Thursday, December 30, 2004

Purple Resolutions

Ilya Shapiro, one of the first to propogate the theory of "Purple America," a group to which I believe I partially belong, has now come up with a list of New Year's Resolutions:

1. I resolve to clarify at keggers and cocktail parties that Purple America is not synonymous with "moderate" in the sense of being neither true-blue liberal or red-meat conservative.

2. At the same time, when a Republican politician preaches economic and religious freedom while wanting the government to regulate personal behavior, I resolve to call him on it.

3. Similarly, I resolve to call out Democratic politicians who preach tolerance, equality, and personal liberty while supporting government-mandated speech codes, racial discrimination, redistribution, and "re-regulation."

4. I resolve to point out that there is nothing wrong with coiffing wine at a NASCAR race or downing beers at the opera, so long as your beverage of choice is good quality -- and if you're drinking it because you like it and not simply to appear contrarian.

5. I resolve not to label people politically based on appearance and superficial demographics; that iPod-toting hipster rollerblading to Whole Foods may have a Bush-Cheney sticker on his jalopy, while the nice middle-aged couple shopping at Wal-Mart may be Deaniacs looking for a deal.

6. On the same note, I resolve not to perpetuate the over-used red state-blue state trope, as we are one country and there are amazing, incredible things about each and every part of it.

7. To that end, I resolve to remain open-minded about new cultural experiences, but reserve the right to call a spade a spade when something is clearly lacking in artistic, culinary, scientific, or other merit.

8. I resolve not to invest too much of myself in the quotidian humdrum of national politics, because the business of America is business and the healthiest societies are also the least politicized. (This will be a hard one for this Washington-based political junkie.)

9. Along the same lines, I resolve to go forward this new year with a boundless sense of optimism and good cheer because these are prevalent among the political and cultural figures I admire-and they make life a whole lot more enjoyable.

10. I resolve to read Tech Central Station religiously, and tell all my friends to do so too.

Of these, I find I concur with the most, though with No.2 only in it's broadest sense as I think Shapiro relies on the "typical" libertarian template of church/state "separation."

Anyway, I don't make these lists so I'll end with a simple: Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Re-defining the Enlightenment

I just completed reading Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Roads to Modernity, which I found enjoyable. (A shorter version of the book can be found, essentially, in this essay written by Gimmelfarb a few years ago). In the book, Himmelfarb identifies three strands of the Enlightenment, the French, British and American. From the French, we received the "ideology of reason," the most identifiable strand of the Enlightenment and that which most people identify the movement. The British championed the "sociology of virtue" while the Americans developed the "politics of liberty." Himmelfarb attempts to do two things with the book.
I am engaged in a doubly revisionst exercise, making the Enlightenment more British and making the British Enlightenment more inclusive.
She casts the French philosophes as the antagonists to her British thinkers. (Rather than restating her arguments, I'd recommend reading the aforementioned short essay). The American Enlightenment, according to Himmelfarb, while unique in many aspects, was more derivative of the British than the French, though the reliance on Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws by the writers of the Federalist Papers was particularly notable. However, America's Enlightenment was also heavily influenced by religion and, as such, was a child of both the Revolution and the Great Awakening. As a result, Himmelfarb suggests that, above all, the combination of religion and politics resulted in a pragmatic American Enlightenment. Ideals were identified, but were sacrificied for the more immediate viability of the political situation.

Himmelfarb's work has been predictably pilloried by the "establishment" and those on the left as nothing more than a neo-conservative revision of the Enlightenment. Himmelfarb's goal, according to this mindset, is to set up historical justification for the modern-day political goals of the "neo-cons." Perhaps they are correct, and if they are, then Himmelfarb has done nothing less than what those of the New Left, neo-Marxists or post-modern schools have long done themselves. She has re-interpreted history in an attempt to justify her current worldview. Whether one approves of her politics or not, her revisionist analysis of the Enlightenment has brought forth new ideas and perspectives. Therefore, though we may castigate the ideology behind the research, the result of politically motivated history is often illuminating and valuable. It generates discussion, debate and further revision. The result is almost always a more complete picture of the past. That is all that a practicing historian should really want.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

To the MSM, Terrorism is still a Crime

While out for lunch, I listened to a bit of the Rush Limbaugh show, with guest host Roger Hedgecock sitting behind the golden EIB microphone. Roger had a caller, who had just got back from Iraq as a contractor, who was registering his displeasure with the press for overplaying the violence in Iraq. This refrain is common among conservatives and war supporters in general. While I think that there is some inherent anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment held by the press that trickles into their reporting, I also think that the worldview of the average reporter affects their reporting in another way.

