Saturday, May 31, 2014

Can you be educated if you don't read books?

What does a literature professor do when he walks into his class for the first time, intending to teach literary criticism, and discovers his college students are illiterate?

One of Mr. Cothran's Educational Maxims is this: "You can't be an educated person if you don't read books." It's a startling and unorthodox truth for some, I know.

And not just any books, but high quality literature. As John Senior once proclaimed, you need to read the thousand good books before you read the hundred great books. But at some point you've got to get to the great ones and if you haven't by high school, then you haven't gotten a good education.

Unfortunately, our public schools, which seem to be in the business of mediocrity, are producing students who apparently don't read books and therefore cannot be considered educated.

In his excellent essay, "Literary Criticism without Literature," Thomas Bertonneau talks about going in to a class of students to which he is supposed to be teaching literary criticism and discovers that they are basically illiterate when it comes to real books:
A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005).  Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why (2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.
And these are the ones who went to college, not the ones who dropped out.

How do you get a diploma in an American school with this level of literacy? The answer of course is, "Easily."

I recently spoke to a college student who was assistant teaching as part of an assignment in his college education class. He told me he was assigned to a local county middle school English class. He asked the teacher one day what books they were going to read that year in class. He was told that normally they read two books during the year, but that this year they probably wouldn't have time to do that.

What I want to do a survey on is how many books teachers have read. My hypothesis is that we will find the same thing Bertonneau found among his students; namely, cultural--if not functional--illiteracy. These are people who, after all, have gotten the educational equivalent of lobotomies by taking mind-numbingly stupid educational courses in which classic literature is virtually unknown.

It's the blind leading the blind.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The myth of the 97% climate change consensus

The myth of the 97% climate change consensus. What is the origin of the false belief – constantly repeated by President Obama, the media and others – that almost all scientists agree about global warming? Claims continue to be made that “97% of scientists agree that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” That’s what Secretary of State John Kerry told graduating Boston […]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who is threatening who in the debate over "fairness" ordinance?

The following op-ed was published in last Friday's edition of the Danville Advocate-Messenger. The City Commission voted last night to approve the "fairness" ordinance, but they reportedly exempted Sunrise Children's Services.

You're supposed to find out a newspaper's opinion on an issue by reading the editorial page. But when it comes to the so-called "Fairness" Ordinance, we got to find it out by reading a front page news story.

After a meeting of the City Commission in which it gave a first reading to a proposed gay rights ordinance, a story appeared in the Advocate-Messenger titled, "Danville passes first reading of fairness ordinance despite threats."

If you read the story itself what you find that the "threat" referred to is the promise by an attorney for Sunrise Children's Services to fight the ordinance in court because it would quite literally threaten the existence of its ministry to abused and neglected children.

Sunrise is what used to be called an "orphanage." How did a threat to an orphanage from an ordinance get turned into a threat to an ordinance by an orphanage?

Not only is this poor reporting, it doesn't even rise to the level of a competent opinion.

Maybe we should just be glad it isn't widows too who are standing between the advocates of this ideologically-driven law and its passage. What would the Advocate-Messenger's headline be then?

If this ordinance had to do with anything other than gay rights there would be outraged editorials written (on the opinion page) about how abused and neglected children are threatened by a law.

Although it is hard to prove animus, it has been fairly clear from the beginning that the impulse among supporters of this ordinance was to target religious groups. The only cases which this law would ever realistically cover are cases involving church ministries.

Gays now enjoy a privileged status in broader society and there are very few confirmed cases of discrimination by private businesses. Both private businesses and government entities not only do not discriminate against gays: a growing number of them grant gays explicit benefits.

Practically speaking, the only cases such an ordinance would apply to are religious organizations like Sunrise.

In fact, anyone who doubts that the impetus behind this law is anti-religious in nature and that it is designed to infringe on First Amendment protections needs to read an e-mail sent to the Commission by J. P. and Jane Brantley, Tim Culhan, and Eric Mount, three of the most vocal advocates of the measure, which was obtained from the Commission through an open records request. The e-mail is filled with demands to delete language in the ordinance that affirms religious freedom protections.

