21 April 2017

Is that a fact?

The March for Science is bogus.

I say this as a scientist.

Science does not take sides.

Science does not reveal truths.

Though, it can reveal untruths.

If you think you know something is true, you're probably wrong.

What time did you wake up this morning?


What timekeeping system are you referencing?

Is it accurate?

... and how precise?

So, you know within bounds, according to one reference system, what time you got up.

Science is that, but much, much more difficult and demanding.

Facts are simpler, but people extrapolate what facts are to truth.

Fact: sun "rises" in the East.

Based on our language and orientation, etc., yes, this is a fact, and we can predict this will continue to be the case for a few billion years. Maybe several. Not worth arguing too much about.

True and truth sound too much alike.

True, but not truth.

For what it's worth...

Is it "true" that Buffalo Springfield's was better?

Which one?

Is that the truth?

Can you prove that, empirically?

Does mob rule, really rule?

Is that our measure?

Can you tell which version I like best?

Do I like any of them at all?


19 April 2017

Will Trinity Lutheran Church prevail?

Well, they just might.

I just got done reading the transcript of the oral arguments [PDF] before the Supremes in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. Ginsberg can flying out of the chute citing Everson (1947):

... this Court said in no uncertain terms what the Framers didn't want was tax money imposed to pay for building or maintaining churches or church property.
That sounds like something Clarence Thomas might say. I was thinking that this was going to be a "why are we even here" moment and Roberts would invite everyone to head up to the ball court to shoot some hoops.

But no.

There wasn't a whole lot of parsing or twisting in the questions asked of David Cortman, Esq., representing Trinity Lutheran, but a little on how not being able to take advantage of the ground tire program would be a great threat to the practice and fate of the free exercise Lutheranism in the Show Me State.

James Layton, Esq., however, did not get of so lightly. Many of the Supremes seemed to be unwilling or unable to distinguish between general public benefits which might incidentally accrue to a church, or any other organization or individual, like fire protection and law enforcement, on the one hand, and limited benefits in the form of direct cash payments or other material nature distributed by the state on the other. Breyer came up with this hypothetical "State X" which seemed to get Layton wondering WTF this was all going:
Breyer: I mean, we imagine a State, State X. And State X says, we're not going to provide police protection. We will for everybody, but not a church. And by the way, that costs us extra money. We have to hire extra policemen -- revoke. Okay That's all. Why not?
Layton only manages a "That..." before Breyer continues:
We don't want -- we don't -- we don't want to because they're a church. That's why not. Same with fire protection. Same with vaccination programs. Same with public health. Same with with helping children who get sick at school. Okay? But as soon as you answer that, I'll be able to know that ask you a question and how does this differ. Okay?
Again, Layton only gets out a "Well... this differs..." before yet another Breyer smackdown for not being able to understand a question as simple as "Okay?":
No, I'm not asking that yet.
This appears to have prompted some laughter. Breyer gets some more when he clarifies and asks if Layton thinks these would be constitutional, and Layton wisely declines to take a position. I say wisely, because this is all nonsense. You don't vaccinate churches, you vaccinate individuals. If you didn't vaccinate a Lutheran because they're Lutheran, well, that doesn't fly. The benefit of fire and police protection do not accrue exclusively to a church -- they accrue more generally to the community and perhaps individuals case by case (stopping an assault of a church member on church grounds). A direct cash benefit to improve the church grounds is something completely different, even if the general public might enjoy some benefit as a result, as would have possibly been the case in the improvement of the playground at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Now, a I've said before, just because a law is constitutional, as in my opinion Blaine amendments are in general and Missouri's in particular, I don't mean that they are necessarily a good idea. I don't think they should be struck down just because a Supreme Court justice cannot summon the analytical power to resolve the difference between fire protection and a cash payment. No, if this one gets struck down it's because they just want to.

Then get ready to hold your hats because it's going to be Katy, bar the door.
Katy, bar the door! By by Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth), b. 1876 - {https://archive.org/details/scotlandsstoryhi00mars Scotland's story : a history of Scotland for boys and girls by Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Eliza], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52921561
Interestingly, one of the primary motivations of the Blaine amendments was to protect public schools by preventing funds being diverted to religious institutions. Striking them down out of hand will put extreme pressure on the public school systems, especially distressed ones, and the outcome is difficult to seem, but I'm confident there will be significant thrash. Now, I'm all for experimentation in education and skeptical of top-down approaches to it. And maybe widespread creative destruction is what we need. But I think prudence would dictate that Blaine amendments and related laws should be restricted and clarified depending on the requirements of the individual states, and let them figure it out, rather than just toss them out because a few Supremes just don't like them.