After 9/11, much was made of how the Clinton Administration and the early Bush Administration treated terrorism as a crime (witness the trial of the Blind Sheik after the first WTC bombing in '93). Subsequent to President Bush declaring a War on Terror, that attitude has changed, for the most part, though it did come up again during the recent Presidential campaign when Senator Kerry was labeled as one who viewed terrorism as a crime, which was mostly correct, in my opinion.

Despite the redefinition of the fight against terrorism from "crime" to "war," much of the press continues to act as if terrorist strikes are crimes. With relative peace enjoyed by my generation, few reporters have been trained to be true wartime correspondents. Most stay in Baghdad, hanging out together in their hotels and are only prompted to leave the hotel when another bombing or attack occurs, to which the gather en masse to report on the latest implied American military failure. Outside of Baghdad, it does get a little better. And though there are some who seek to illuminate the world on the good being done in Iraq, the mainstream press barely attempts to focus on any good being done. Why?

I think the myopic focus on violence is because they are operating in Iraq with the same mindset that news organizations operate here in the U.S. "If it bleeds, it leads." To them, Iraq is just another state, Baghdad another city. While the bombings and attacks should be reported, so should the good things. Even the local news does that. Is it really too much to ask?

Digitizing Libraries: Pragmatist vs. Romantic

I have already expressed my approval of the plan by Google to digitize and make available the books from some of the worlds great research libraries. My joy was, and is, based on the purely pragmatic reason that more access to scholarship online simply makes the job of a researching historian much easier. However, the aesthetic difference between reading a book online and actually reading a real book, of turning pages with my own hands vice a mouse click, is worth considering. As such, pushing the pragmatist aside, the romantic in me was pleased to read this piece by Ben McIntyre. McIntyre views the library as a "social institution" just as much as a repository of written knowledge. As such, the digitization of books probably means a reduction of people actually visiting the stacks. Because of this, he asks, "Are the days of the library as a social organism over?" He answers his own question
Almost certainly not, for reasons practical, psychological and, ultimately, spiritual. Locating a book online is one thing, reading it is quite another, for there is no aesthetic substitute for the physical object; the computer revolution rolls on inexorably, but the world is reading more paper books than ever. Indeed, so far from destroying libraries, the internet has protected the written word as never before, and rendered knowledge genuinely democratic. Fanatics always attack the libraries first, dictators seek to control the literature, elites hoard the knowledge that is power. Shi Huangdi, the Chinese emperor of the 3rd century BC, ordered that all literature, history and philosophy written before the founding of his dynasty should be destroyed. More books were burnt in the 20th century than any other — in Nazi Germany, Bosnia and Afghanistan. With the online library, the books are finally safe, and the biblioclasts have been beaten, for ever.

But the traditional library will also survive, because a library is central to our understanding of what it is to be human. Ever since the first clay tablets were collected in Mesopotamia, Man has wanted not merely to obtain and master knowledge, but to preserve it, to hold it in his hand.


Libraries are not places of dry scholarship but living sensuality. In Love Story Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal get together with the library as backdrop; in Dr Zhivago, Uri and Lara find one another in a library. I have a friend, now a well-known journalist, who became overcome by lust in the British Library and was discovered by a librarian making love behind the stacks in the empty quarter of Humanities with a woman he had met in the tearoom. The librarian was apparently most understanding, and said it happened quite a lot...

Libraries are not just for reading in, but for sociable thinking, exploring, exchanging ideas and falling in love. They were never silent. Technology will not change that, for even in the starchiest heyday of Victorian self-improvement, libraries were intended to be meeting places of the mind, recreational as well as educational....