The e-mail argued that language in the ordinance that "indirectly allows a person's religious beliefs to serve as an exemption from the requirements of the ordinance" should be taken out. "Such language," said the authors, "runs counter to the purpose of the fairness ordinance."

It sure does.

Although the Commission retained language in the ordinance that gives lip service to religious freedom protections, it caved in to the group's demand that Sunrise be included in its coverage.

When the Commission votes on this measure on Tuesday night, it needs to explain to the public how it can justify passing a law that prohibits largely non-existent discrimination at the risk of threatening a ministry that doesn't get much respect in newspaper headlines, but has helped hundreds of abused and neglected children.

Martin Cothran is senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky and is a Danville resident.

Monday, May 26, 2014

CNN's coverage of the Santa Barbara killings: What went wrong?

I happened to catch the Saturday night CNN coverage of the killings on The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) while I was in Orlando. After about 15 minutes of it, I just wanted to go have a stiff drink.

No. make that five minutes. And two drinks.

The whole thing makes me realize once again that the more we lose our capability of speaking in moral terms the more we cut ourselves off from understanding why people do what they do. That and the sillier we sound when talking about evil.

The Santa Barbara killings were particularly interesting to me because I went to UCSB and lived for two years on the corner of the road (Embarcadero del Norte) on which the chase took place that ended in the death of the shooter (and knifer, and dangerous car driver). That was the location of my college fraternity house. From the reports, it sounds like Elliot Roger passed by my old frat house several times on his grisly spree.

Now every time something like this happens, we are subjected to cable news anchors who look at us solemnly and ask, "What went wrong?" and "How we can prevent these things from happening again?" Then, about six months later, something else goes wrong (as evidenced by another, similar crime) and the thing happens again. World without end, Amen.

Of course there is the obvious nonsense that gets trotted out every time a gun crime is committed. If you thought the Stupid Gun Arguments went away when Piers Morgan left, ... well, now you know what a silly thought that was.

Three people were shot with guns. Therefore, ban guns. But three people were killed with (what I last heard were) "sharp objects." Can we use the same argument? Three people were killed with sharp objects. Therefore, ban sharp objects?

In fact, he tried to kill people with his black BMW. Do we ban beamers now too? Or maybe just black ones?

This is the state of our moral discourse; we seriously entertain the idea that objects make us perform bad actions. Get rid of the objects, and we prevent the bad actions. Of course, people were killing each other at equivalent rates and with equal regularity 1,000 years ago when there were no guns.

And it only gets worse from there.

The first assumption behind these discussions seems to be that such events are extraordinary. That's why we cancel all the other programming and are treated to several days of discussion and analysis. It's big news precisely because it is not common. This is sometimes stated outright.

The second assumption is precisely the opposite: that such events are increasingly common. In fact, we are given to understand, the killing is extraordinary precisely because it isn't. So on Saturday night the host (I don't watch CNN enough to know her name) gave several mini-lectures about how these kind of killings are so common now.

Actually the only extraordinary thing about the whole thing is how badly CNN can confuse its audience and the only common thing is CNN's increasingly common practice of obsessing over it.

Many of these assumptions are surely the result (at least in part) of the needs of a news organization to attract viewers. But the third assumption goes beyond that. The third assumption is that we are modern people now and that we should be past all this. These kinds of things are something that barbarians of other times do. But not us.

That's why killings like this are supposed to surprise and shock us. That's why news network anchors get panels of experts on to to explain it all.

This is related to the idea of people like Stephen Pinker who recently wrote a book about how much more moral we all are now that we are not moral anymore. I've addressed that nonsense elsewhere.

In the CNN discussion, the psychologist in the group complained that there weren't enough psychologists involved with the killer. In fact, psychology plays a heavy role in any such discussion. Everything is now explainable by science and psychology at least looks like science (it is a lean and hungry look, for sure, since its practitioners, who are not really scientists, really want to be).

