not just in light of the prospect that the government may be about to take over our health care system--or because Obama's representatives are in Copenhagen right now discussing ways in which international bureaucrats can control the weather system, but because it is really cold.

I any case, here is what ice core data say about how warm it is now compared to previous times throughout history:

Gore caught exaggerating. Again

The polar cap will be ice-free in 5 years. How do we know? Al Gore says so. One more piece of evidence that the End is Near. Uh, not so fast, says the London Times:

Mr Gore told the conference: “These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr [Wieslav] Maslowski that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years.”

However, the climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast.

“It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,” Dr Maslowski said. “I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.”

Mr Gore’s office later admitted that the 75 per cent figure was one used by Dr Maslowksi as a “ballpark figure” several years ago in a conversation with Mr Gore.

Read the rest here.

We would fill the bunker back in and go ahead and eat all the canned food we've stored up, but we're going to just keep it all because we know Gore will come up with other reasons to be certain the End is Near.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An expert on sea level change somehow escaped from the computer laboratory and has been observing actual sea levels for years. Can't someone from the Climate Research Unit please shut this guy up?
Although the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only predicts a sea level rise of 59cm (17 inches) by 2100, Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth went much further, talking of 20 feet, and showing computer graphics of cities such as Shanghai and San Francisco half under water. We all know the graphic showing central London in similar plight. As for tiny island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, as Prince Charles likes to tell us and the Archbishop of Canterbury was again parroting last week, they are due to vanish.

But if there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Mörner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.

Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about.

The reason why Dr Mörner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".
Read the whole sad story here.

HT: Mangan

"Context" of Climategate e-mails only makes it worse, says scientist who exposed "hockey stick"

Steve McIntryre, who discovered the shenanigans going on behind the now infamous "hockey stick" graph that purported to show a huge increase in Global Warming in the recent past, points out that the "context" in which Global Warming alarmists are taking refuge to protect them from charges of data fraud and misinformation only worsens their case that the e-mails really aren't damaging.

Is the there any place left for scoundrels to hide?
Much recent attention has been paid to the email about the “trick” and the effort to “hide the decline”. Climate scientists have complained that this email has been taken “out of context”. In this case, I’m not sure that it’s in their interests that this email be placed in context because the context leads right back to a meeting of IPCC authors in Tanzania, raising serious questions about the role of IPCC itself in “hiding the decline” in the Briffa reconstruction.
Read the rest here.

A Fox Watching the Nation's Educational Henhouse: The case of Obama's Safe School Czar

A man who praised a famous and open advocate of pedophilia, who promotes child porn in the classroom, and who admits to not reporting a child predator is now Safe Schools Czar. Welcome to Obama's America.

These things have been known for long enough--if they haven't been known by administration officials for far longer--that the man should already have been run out of Washington and excluded from civilized society. That he hasn't is a measure of what the Obama administration and its defenders really care about. If a member of the Bush administration had had anything remotely close to this kind of record, it would have been a highly-publicized national scandal.

I have argued for years now that being gay basically gives you an excuse to do anything. I have called it "the Gay Pass." You can do the most despicable things imaginable, but, if you're gay, you get extra points for credit in your defense. Being gay allows you to be judged by lower moral expectations. This thesis is once again being proven by the Obama administration.

The fact that Kevin Jennings, former Executive Director of an organization called the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is still allowed to serve as Safe Schools Czar will just go down as another case in point in the case that gays are allowed to do things that most other civilized human beings would be run out of town on rail for.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Final Solution to Global Warming: Population Control

Pretty soon those peppy little newly graduated college student activists promoting Copenhagen will be all over this:
The "inconvenient truth" overhanging the UN's Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world.

A planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate currently, which is one million births every four days.
Read more here.

Climategate denialism in Copehagen

Stephen Schneider, a global warming proponent, at a Copenhagen meeting dealing with Climategate the only way they can: denying it:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Were losses in two Kentucky legislative races a sign of things to come for Democrats?

National Review's Mona Charen on one of the reasons Democrats lost in two special legislative elections in Kentucky:
The unexpected victory of Republican Jimmy Higdon in the Kentucky state-senate special election -- despite a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage -- is another fire bell in the night that national Democrats are going to ignore. Marking the 33rd Republican win in the 50 or so special elections since 2008, the Kentucky race was a referendum on health-care reform. Democratic governor Steve Beshear acknowledged that “the Republican party has been successful in nationalizing this race.” The winning margin was 12 points in a district that was supposed to drop into the Democrat’s lap like a ripe peach.
Read more here.