17 April 2017

ACLU has a strong Brief of Amici Curiae in Trinity Lutheran

Of course, the ACLU would come out guns a blazin'! [PDF] I get their perspective, it's well-grounded in the history and intent of the Founders, and well argued. But here's the thing: while Blaine amendments are Constitutional (IMO), I don't think that religious organizations should be excluded from receiving public funds if the process by which the funds are distributed are non-discriminatory and the use of the funds are for non-religious purposes (e.g., if secular or people of other religions would be doing the same thing (e.g., swinging on swings)) should be proscribed by what has been written into the Constitution. Trinity Lutheran needs to get bounced because Missouri's Blaine amendments are Constitutional, not because Trinity Lutheran's receipt of funds is contra the US Constitution as written.

PS Editors are a good thing...

Blaine amendments: being Constitutional doesn't make it a good idea

The Supremes are hearing Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley [SCOTUS Blog], which is pitting the State of Missouri against a Lutheran Church who wanted to participate in a grant program to cover their playground in ground up tires. Now, per the SCOTUS Blog link above and elsewhere, Trinity Lutheran Church has attracted a bunch of brief amici curiae to their cause. Now, one problem with many of these briefs is that the focus too much on the original intent of so-called Blaine amendments, because of the blatantly anti-Catholic attitude of its principle advocate James Blaine. Before trying to understand the intent, let's take a look at Missouri's implementation:

“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.” Missouri Const. Art. I, § 7.
“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of personal property or real estate ever be made by the state, or any county, city, town, or other municipal corporation, for any religious creed, church, or sectarian purpose whatever.” Missouri Const. Art. IX, § 8.
Now, as that is written, I don't see anything in the US Constitution that would prevent Missouri from implementing that as written or repealing it. The equal protection appeals to the Fourteenth Amendment seem to be a bit of a stretch because it does not unduly "abridge the privileges" of citizens that they might not be able to realize through other means. And it's perfectly sound on the Establishment Clause -- it's the Establishment Clause on steroids.

Now, that all said, that doesn't mean that just because I think Blaine amendments are Constitutional, that I think they're a good idea. If a private, secular school can get a grant for ground up tires for their playground, it seems that Trinity Lutheran and Darth Vader's Home for Wayward Sith should be able to get a grant for ground up tires, too. The absolute proscription of public funds falling into the hands of religious organizations through programs that are more generally available, is, in my opinion, foolish and short-sighted. The Establishment Clause does not proscribe government at any level working with religious organizations to further public goals.

The answer to the problem of Blaine amendments is not to have the Court say it hurts their feelings and makes them feel bad and because it was born of anti-Catholic sentiment or whatever, that people can feel free to ignore it, or strike it down because they don't like it. It's bad law. Repeal it, Missouri. And all the rest of the states who have them, too.

16 April 2017

Francis Hutcheson rocked the Scottish Enlightenment like Jimmy Page just rocks

Get to know Francis Hutcheson. He rocks. Like Jimmy Page rocks. Funny, they're both rocking the same look. I guess some things never go permanently out of style.

Our system of "education" in the United States is woefully broken in that the median is so hell and gone away from the average. What do I mean by this? The distribution is skewed such that if you line all the students in a particular grade up from least to best educated and picked the kid in the middle, he'd be way below average. The way this happens is that most kids get a crap education, and a few kids get among the best educations in the world, which leaves the median on the crap side of average. What's worse is that there is a delusion of education in which credentials are equated with achievement and by reaching some arbitrary milestone (e.g., "graduation") you're "educated". You have a BS-MA-PhD in (insert random-ass wtf-ever here) Studies. Great. You ever cover, say Conservation of Momentum? Arma virumque canoWHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another?


Well, this dude Francis freakin' Hutcheson was philosophy's first rock star. Instead of lecturing in Latin, he figured he'd lecture in English thereby expanding his audience from the Latin speaking world, to the English speaking world. We can be Lockean in our understanding of the self-evidence of which world was bigger. His intellectual progeny include Adam Smith and David Hume and many of the Founders of the United States of America. He was the Velvet Underground of philosophy; he might not have sold very many albums, but everyone who bought one became a philosopher. Except he *did* sell a bunch -- he was very popular. As if VU was Led Zeppelin.