Never mind that there were plenty of psychologists who had had contact with him. In fact, as the discussion went on (and on, and on) you could have kept yourself pretty busy just keeping a tally of all the psychological professionals who had contact with him.

But the real problem here is that there are people (psychologists among them, but news anchors too) who think that if psychology had been practiced well enough and in the proper volume, this would never have happened.

And the underlying, universal assumption is that these killings were preventable--and preventable through science. Somehow (we're never told precisely how) if we just took everyone's guns away and and had enough psychologists these things wouldn't happen anymore.

It sounds fine as an assumption tucked away in the dark recesses of the questions we ask panels of experts, but it sounds pretty stupid when you state it in plain words, doesn't it?

Here is the solution to the problem of violence. Here is the answer to the question "How can we prevent this problem in the future?". Form a police state. Give up all of our privacy rights and let the government monitor us 24/7. Then we will know about these things before they happen and we can prevent them.

Or can we?

In Elliot Roger we have a test case: He saw multiple psychologists; he had multiple contacts with police; HE POSTED A VIDEO ON YOU TUBE WHICH STRONGLY HINTED AT WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO.

He did everything but issue a press release that he was going to stab three people in his apartment, shoot multiple other people, killing four, and run down a few people with his black BMW on Embarcadero del Norte in Isla Vista, California on the evening of May 23 spectators are welcome and for further information please contact Elliot Roger.

The real questions concern CNN's coverage of the killings in Santa Barbara: What went wrong and how can we prevent it from happening again?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Climate Change in 12 Minutes

More indication that there may be as much Global Warming (to steal a phrase from David Berlinski) as there is funding available to find it:


Monday, May 19, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Ban In Oregon

Federal Judge Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Ban In Oregon. In 2004, voters added a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution. A federal judge said the ban violated the the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Friday, May 16, 2014

If you didn't appreciate Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV are you mentally ill or just immoral?

Okay, I'm trying not to get into trouble with the new Politically Correct regime here. I'm just attempting to make sense of all the finger-wagging that the new, self-appointed social and political hall monitors are furiously engaged in in regard to Michael Sam's being drafted by the NFL.

Sam is gay and so we must all get out the party whistles and celebrate it. And if we don't, there are people who will get in our face and give us earnest lectures running down our moral views in the name of Tolerance and rejecting our views in the name of Diversity.

Oh yeah: And calling us "homophobes."

So in the interest of helping me not get into any more trouble, maybe my readers could give me some advice here.

As we all know, being gay now confers a privileged status on an individual in today's society. So when Michael Sam gets drafted in the NFL, he is not booed or hooted at, he is celebrated.

So my first question is, why is Michael Sam being celebrated? First of all, in order for behavior to be praiseworthy, it must be voluntary. But, we are told, being gay is not voluntary. Gay people are born that way. You have the gay gene or you don't (We must accept this because, despite the fact that no such gene has ever been found, it is claimed by gay rights groups (even though it is rejected by many gay scholars themselves) and that is sufficient to establish it).

So he cannot be praiseworthy for being gay. Is there something else? Maybe Sam is praiseworthy for kissing his boyfriend on national TV. But why is that praiseworthy? Was it daring? Did it require courage to do? Why is it brave to do something that the media is going to fawn over, as it obediently did?

So I'm unclear as to what Michael Sam did that warrants praise in the first place.

Secondly, I'm unclear as to why it is that the people who were turned off by Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend are to be criticized. Michael Levenson at The Wire referred to them as "those homophobes who bristled at the kiss." Why are you a "homophobe" if you think kissing a person (or any number of other more intimate things two same sex people could do) to a person of the same sex is icky? Why don't we give them the same deference we are told we are supposed to give to anyone else who has a different opinion than ours and simply say, "Fine, as long as it works for you."