Real charity

My good friend Beau Weston at the Gruntled Center, in an uncharacteristically weak moment, recently welcomed the House passage of the Obama health care bill, the bill now being debated in the Senate. He sees it as the government "approaching life with generosity." Trouble is that generosity with someone else's money is commonly known as theft. Yet such is exactly the procedure followed in policies like the socialization of health care.

Can one legitimately reason from the fact that charity practiced by the individual Christian toward another using ones own resources is a Christian virtue to the conclusion that charity on the national level using resources confiscated from others is itself a Christian virtue?

Charity is by definition an individual virtue, and projecting onto a government body and calling it a virtue involves a process of abstraction which can only be called tortuous. Charity is giving of ones own to others; it is not taking from others to give to others.

In fact, it could be argued that the expansion of government "charity" is not only not a virtue, but militates against authentic charity by eliminating the conditions in which it thrives. One wonders what would happen to individual giving (which is substantial in the United States), for example, if the government took less of a percentage of people's incomes. What if, for example, one could take a tax credit for the amount one gives to social service charities? In other words, a system which makes it easier for individuals to practice actual charity, rather than a system which effectively discourages it.

"The richest nation in the history of the world," says Weston, "can afford to make sure every citizen has basic health care." But why is America the "richest nation in the history of the world"? It would be hard to argue that it was because of policies of government intrusion that result in a misallocation of resources, and much easier to argue that it is because of the ingenuity of private individuals operating outside the purview of government largesse.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can religious groups restrict their membership to those who are religious?

Richard Day at Kentucky School News and Commentary has a post on a case being reviewd by the U. S. Supreme Court on whether it is permissible for a public law school to prevent a Christian student legal group to restrict its membership to students who actually agree with the group.

The case involves (wouldn't you know it) a law school in San Fransisco. Hastings, to be exact. Day quotes the School Law blog:
The Hastings dispute arose after the law school refused to recognize the Christian Legal Society chapter because the group refused to adhere to the school's non-discrimination policy. Specifically, the group refuses to refrain from discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, the law school says in court papers.

The CLS chapter says in court papers that it only has voting members, and such members must affirm the national organization's "statement of faith," which involves "a shared devotion to Jesus Christ." The statement says that "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent' with the group's beliefs...
In other words, can a religious group discriminate on the basis of religion? It is hard to imagine, if you take the freedom of religion seriously, that is, why anyone would think otherwise. Except, that is, on the basis of modern Diversity, the idea of which is to bring about total ideological uniformity.

What's interesting on Day's blog, however, was the title of the post: Day titled his post "'Christians' using Jesus to Discriminate." Um, shouldn't the quotation marks be around the word 'Discriminate'?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

56 newspapers you can't trust on Global Warming

Fifty-six newspapers have, in the face of Climategate, signed a statement indicating that they have drunk the Global Warming Kool-Aid and are experiencing the last twitches of alarmist-induced dementia.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Slots lobby loses big in two special state elections

For Immediate Release
December 8, 2009

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Pro slots lobby fails to buy election, anti-slots candidates win big

According to preliminary reports, expanded gambling forces lost big in two special state elections today. "The big money, pro-slots forces lost big today," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for Say No to Casinos. In both elections, one for a House seat and one for a Senate seat, conservative, anti-expanded gambling Republicans won big over pro-gambling Democrats.

Cothran expressed surprise that the votes were as lopsided in favor of the anti-expanded gambling candidates as they were in light of the amount of money dumped into both races by proponents of slots at tracks. "The slots lobby bet the house on these races, pouring in gobs of money to try to buy these elections. But these races should send a message to the rich horse tracks a message: voters aren't going to be bought."

The Rise of the American Plutocracy: Paul Craig Roberts on Barack Obush's trickle-up economics

Economist Paul Craig Roberts on how the Democratic Party is now the party of the rich:

Goldman Sachs senior executives are arming themselves with New York gun permits, according to Alice Schroeder on The banksters “are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.”

One can understand why the banksters are worried. The company, now known as Gold Sachs, has a large responsibility for the financial crisis and the fraudulent “securities” that wrecked the world economy and Americans’ pensions. A former Gold Sachs CEO had control of the U.S. Treasury during the Bush regime, from which he diverted $750 billion to bail out the banks, thus supplying them with free capital. Gold Sachs made $27,000 million during the first three quarters of 2009 and is paying out massive bonuses, leaving the busted taxpayers with the debt and interest charges.

Little wonder the U.S. can’t afford health care for the uninsured and unemployed. It is far more important to finance multimillion-dollar bonuses for investment bankers. I mean, what would we do without capitalism?

Of course, it is not really capitalism. It is an oligarchy or a financial plutocracy.

... The Democrats have become Brownshirt Republicans.