Just as bookshops have become trendy, offering brain food and cappuccinos, so libraries, under financial and cultural pressure, will have to evolve by more actively welcoming people in to wander and explore. Finding a book online should be the beginning, not the end, of the process of discovery, a peeling back of the first layer: the word library, after all, comes from liber, the inner bark of a tree.
So, while I rejoice at the nearly unlimited knowledge that will be at my fingertips via the computer, I will also be sure to visit the stacks every now and then. There I will revel in the tomes that surround me as I wonder what knowledge, what mystery, each volume holds. I only wish I had the time to read them all.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Cross-Posting Laziness

Well, instead of coming up with something new, I'd simply like to point to two new posts of mine over at Anchor Rising. The first is a bit on self-described moderates or independents and their electoral impact in Rhode Island. The second is actually an addendum to a piece written by my Anchor Rising colleague Andrew Morse.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Sincerity: The Bridge Between Rhetoric and Ideology

Peggy Noonan's piece of today touches upon a characteristic of this past Presidential campaign in which I have become interested, the use, or abuse, of political rhetoric. After all, there was little difference between what President Bush said and what Senator Kerry said on a variety of issues. They had "principled" differences on fetal stem-cell research, abortion and the economy, but they also seemed to agree on immigration, gay marriage and the War in Iraq. So why did the President win? How did the public discern a difference in the candidates when they, for the most part, seemed to agree?

The obvious answer is that the similarity of the candidates was more illusory than real and that more voters believed in the views of President Bush. The question then becomes, how did the voters differentiate between the two when much of the rhetoric was but two shades of the same hue? Therein lies the answer. While Senator Kerry was extremely effective in rhetoric, his rhetoric did not necessarily reflect his ideology. In contrast, the President wasn't as facile in his use of rhetoric, but what he did manage to employ accurately reflected his core ideology. The question then becomes, how could voters discern between mere rhetoric and rhetoric derived from ideological underpinnings? The answer lies in a belief in the sincerity of the candidates. Often framed under the term "character," it was the perception that President was more sincere than Senator Kerry that enable the President's reelection. Given this, I believe it is worthwhile to delve into exactly how this occurred.

First, a few things must be dispensed with. The spurious assertions that Bush supporters are simply more ignorant or that moral issues such as gay marriage or religion were a prime motivator have been convincingly disproven. Some credit must be given to the Republican get-out-the-vote machine, but the Democrats also broke voter turnout records. Besides, voter turnout numbers don't necessarily account for voter motivation. Clearly, more came out to vote for the President than for Kerry, but, again, why?

We must not forget that the past campaign saw no end of attacks against President Bush. From claims of conspiracy and incompetence to accusations of "Lying for Oil," the President weathered a nearly unprecedented number of teapot tempests. Michael Moore, the 9/11 Commission, hyper-reporting of each individually tragic troop death in Iraq and the incessant airing of the perversity at Abu Grahib should have cumulatively sowed a large amount of distrust for President Bush among the voting public. To be sure, many did come to mistrust the President, but not enough to overcome a similar number of voters who re-committed themselves to the President. By the time September rolled around, particularly after the first debate, President Bush and Senator Kerry were virtually tied. Supporters for both sides were entrenched and the countries fate was in the hands of the great undecideds. What happened from the first debate to election day to turn the tide in favor of the President?

First, it is safe to assert that Senator Kerry was very much a mere vessel through which disgruntled Democrats hoped to unseat President Bush. He was nominated because most deemed him the likeliest candidate to beat the President. He had a heroic war record, he had long tenure in Washington and he was, apparently, photogenic. Unfortunately for Kerry, he was also at odds with his Democrat base over the War in Iraq, gay marriage and a few other issues. As such, he had to walk a fine line in his stump speeches, tailoring each speech to each particular audience. As the campaign progressed, he improved his delivery, reaching the pinnacle during the first Presidential debate. In this shining moment, he appeared confident, well-spoken and Presidential. However, though he did "win" the debate, he still remained behind, if only a bit, in most polls. The press was befuddled, how could this be? Many soon realized that, while a fine debater, John Kerry was not entirely believable. He used rhetoric well, but what lay behind the words? There was indeed a credibility gap between he and the President.