Thank you, Scotland!

Of Trebuchets and Founding Principles

I particularly enjoyed a NOVA special about trebuchets. In the episode, they build a lathe, to build a better lathe, to finally turn an axle for the trebuchet. This idea that something can be used to make something better than itself is immensely gratifying to me. A process of perfectibility which strives towards perfection, and despite never actually reaching perfection, each iteration can be better than the previous.

So, it grates on me when some of my generally more "progressive" friends conflate what was made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with who made them, who they without much study or contemplation dismiss as universally, racist, sexist, slave-owning, evil bastards, incapable of generating anything worthy of our modern, progressive times.

Sadly, they'll never read anything like Robert Curry's spectacular Jefferson, Locke, and the Declaration of Independence  where he shows that despite Jefferson's profound respect and understanding of John Locke, the "self-evident" of the Declaration was not the self-evident of Locke, but rather that of Thomas Reid; the "unalienable rights" were not Lockean, but rather derived from Francis Hutcheson. Sure, Jefferson owned slaves, but his hypocrisy in life cannot in itself diminish the power of the ideal. A couple weeks before his death, Jefferson said:
All eyes are open to or opening to … the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Jefferson may have been wearing boots and spurs, but it wasn't nature or God who put those on him. For this Passover, let us please remember there is a difference between where you are, seeing where you need to go, getting there, and finally arriving. Someone can lead you to the promised land even though they are forbidden to reach it them self.

13 April 2017

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

The more I learn about the founding of the US, the more of a Straussian of the Jaffa school I become, or that explains an aspect of my admittedly imperfect understanding of the founding of the US.

The radical, eternal, idea is that all men are created equal.

Now, this leads to all sorts of misunderstanding, but it's misunderstanding that, in my opinion, stems more from willful ignorance than just pure ignorance.

First, let us understand that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are incomplete and imperfect. But, try to understand what was trying to be said.

Now, I do subscribe to a mostly originalist perspective when it comes to reading the Constitution as law. My main justification for this is that it's the closest thing that's grounded in an objective reality. That is, if it's a living document that just gets interpreted however the hell you want, then it doesn't really mean anything. With originalism, you can at least try to understand what they were trying to write, and you have something you can analyze and argue about with a whole jurisprudence and history to back it up. Don't like what was meant? Change it. You've been given the tools. For instance, John Yoo over at NR schooled me in my lack of understanding about what declare war meant back in the day, and the precision with which the founders used language to allow us to disambiguate certain things.

My take was the Syria Tomahawk chop was unconstitutional, because only Congress had the power to declare war. Well, turns out back then, declaring war was more of a diplomatic thing that officially signaled times, they are a changing. Initiation of hostilities, combat, etc., was often, nay, usually, undertaken without formal declarations of war. The power Congress had was over the formation of the military. If Congress didn't like what Executive was doing, they just defund the military. Read Yoo's piece for more.

Now, as far as the Declaration goes, I will be a skosh hypocritical, perhaps, in my originalist approach, and submit that, we may and should read "men" as "people".  So, we have:

... all people are created equal ...

This really isn't that much of a stretch, and I'd bet that it would be an easy sell to TJ back in the day, if only it sounded right to his 18th century ear. It actually *is* what he meant, but that's just not the way you talked back then. Originalism is about what it meant then, not how it reads in any time.

Now, the second part that gets folks gummed up is "equal". This really should be as self-evident as self-evident can be, but the power of willful ignorance and delusion is, well, powerful. Equal in this context does not mean "capably equivalent" or "indistinguishable from". This is intuitively obvious to any kid who has had the pleasure of spending recess organizing into teams to play some sport. The two kids who had it the roughest was the third best athlete and the worst. The best and second best were the captains. Third best wasn't picked captain despite thinking they should and the worst kid was picked last. Brutal in its way, but it made sense to everyone, and no one thought anyone was "equal" in ability, focus, commitment, empathy, honor, skill, etc.

No, equal means equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Playing the hand you're dealt, but getting to play it.

Compare this to the divine right of kings and all of the might makes right of most of human history.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!