Read more here.

Save us from people who are trying to save us

Marcie Smith, a 2009 Transylvania graduate from Richmond, calls for world leaders to deliver on remedies for supposedly man-made global warming at the Copenhagen conference, which she is attending. Here is Smith in the Opinion/Ideas section of today's Lexington Herald-Leader:
Atmospheric scientists are worried that their initial projections vastly underestimated the speed at which climate systems are deteriorating.
Actually what they're more worried about right now is that their credibility is shot after e-mails were made public which appear to show them manipulating data to make it look like like global warming was caused by human beings in the first place.

Heaven help us if humans ever do attain the power over the earth's climate like well-intentioned young people who think they are doing the public a service by publicly fretting over environmental conclusions that have been thrown into doubt hope they get. Then we can really start to worry.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Anthony Esolen on St. Tim (Tebow)

Tim Tebow won't be playing for the national championship this year, but, then again, football is only his first priority, says Anthony Esolen:
He says that his four priorities are God, family, academics, and football, in that order. And because they are in that order, while he may not be the greatest football player graduating from college this year, he has certainly touched more lives than any other player has, by far; and not only touched the lives, but brought perhaps something infinitely more valuable than a national championship in football. He has -- I don't think this is an exaggeration -- been the means whereby they have been reminded of the holy; he has therefore brought them hope.

Now this is exactly what the secular world cannot do. It can, with some considerable inefficiency, bring people food and medicine. It can run families into the ground and destroy communities, replacing them with the wraiths called mass education and mass entertainment. It is very good at that. It cannot bring hope; in fact it is almost the definition of secularism, that there is no hope to bring, other than a modest amelioration in one's physical conditions, before death. It does not plunge into the worst of all slums, the dilapidated heart of a man or woman steeped in evil, to say, "You are of incomparable worth; I love you; we are brothers, because we have one Father." That is what Danny Wuerffel does. It is what Tim Tebow will likely go on to do. And note the power of one good young Christian -- who is the light whereby a stadium filled with strangers becomes, for a few fleeting moments, a society.

Read the rest here.

The connection between gay rights groups and pedophiles: It ain't about psychology

Jonathan Rowe at Positive Liberty issues a rhetorical harrumph about anyone who wants to "tar" homosexual groups with any of the stigma of pedophilia. He complains that those advocating gay rights inevitably hear NAMBLA (The North American Man/Boy Love Association) invoked by detractors during debates over gay rights:
Like Godwin’s law, this is a constructed rule of logic — an observation — that when debating the political and civil rights of gays with an anti-gay religious conservative, the chances that the anti-gay side will invoke NAMBLA to try and poison the gay civil rights well is one.
He first argues that if someone of a traditional religious bent is going to argue on the grounds of nature that there is some inherent connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, they're going to have to deal with the fact that the only distinction nature draws between children and adults is that of puberty. On that basis one could only argue that pre-pubescent sex is unnatural. I don't disagree with him on this. Modern laws have drawn the line in age of consent laws around age 16. But the justification for these laws in not necessarily on the basis of nature, but on sociology.

We live in a society in which adolescence is continued for far longer than it once was. In traditional cultures males are usually ready to support a family by age 16 or 17, and girls were mature enough to have children at a younger age. That was why people married younger. Today, however, circumstances are quite different. For today's males (if you pay any attention to pop culture), adolescence seems to have been extended well into the 30s.

The reasons for age of consent laws being set as they are are largely sociological, not simply biological. Rowe's point that there are no Biblical strictures that comport with where we set our age of consent laws is accounted for mostly by these sociological facts.

But Rowe's real concern is with the argument that there is some strong connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. This position is simply one that a person is not allowed to utter in politically correct society. You can find disturbing statistics in this regard, but most can be legitimately be dismissed as special pleading, since they largely come from partisans in the debate. What is interesting, however, is the lack of such statistics at all. Why have more studies not been done on this issue? If this argument really needs to be debunked, why not put some elbow-grease into it? Possibly it is because the places in which they would normally be done, colleges and universities, it is not even polite to ask such a question.

It makes one wonder what they're afraid of. But a suspicion is not a proof.

But then Rowe says this:
If you try to tar the GLBT social group with this crap, we’ve got more than enough ammo to kick the ball in your court and tie traditional Judeo-Christian morality with that.
No. Sorry. Whatever the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia as pathologies, there is little doubt about one thing: Gay rights groups marched shoulder to shoulder (literally) in political activist causes with NAMBLA for years. Gay rights groups not only tolerated them within their movement, they belonged to the same organizations and marched in the same parades. Despite repeated calls to disassociate themselves from groups like NAMBLA, it took some gay rights groups as long as a decade to do anything about it. It was only when it got too hot politically that they gay rights groups did the right thing.