When calling these people "homophobes" are you issuing a psychological diagnosis? Are you mentally ill if you didn't appreciate Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend? Are people who disagree with the new Politcally Correct regime (like people in the old Soviet Union) to be committed to mental hospitals? Is disagreement now a mental disease? If so, can it be cured? Would electroshock therapy help people appreciate Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend? Perhaps removing the offending brain node from which such Intolerance emanates?

Or maybe you are being immoral if you did not like watching Michael Sam kiss his boyfriend? Is "homophobe" a term of moral opprobrium? If so, what moral standard are you appealing to according to which You Shall Not Think Two People Of The Same Sex Kissing Is Repellent? Is this written on a pair of stone tablets somewhere? From what Mt. Sinai was it brought down?

Surely there are answers to these questions. Otherwise we would be forced to conclude that the people now preaching at us about this issue would be no more than tiresome Politically Correct schoolmarms who really ought to get a life.

And we know that can't be true.

UK Times headline tomorrow: Scientists in cover-up of ‘damaging’ climate view – full article

UK Times headline tomorrow: Scientists in cover-up of ‘damaging’ climate view – full article. Uh oh, another “climategate” like moment is upon us as the law of unintended consequences kicks in. As Dr. Roger Pielke put it: Appears that Bengtsson can play hardball too. Plus there is an editorial by Dr. Matt Ridley saying … Continue reading

Márquez and Modernity

Márquez and Modernity.

The death of Gabriel García Márquez gives Conservatives an occasion to reflect on the idea of Modernity. A thoughtful Conservatism unequivocally opposes

The post Márquez and Modernity appeared first on The Imaginative Conservative.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Exercising our Humanities Muscle

The following is my "Letter from the Editor" in the Late Summer edition of The Classical Teacher, which should arrive in mailboxes in about five weeks:

In M. Night Shyamalan's film Lady in the Water, we encounter a character named Reggie who lives in the apartment complex in which the movie's story takes place. Reggie boasts that he only exercises his right arm: "It's an experiment," he says. "It's science." The consequence, of course, is that his right arm is twice the size of his left arm. His thighs too, he suggests, are of different sizes. Reggie is physically unbalanced because he exercises one side of his body and not the other.

Many of us are unbalanced too—not physically, but educationally: We exercise only one side of our souls.

In today's education, innovation is everything and the tried and true counts for nothing. We are supposed to exercise our intellects on the latest technological advances, but not our imaginations on the ancient wisdom.

It's an experiment. It's science.

There are two emphases in classical education that ensure that our children are not unbalanced in this way. The first is an emphasis on literature that is commensurate with our emphasis on mathematics and the sciences. Today's overemphasis on what are now called "STEM" disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and underemphasis on language has deformed our schools—and the students who attend them.

While many children have never been taught the great body of literature that is our Western Christian heritage—and many struggle to read at all—we increasingly deemphasize the humanities in favor of the technological expertise that we think is more important.

The debates we now see concerning the uses of our new technological knowledge (everything from nuclear energy to human reproductive technologies, to privacy invading drones) should be a warning to us of what is to come: We take unto ourselves greater and greater technological power and are less and less able to judge how to use it in a responsible way.

Our technological muscles are well-developed, but our moral muscles have atrophied.

It is literature and the humanities that once trained us in the wisdom we needed to use the power science had given us, and we are now—thanks to several generations of neglect—already so blind to our own moral inadequacies that we can't even see our blindness.

The second emphasis in classical education is the specific emphasis on classic literature. C. S. Lewis pointed out in his preface to St. Athanasius on the Incarnation that each historical age has its prejudices. "Every age," he says, "... is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes."

This is what Chesterton called man's "degrading slavery of being a child of his age." We suffer from this because the literature we do tend to read is the literature of our own time. But Lewis points out that the books we need are "the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our period. And that means old books."