President Bush has never been seen as even an adequate rhetorician. He speaks in simple, often declarative sentences and often bumbles and mangles, and invents, words. Indeed, his less-than stellar oratory has caused many of his opponents to truly "misunderestimate" him as a politician and thinker. For he is a thinker, exhibiting a deeper intelligence than his oppenants would like to admit. Flying jet fighters and getting an MBA are, after all, intellectually rigorous pursuits.

Further, his declaration of the 21st century as being "Liberty's Century" and America as an "Opportunity Society" give evidence of a man familiar with philosophy of John Stuart Mill, John Locke and Adam Smith as well as the Founders. In fact, it is these and others, such as Ronald Reagan, to whom President Bush owes his own political philosophy. Their writings and ideas also form the underpinnings of the philosophy of many Americans, whether they realize it or not. It is these shared ideas, these traditions, this ideology that President Bush speaks to and puts him in step with a majority of the electorate. It is this shared ideology that propelled him to victory in November.

John Kerry also has an ideology, however the relative political merits of his particular ideology is irrelevant to this discussion. This is because he didn't rely on his own ideology, on enunciating his own core convictions, when campaigning. Instead, he employed rhetoric, "the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively," of which he was an especially talented artiste. Unfortunately for Kerry, rhetoric is also viewed as "elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous," especially when those to whom one is speaking believe they are listening to words spoken only for their benefit and not because they reflect the real beliefs of the speaker. The advertisements by the Swift Boat Veterans, the reading of Senator Kerry's record on Defense spending cuts, and his flip-flopping on the Iraq War all contributed to a feeling of mistrust for the Senator. It was something he could never overcome. When people heard Senator Kerry speak, while they often liked what they heard, they had to constantly decide whether they could believe what he was saying. Worse, they also had to determine if they could even believe that he believed what he was saying.

On the other hand, President Bush, who also employs rhetoric, has also convinced the majority of the American people that he is sincere and that he truly believes what he says. This is true even when he turns out to be wrong, as in the case of the missing WMDs in Iraq. As such, his rhetoric is believable because he is believable. People believe the President is sincere in what he says and are then able to concentrate on the content of what he says. As such, they were able to expose themselves to the President's ideology through his rhetoric and discovered that much of his ideology was reflective of their own beliefs.

This is not to say that Senator Kerry does not have any core beliefs: undoubtedly he has his own ideology. Unfortunately for him, his confusing political persona distracted from any glimpse that could be had of that ideology. A fundamental distrust of the content of his rhetoric led to a fundamental mistrust of Senator Kerry. When listening to a Kerry speech, one could never parse out what was mere rhetoric and what was part of Kerry's genuine ideology. This is not to say that Senator Kerry would have won if he would have simply succumbed to his ideology, wiped away all of his rhetorical dexterity and simply spoke the truth of his positions. His very reluctance to do so implies that, had he done so, he would have also lost.

President Bush was already perceived as believable, even if one disagreed with him on certain issues, and he was able to convey the tenets of his ideology to the voters because they believed he believe his own rhetoric. One never got a sense that Senator Kerry believed all that he said. Perhaps this is an-overly scholarly way of saying that people trusted President Bush more than Senator Kerry. However, to a politician, it is worth remembering that words alone do not win an election. Those words must be supportable by one's own core beliefs, by ideology. The voters can tell the difference. Maybe they're smarter than thought after all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Anchor Rising on the Airwaves

Just a reminder that my fellow "Anchor-RIser" Don Hawthorne will be appearing on the Rick Adam's radio show on WARL 1320 AM tonight from 8-9 p.m. If you're in the Greater Providence area, you should be able to pick it up over the air. If not, they do stream.

Should "A" Students be Required to Take Final Exams?