Why did the larger community have to pull teeth to get gay rights groups to disassociate from NAMBLA?

Homosexuality may or may not be medically or psychologically associated with pederasty, but that point is irrelevant to the larger and more important issue of the extent to which they're organizations have been politically and culturally connected with it. The biological age of puberty has nothing to with it. Neither does the Bible's seeming lack of interest in the question.

It's a matter of historical record. Check it out.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Climategate: the Emperor's nakedness acknowledged

With the exception of a small handful of deniers whose faith in global warming science is quite literally unshakable, just about everyone now seems to admit that Climategate, while not disproving global warming, has so shaken the credibility of global warming science that the myth of human-induced global warming as a settled scientific issue has effectively been shattered. The mantle of impregnibility that the small community of global warming scientists had cloaked themselves in is in shreds.

Few times in the history of public debate has there been so colossal a turnaround. It is almost as if a rabbit had been discovered in the pre-Cambrian strata and Darwinism refuted, so complete has been the discrediting of the strength of the case for human-induced global warming. And it isn't just the so-called "denialists" who see it: The scientific corruption revealed by the Climategate e-mails is now acknowledged by all but a few pitiful mainstream media voices.

Go right now and open up another browser screen and Google "global warming". Then Google "climategate." What you will discover is that, to "global warming"'s 12,100,000 hits, there are 13,800,000 for "climategate".

When the credibility of one side in the debate has been so thoroughly demolished, the debate is essentially over. The debate will now have to be completely refashioned. The global warming computer will have to be completely rebooted. What the result will be, no one knows.

But then, maybe I am underestimating the craft and determination of the Ministry of Fear that lies behind the apocalyptic impulse of these people. It's happened before.

Here's the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's Rex Murphy with what is now the representative mainstream view on Climategate.

HT: Watt's Up With That?

The Obama administration's War on Science

Remember all the pious declarations from the Obama administration about how they were going to restore scientific integrity to the government decision-making process after it was supposedly threatened during the Bush administration? And remember the amens and halleluiahs that came from the anti-Intellectual Design crowd and people like P. Z. Myers? Turns out it was all a hoax, and all the healings of science policy that were supposed to happen have been exposed as fraudulent.

So says Victor Davis Hanson in a new article entitled, "The New War on Reason" Here's Hanson on the Obama administrations labor statistics trick:
Over the last nine months, the official government website has informed us how the stimulus has saved jobs — even as hard data reflected the unpleasant truth of massive and spiraling job losses.

... Thus mythical congressional districts were posted on an official government website with more fanciful data of “jobs saved.” Just as creationists insist that the world was made 6,000 years ago, so too the Obamians believe that joblessness must show a decline because their messianic leader says it’s so — bothersome facts be damned. In this current Orwellian climate, a scientific document listing the latest unemployment figures is the equivalent of a stegosaurus footprint — an inconvenient truth for the upbeat employment gospel according to St. Barack.
Here's Hanson on CO2 emissions and the Obama administration's obsession with wind and solar energy and corresponding lack of interest in nuclear energy, which could help solve the problem:
These controversies could be adjudicated through substantive debate, but instead politically correct hysteria again has followed. “Good” informed people — like those who adhered to every doctrine of the medieval church — “know” the planet is heating up, thanks to the greed of carbon-based industry. “Bad” heretics challenge official environmental dogma and exegesis. In such an anti-empirical age, if the “truther” Van Jones had not been there, ready for Obama to tap as green czar, he would have had to be invented.
And finally Hanson on Al Gore's self-dealing on Global Warming, and various other assorted nonsense that threatens the integrity of science but that none of the people who regularly sermonize on the topic are interested in discussing:
In short, we are witnessing the rise of a new deductive, anti-scientific age.

Instead of Christian, southern-twanged fundamentalists, we see instead kinder, gentler federal bureaucrats, globetrotting Ph.D.s, liberal hucksters, and politically correct diversity officers.

All are committed to the medieval fallacy that exalted theoretical ends justify very real tawdry means.

The result is the triumph of superstition, and the dethronement of science.
Read more here.

HT: Cranach.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Headline of the week: "The Lady and the Tiger"

I have absolutely no interest in commenting on the Tiger Woods situation other than to wonder at what point in the past the press conference officially replaced the confession booth for famous people as the appropriate place to express contrition.

But you've got to tip your hat to the creative headline over at the American Spectator: "The Lady and the Tiger."

Oh, and one more thing. You know you have reached the bottom of the public humiliation barrel when you become the object of marital advice from experts who have never even met you.