Classic works are not without their own prejudices, but they are prejudices that differ from ours and are many times opposite to ours. "Two heads are better than one," says Lewis, "not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


THE NEW HUMANITIES. Editorial in The Point: In August of last year the psychologist Steven Pinker took to the pages of the New Republic to defend the relevance of science to “humanistic scholarship.” Science, he wrote, is “of a piece with philosophy, reason,...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

You can criticize Tim Tebow's Christianity, but don't dare say anything derogatory about a gay football player

NFL Running back Ray Rice was charged with beating his fiancée into unconscious submission and the Tolerance Police yawn. But tweet something negative about a gay player kissing is partner on TV and they swing into action:
 ... trash talking during the game has practically become de rigueur for the NFL. Vaunting celebrations from the School For Talentless Mimes now follow even the most routine tackles. Players spit at each other, and as my friend Jazz Shaw pointed out, a few players in the league mocked Tim Tebow for his Christianity with fake prayer-kneeling on the field. 
In other words, the players in this league spend more time taunting each other than actually playing the game. Yet the Dolphins and presumably the NFL see fit to send [Miami Dolphin's corner back Don] Jones to the re-education gulag over an ill-considered tweet far off the field, one that was not even explicitly directed at Sam.
Read more here.

Žižek on the Ukraine

Slovenian philosopher Slovoj Žižek tells an old joke about a Jew trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union and then imagines an equivalent exchange between a Ukrainian and an EU administrator:
The Ukrainian complains: ‘There are two reasons we are panicking here in Ukraine. First, we’re afraid that under Russian pressure the EU will abandon us and let our economy collapse.’ The EU administrator interrupts: ‘But you can trust us, we won’t abandon you. In fact, we’ll make sure we take charge of your country and tell you what to do!’ ‘Well,’ the Ukrainian replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’
Read more here.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Farley Mowat is Dead

I've always heard it said that you should never judge a book by its cover, but eight or nine years ago, I happened to come across a book that just looked like it might be good.

The book was a children's book and having children at home that we read to frequently, I was always up for a good one. This one was called The Dog Who Wouldn't Be and it was by a writer I had never come across: Farley Mowat.

As I began the book that night at the dinner table, I knew just a sentence or two in that I had discovered a great writer. Sure enough, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be proved a wonderful book. We went on to read Owls in the Family, Lost in the Barrens, and, later, The Boat that Wouldn't Float. Like all great chidlren's writers, Mowat wrote stores that could be read with equal profit and enjoyment by adults and children.

Mowat had a command of language you just don't run across very often and he knew how to tell a story. Later I learned more about him and that was a Canadian conservationist and a beloved national writer in Canada. He wrote a number of books about the Canadian wilderness, as well as about the Eskimos.

I heard today that he had died at the age of 92. It's a great loss.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The End is Near as a scientific theory: New White House climate report, by Henny Penny

Yesterday's big news was the White House report on climate change in which Americans were told, after a winter which featured some of the coldest temperatures on record, that we are all going to die of heat and that we'd better do something about it.

Now if you say something such as that we have had "a winter which featured some of the coldest temperatures on record" in the context of Global Warming, you expose yourself to the Global Warming Hal Lindsays who will scold you for confusing weather with climate. "Weather," they say, refers to specific meteorological events whereas "climate" refers to the big meteorological picture. Particular weather events in and of themselves, we are told, can never be used as definitive evidence in regard to climate.

You can't say, for example, that the past cold winter (or, in my region two late springs in a row) was evidence against Global Warming. That is a weather statement. That there is Global Warming is something different: it is a climate statement.

The general idea, I guess, is that no one weather event can count against a general theory which takes account of all weather events.

But, as I have said before, this distinction―which, when uttered, is done with the air of impartiality and the pretension that it is universal―is, in fact, only observed when someone who disagrees with some basic tenet of Global Warming alarmism makes a statement. It is never brought up when Global Warming alarmists make similar statements.

If a detractor points to a cold winter, he is hooted down by proponents for not observing the distinction. But if supporter points to warm summer, you can hear the crickets chirping.