What the Cultural Philistines Don't Know Can Hurt Them--and Us: Why some people disparage classic books

One of the big disappointments in the debate over curriculum standards that has ensued as a result of a Montgomery County, Kentucky high school rejecting elementary-level texts from an accelerated college prep course has been the derision expressed by some toward classic works. Go to the comment section of some of the posts on this issue under the "censorship" label below and weep. I think Thomas, my co-conspirator here on this blog, nailed it: the problem with so many students being judged incapable of reading high quality literature is not a problem with students, but a problem with educators.

The chief problem is not students who can't handle high quality literature, but teachers who can't handle it.

Several posters talked about kids "falling asleep" reading classic books. Others just said they were just too hard. These are the kinds of comments that come from people who are not themselves learned and who are projecting their own ignorance onto students. Any teacher who cannot gain and hold the interest of his students by reading and discussing "The Lady and the Tiger," by Frank Stockton, "The Whirligig of Life" by O. Henry, "How to Build a Fire" by Jack London, and "The Children's Story" by James Clavell needs to find another line of work.

I mention these short stories partly because I regularly teach them myself, but mostly to make it clear to the spectators in this debate that when you are talking about teaching classic literature to students, you're not necessarily talking about forcing an unprepared high school student to read Hamlet. There are plenty of works between "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown (a classic children's picture book for very young students) and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Classic, quality works can be found for every different age level, and if they put your students to sleep, well, it ain't the fault of the book.

As Mortimer Adler used to point out, when students don't learn, it is almost always the fault of the teacher. "You can't be uplifted," he pointed out, "by something that isn't above you." Unfortunately our current method of education is a process in which the blind lead the blind. It is, of course, in the teachers interest to place the blame elsewhere, like on a book.

I think that the people who are mapping their own lack of education onto modern students are genuinely convinced that classic books can't be read or appreciated by young people. But just so we can see what can be done, let me give you the reading list for my English IV class I am teaching this semester to high school students in my Online Classical Academy:
Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
The Stranger, Albert Camus
"The Wall," Jean Paul Sartre
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
"A Clean Well-Lighted Place," Ernest Hemingway
"A Primer on Existentialism," Gordon Bigelow
"A Report for an Academy," Franz Kafka
"The Death of Ivan Ilych," Leo Tolstoy
The Violent Bear it Away, Flannery O'Connor
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
And that's just for this semester. We just finished discussing Chesterton's book today and have two more to complete before the end of January. My students not only have read them all, but they understand them--and love them. And they can articulate why.

Now there are no prerequisites or other requirements for this class other than that you want to take it. It is not billed as an "advanced" class, although I admit that my students are extremely bright. I would not want to attempt these particular books in a normal public high school class. But there are other books--books that, by and large, my students have already read--that are classics also--that they could read and enjoy.

But the important thing is this: one of the reasons my students love these books is because I know them and love them myself. That's why I can teach them and inspire my students to love them too. I would submit that the educators who say classic works cannot be taught in today's classrooms say it because they do not themselves possess the knowledge and love of classical literature. And that's a shame.

The next time you hear one of the commenters on this blog running down some classic work and asserting that it would put a student to sleep, it's probably because it would put him to sleep, and therefore it can't but do the same for everyone else. Ask him about his own educational background, and I bet you will find that it was mostly devoid of classic literature and lacking in academic rigor. What you will find is a person who has not encountered these books himself and can't comprehend how others could have and have benefited from the experience.

I do not blame these people for not getting the kind of education they should have gotten. They are not at fault for being ill-educated. But they are at fault for contributing to the cultural illiteracy that now infects our schools and that will result in one more generation of badly educated people.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Barbarians at the Gate: A response to Chris Crutcher on the Montgomery County curriculum case

I'm still rubbing my eyes in disbelief that a rural Kentucky school district is defending itself against its national detractors for setting its academic standards too high. The next time someone makes a disparaging remark about Kentucky being some kind of educational backwater, I'm going to remind them about the Montgomery County High School case in which a school district, in demanding that an accelerated college prep course use literature with higher than a 6th grade reading level, was accused by a mob of national critics of censorship.

Chris Crutcher, author of Deadline, one of the books taken out of the curriculum in an advanced course at Montgomery County High School, has, unfortunately, joined the barbarian hordes battering on schoolhouse doors demanding a lowering of academic standards. His reasons for supporting the Decline and Fall of Academic Standards are laid out in his remarks in the comment section of my previous post on this issue

Crutcher's first point is about Superintendent Daniel Freeman's remark that the books were for "reluctant readers":
I guess I'd like to comment on Superintendent Freeman's assertion that none of these books will help students when they go to college, that they are for "reluctant readers." For one thing, a lot of students going to college are also reluctant readers.
The issue, as I keep pointing out in this debate, is that this is an accelerated college preparatory course we are talking about. Why would there be reluctant readers in an advanced college preparatory course? If they are in it, there are only two possibilities: either they do not belong in the class, in which case they should be placed in another class on grounds that they're not ready for it, or they do belong in it, in which case they should replace the class on grounds that the class is not what it purports to be.

Freeman understand this, but Crutcher doesn't seem to, which makes Crutcher's accusation that Freeman is somehow lacking in awareness of the important issues here somewhat ironic. the second point was about what is appropriate for a college preparatory course in high school:
Also, the issues focused on in many of these books are issues kids will face in college. I challenge Dr. Freeman to become a bit more informed regarding what many college professors expect from their students. I speak at colleges and universities all the time and my books, including Deadline, are part of many curriculums.
The chief issue in college is how to handle higher level material. If Crutcher things that the best way to prepare students for higher level material is to familiarize them with lower level material, it is hard to know what to say except that his is a novel approach to college preparation. Maybe the football team at Montgomery County High School should start lowering the amount of weight the players are lifting in the gym to make their muscles bigger, huh?

Crutcher's own book is apparently written at a 6th grade reading level according to the lexile measurement. Now Crutcher maintains that those like Freeman who believe that books written at a 6th grade reading level (others of the books involve here score as low as 3rd grade reading level) aren't appropriate for a college prep course are unfamiliar with what colleges expect from their students.

Crutcher can be saying only two things here: either that his books are at a high enough intellectual level to qualify them for college prep reading or that college curricula are now in such a debased state that they are using young adult fiction in their curricula. We know the first isn't true because these books are written on an elementary reading level. So we are left with the second, a conclusion that can only be the cause of despair about the state of higher education.

As I asked in the comments section of the original post on this issue, which colleges are using young adult fiction in a serious college level course? I want the names of the colleges that are doing this so we can make sure prospective students know what they're getting for the $20-$30K that they are now being asked to fork over per year for a supposedly university level education.
Mr. Freeman's assertion about college bound kids and curriculum for college bound students is either disingenuous or misinformed. I ache for the old conservatism. My father was a World War II bomber pilot, a patriot and a conservative to his core. He was far better read than Dr. Freeman (for one thing, he read MY books) and there was nary a classic from which he couldn't quote. He was on the school board from the time my older brother started school until the time my younger sister graduated. And he would have run a nail through his eye before he would have allowed this kind of censorship. And it IS censorship. Agreed, Dr. Freeman did not BAN a book if the books are still available to all kids in the school library, but he did censor.
Does Crutcher really believe that taking actions to strengthen the academic level of a curriculum is censorship? If he does, then he has a very strange definition of censorship. If he really believes this, then his definition of censorship is so broad as to be meaningless. It means that any curricular decision that selects some books and reject others is an act of censorship, which in turn means that most of what curriculum staff in schools do is censorship.

This is not only silly, it is preposterous.
In the old days, conservatives invited ideas. They weren't afraid to discuss and debate issues that made them uncomfortable. They also heartily believed in the separation of church and state, for the good of the church AND the state.
In the old days liberals did accuse serious people making serious decisions about what belongs in a curriculum with censorship. They weren't afraid to discuss and debate issues without charging their detractors with the suppression of ideas either. And in regard to church and state...

... What does church and state have to do with debate? This has to be a textbook example of a red herring: a point that has nothing to do with the question at issue. The debate has absolutely nothing to do with church and state. If it does, Crutcher ought to explain why. Did Freeman quote the Bible or something? Was his church involved in this decision?

These kinds of debates are in one sense disappointing because they show that the people who are in charge of the much of the popular culture in our country--in and out of schools--are clearly not capable of making fundamental distinctions like that between popular culture and academic culture, between what does and does not constitute serious literature, and what is and isn't censorship.
Here's an alternative look at what is good for college bound kids: Read everything you can get your hands on.
No. Sorry. One of the worst problems we have is that there is a flood of literary junk out there. I spend a lot of time in bookstores and at book sales and I read and read about reading. The tide of poor quality literature is at close to epidemic proportions. The exact thing we shouldn't do is to have our children "read everything they can get their hands on."

The chief reading problem today is the lack of discrimination. Picking out books isn't like gorging yourself at a buffet; it's like panning for gold: most of what you pick up isn't worth much. You have find the stuff that is worth your trouble. And the nice thing about it is that much if it has already been done for you. In the case of older books, the vetting has already been done for you, otherwise they wouldn't still be around. In the case of new books, the problem of determining whether they're worth reading is more difficult.