If I report that for the last two years in Kentucky we have experienced two unusually short and cool summers and say that is evidence against the Global Warming, I am committing an egregious scientific error of epic proportions. But if I live on the Gulf coast and I suffer property damage from a hurricane and blame it on Global Warming, I can be assured of comforting words from the same crowd.

In other words, anyone who disagrees with Global Warming is under the stricture never to confuse the two, whereas Global Warming proponents can violate the distinction with impunity. Not only do warmers get all the grant money: They also get to operate under a less stringent set of rhetorical rules.

There is a whole category of what we call "extreme weather events" used as illustrations of Global Warming and they never seem to violate the rule that you can't cite them in evidence for your view of climate. In fact, not only can you cite them, you can cite events that would otherwise be disconfirming. As I have also repeatedly pointed out, any kind of weather event can be used to confirm the theory and no weather event can be used to disconfirm it.

It's unfalsifiable. But somehow it's still science. If you want an example of this, just look at the coverage of the White House report:
Climate change is here and will only worsen. Get used to more flooding, wildfires and drought, depending on where you live. Cities and states across America already are spending lots of money to respond.
Flooding is the opposite of drought. But both confirm the theory. (It's also interesting that the mere spending of money to fight Global Warming comes across in some of these reports as evidence for Global Warming!)

But remember, it is only conservative Republicans who politicize science.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren't just for the elite

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren't just for the elite. Scott Samuelson in The Atlantic: Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides,...

Fairy Tale Economics: The minimum wage debate another example of why it's so easy to be a liberal

While the rest of the world is celebrating May Day by Morris dancing, or crowning a May Queen, or enjoying a bank holiday, or recovering from Walpurgis Night, Democrats here in America are celebrating it as International Workers Day, an international socialist holiday.

And that's only appropriate. The minimum wage issue is a paradigm case of the liberal mindset on policy issues. It is a case study showing the key features of the liberal worldview:

  • Good intentions count for everything
  • The mere passing of well-intentioned legislation is sufficient to discharge one's obligations as a statesman
  • Disagreement with liberal policy positions is evidence of evil intentions and bad faith and is sufficient to prove the moral evil of the person disagreeing

It is also an example of how easy it is to be a liberal.

Liberalism is the political path of least resistance. It is the position that requires the least critical thought because it does not require you to ask hard questions about your policy stance. It merely requires a pledge of good faith.

In the case of the minimum wage, the only thing you need think about is that workers at the bottom of the economic ladder will get paid more. Period. Stop there. No more questions are to be asked. You simply declare that you are in favor of workers making more money.

The problems with this position are not evident until a step or two into the economic thought process, a thought process that is never pursued because it would make the good intentions problematic.

And because the consideration of minimum wage laws never extends beyond the intention of helping workers to the reality of their actual effect, it never has to be considered.

The actual effect, of course, is that many workers--many of them new to the job market or trying to find their first job--will either lose their jobs or be faced with fewer job opportunities.

The extent of this effect is subject to debate, but the actuality of it is not. And those who attempt to deny it (the discussion never really gets to that point because this effect is seldom argued against and is more often simply ignored) should simply be asked, "Why are you settling for setting the minimum wage at $10.10 per hour?" "Wouldn't workers benefit more by raising it higher?"

In Seattle there is a movement to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour--a proposal that is garnering the opposition of even politically liberal businessmen to whom good intentions are all-of-a-sudden not enough. Recent immigrants who run businesses in the city are particularly upset by the prospect, since their profit margins are lower than most other small businesses.

But what is the problem with $15 an hour? Why not $20? Why not $25? Why not $50? Would the person opposing such proposals be opposed to the well-being of workers in the same way they are characterized by minimum wage supporters as being in the case of the $10.10 legislation?

The problem, of course, is that such legislation would throw a lot of people out of work--something the $10.10 minimum wage would do as well, just not quite as much.

This is an election year political move, of course, of the kind both parties engage in when the prospect of facing the voters draw nigh. But that fact doesn't make it any less odious.