In any case, the judgment about whether a book is good or not is not always the same as the question of whether it needs to be part of a curriclum, and the question of whether it should be part of a curriculum is not a matter of censorship.

Could ridicule bring global warming alarmism down?

You can have a scandal reported in the media. You can have talk radio on your case. You can have the commentators dragging your name through the mud. You can survive all that. But if the comedians start coming after you, you're history:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lord Monckton on climate scientists caught "green-handed" misrepresenting the truth

Lord Monckton with a good rundown of how what he calls a "small clique" of climate scientists at universities ran down the truth in return for millions of dollars in government grants:
  • The Climate Research Unit at East Anglia had profited to the tune of at least $20 million in “research” grants from the Team’s activities.
  • The Team had tampered with the complex, bureaucratic processes of the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC, so as to exclude inconvenient scientific results from its four Assessment Reports, and to influence the panel’s conclusions for political rather than scientific reasons.
  • The Team had conspired in an attempt to redefine what is and is not peer-reviewed science for the sake of excluding results that did not fit what they and the politicians with whom they were closely linked wanted the UN’s climate panel to report.
  • They had tampered with their own data so as to conceal inconsistencies and errors.
  • They had emailed one another about using a “trick” for the sake of concealing a “decline” in temperatures in the paleoclimate.
  • They had expressed dismay at the fact that, contrary to all of their predictions, global temperatures had not risen in any statistically-significant sense for 15 years, and had been falling for nine years. They had admitted that their inability to explain it was “a travesty”. This internal doubt was in contrast to their public statements that the present decade is the warmest ever, and that “global warming” science is settled.
  • They had interfered with the process of peer-review itself by leaning on journals to get their friends rather than independent scientists to review their papers.
  • They had successfully leaned on friendly journal editors to reject papers reporting results inconsistent with their political viewpoint.
  • They had campaigned for the removal of a learned journal’s editor, solely because he did not share their willingness to debase and corrupt science for political purposes.
  • They had mounted a venomous public campaign of disinformation and denigration of their scientific opponents via a website that they had expensively created.
  • Contrary to all the rules of open, verifiable science, the Team had committed the criminal offense of conspiracy to conceal and then to destroy computer codes and data that had been legitimately requested by an external researcher who had very good reason to doubt that their “research” was either honest or competent.
Read the rest here.

HT: Watt's Up with That?

A Shakeup at the Ministry of Fear: Scientist involved in "Climategate" steps down

The AP is reporting that Phil Jones, one of the authors of controversial e-mails at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia that suggested Global Warming advocates were playing fast and loose with data and suppressing dissent, is stepping down from his post:

Professor Phil Jones has today announced that he will stand aside as Director of the Climatic Research Unit until the completion of an independent Review resulting from allegations following the hacking and publication of emails from the Unit.

Professor Jones said: “What is most important is that CRU continues its world leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible. After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the Director’s role during the course of the independent review and am grateful to the University for agreeing to this. The Review process will have my full support.”
Read the rest here.

Charles Murray on Climategate: That ain't no way to handle data

Social scientist Charles Murray weighs in on Climategate, indicating, once again, that the people who give all those preachy lectures to the rest of us about respecting science don't respect it themselves:

I don’t know anything about global warming but I know a lot about quantitative data analysis. The little secret—not dirty, exactly, but akin to the reasons it’s best not to watch how sausage is made—is the number of judgments that have to occur during the course of data analysis.

... That brings me to Climategate. The thousands of temperature measurements used to prove long-term warming cannot be treated as-is (“60 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:30 AM, 15 May, 1895, Cotswold station”). That “60” has to be treated in the context of time, date, location, local effects on the background temperature—and on and on—when it is analyzed.

The people who made those adjustments are, we now know, desperately invested in proving the truth of man-made global warming. And they lost the data. That’s more damning than anything else in the emails. If you’re doing important work that you know will be controversial, you don’t lose the data. You document everything you did to the data. You make the data available to others. If you don’t do all of those things, people are right to ignore anything you have published about the data. And that’s what we should do with everything these men have published about man-made global warming.

Read the rest here.

Do you have to have read a book to say anything about it at all? More on the Montgomery County "censorship" case

Well, to say that I have stirred up a hornet's nest would be an understatement. My last post on the so-called Montgomery County, Kentucky "censorship" case has received more hits than any post featured on this blog since its inception. It has also garnered quite a few comments. Rather than answer the hornets in the comments section of the earlier post (the buzzing there has gotten to be deafening), I'm going to answer them here, in separate posts, since I think the points are important enough to be featured on the main page.

I don't know, but it seems that the comments are of two main types: First, from First Amendment Fundamentalists (I'm detecting the presence of librarians who mistakenly think the First Amendment quite literally protects any form of expression), and secondly from public school English teachers with rather low standards of what constitutes good literature. I don't doubt the sincerity of either group, but, as I will indicate below, the arguments for their positions are lacking in a number of respects.

Let me take the first of these arguments today, and I'll address the other arguments as the week progresses:

"Excuse me, sir, but I fail to see how you can reasonably comment about books you've never read." (From Ellen Hopkins). That would depend on what my purpose was. Certainly I cannot offer any kind of exhaustive evaluation of the books if I haven't read them, and if I were actually reviewing the books, I would be obligated to do just that. But I'm not reviewing the books, I'm simply commenting on whether or not an action by a school district constitutes censorship, whether there is a valid line that can be drawn between books that deserve to be in an accelerated college preparatory curriculum, and whether parents who have read the books are in a position to take part in that judgment.

I said very clearly I had not read the books, indicating that I was giving only a tentative assessment of them--a skepticism, nothing more, about their worth. I based that skepticism on publishers comments and reviews of the books--as well as actual passages from the books. The argument that one is not allowed to have and express a tentative judgment of creative works is a rather strange position to try to defend. If one cannot glean a tentative opinion of a book from publishers' blurbs and reviews, then maybe Hopkins could tell me why they have such blurbs and reviews in the first place.

Are we really allowed no qualitative judgments about things that we have not actually experienced ourselves? If someone wanted to show "Debbie Does Dallas" in a high school classroom, would we really be required to view it ourselves in order to be justified in saying it was not appropriate? Are we supposed to refrain from warning our children not to take crack or meth because we haven't tried them ourselves? No one is arguing that these books are in the same class as these things, but the logic is the same.

We make tentative judgments like this all the time. In fact, a tentative judgment is required in order to decide whether to read a book (rather than do something else) in the first place. In fact, I wonder how many of the people criticizing me for expressing doubts over the merit if their paeans to teen angst have read the older and better works that the parents in Montgomery County would rather have in this accelerated curriculum.

In any case, unless you are a parent making a formal complaint, one isn't required to have read a book in order to express a vagrant opinion on a blog of whether or not parents who have read the books have the right to make the complaint. In this case the parents opposed including them in the curriculum because a) they did read the books and found them wanting and b) they did not consider them to contribute to the express purpose of the class, which is to prepare them for college at an advanced level.

Nor is one even required to know the specific literary qualities of a book to have an informed opinion of whether it belongs in a curriculum. For that, all that is necessary is to know what kind of book it is. And that's what, in spite of Hopkins opinion, makes my judgment so easy: Popular teen fiction doesn't belong in the curriculum of an accelerated high school college prep course.


Let me underscore this aspect of the Montgomery County case once again so we are very clear about it (Where's my megaphone?): THIS IS AN ACCELERATED COLLEGE PREPARATORY HIGH SCHOOL CLASS. Did we hear that?

A class like this is meant to challenge good students intellectually. If your students are challenged intellectually by these kinds of books, then they don't belong in this kind of class. There seems to be this assumption that students in an accelerated high school class are not capable of handling serious literature. If that's the case, then why are they in an accelerated high school class? And if you say that even kids in an accelerated college prep class can't handle classic books, then you have unwittingly acquiesced to the low appraisal that some of us regularly give to public schools.

And another thing. If you are going to make the argument that these kinds of books belong in that kind of class, then you are not an intellectually serious person. Sorry. That's not a moral judgment, just a statement of fact. If you don't like that judgment, then I'm afraid we're operating upon two completely different academic planets: mine, which is actually academic, and yours, which is not.

I fear that the real problem here is one I have drawn attention to on this blog over and over again: many of the people running our elementary and secondary educational institutions are not well-educated people. Well-educated people don't think that valuable academic time should be spent on popular teen books in advanced academic classes, the vast majority of which (the books I mean) will likely be forgotten in 20 years, if they last that long.

The argument is not whether these books are good books or not. I have expressed my skepticism that they are--no more than a literary hypothesis to be confirmed or not. The argument is over whether books that have proved themselves to have merit by standing the test of time, many of which are well within the grasp of moderately intelligent high school students, should be displaced by books that, whatever their worth, are unproven.

We are talking about students many of whom have not read Huckleberry Finn, the Grapes of Wrath, the Great Gatsby, and Crime and Punishment--and we're going to spend class time in a supposedly advanced high school class parsing the deepest darkest emotions of "Sophie" as she gets ready for her date with "smoky, sexy Dylan"?

Is this really what we've come to in our schools?