The Warwick School Committee appointed Curriculum Steering Committee has recommended that all students be required to take and pass a final exam for each subject. To my knowledge, their report was not made public until yesterday, but word of their findings filtered to some in the public. As such, rumor preceded rationale and those who disagreed with the proposal immediately raised objections. The first such appeared to have been in the form of a letter to the editor of the Warwick Beacon by former Toll Gate student Bryan J. Fryc.
As a graduate of Toll Gate High School, I was very surprised upon coming home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday to hear that Toll Gate teachers had informed their students of the decision to do away with the policy that allows high school students with A averages to be exempt from final exams. Although the rationale behind the decision is likely based upon the idea that requiring all students to take final exams will benefit them in college, my experiences both at Toll Gate and now at Providence College lead me to believe that the change in the policy will not benefit the students.

As an economics major, I have learned the importance of incentives in motivating people to make many different decisions in life. During my four years at Toll Gate, I observed first hand that, for many students, the chief incentive to spend extra time studying for a test or to put a little more effort into a paper was not simply the grade, but the hope of being exempt from the final exam. Although one could argue that the grade itself should be incentive enough to try hard, for many high school students, the difference between an 89 B+ and a 90 A- is not quite as meaningful as the difference between taking and not taking an exam. However, the difference between the B+ and the A- is more pronounced on the transcript sent to colleges. In fact, in forcing all students to take wide-encompassing final exams, some of which are supposed to be uniform district-wide, a decline in cumulative grades is very likely. A poor performance on a single day could easily take away from an entire year of outstanding performance. If the exam incentive is removed, my experience would point to the likelihood that colleges will be seeing more B’s and fewer A’s on the transcripts of Warwick students.

Furthermore, the argument that students need to take final exams in order to be prepared for college is also flawed. Although I acknowledge the necessity of the development of good study skills, success in college depends on much more than simply studying. Most tests I take in college cover similar amounts of material to regular tests in high school. In terms of final exams, some professors consider them a pointless review and do not require them, while others simply use final exam periods to give a last, non-cumulative test. For classes that do require cumulative final exams, Warwick students are all required to practice covering one semester’s worth of material on the mid-term exams. In most cases, though, colleges are more concerned about a student’s writing skills, as term papers and projects often carry more weight than any exam.

Finally, the only students that will be affected by this change in policy are the students who are most proficient in the subject area, the students who have already proven their understanding of the subject. As a beneficiary of the past policy, my knowledge of the material did not suffer due to the fact that I did not have to study it twice. In forcing these students to take final exams, the schools are simply forcing them to spend time reviewing material that they have already been tested on and which they already have shown outstanding achievement. Shouldn’t Warwick schools be rewarding its top performing students instead of taking privileges away from them?
Al Demerjian writing a few days later, echoed many of Fryc's concerns:
Let me see if I’ve got this straight: parents and teachers try and instill at an early age the importance of academics and achievement, and at the end of the day those students who have labored, studied and produced over a full school year by earning an “A” in a particular subject have garnered the reward of not having to take the final exam. But now, the whole risk/reward, positive re-enforcement, build self-esteem rubric that this grading system was intended to build upon is being dismantled. You folks are clueless about the law of unintended consequences, not to mention the bond of trust you are about to obliterate.

Adding insult to injury is the prospect that honors and AP students, who already have a full plate, will now have added work loads in addition to AP exams, new SATs, and this is somehow going to improve grades and test scores by requiring more subject matter to cover? This is a specious argument and seriously flawed reasoning. This is more psycho-babble from several years ago when recognizing the Warwick high schools’ top 10 students in this newspaper was causing “undo harm and damaging self-esteem” for a small group of individuals. Sounds like political correctness run amuck once again.
So what exactly did the committee recommend? According to a story in the Beacon,
Victor D. Mercurio said Monday the change was the result of a recommendation from a curriculum advisory committee established by Superintendent Robert J. Shapiro and required no authorization from the School Committee before it was implemented...The decision, he detailed, was rendered in part because of changes in standards for graduation imposed by the Rhode Island Department of Education and requirements from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that accredits Toll Gate, Pilgrim and Veterans Memorial High Schools. NEASC, said Mercurio, would be back for a reaccredidation process of all of the high schools in 2008.
The decision was outlined in a memorandum sent to Toll Gate High School:
“This practice [exempting A students from final exams] was initiated to reward students for good performance, but it has enabled an increasing number of students to graduate from high school without ever having the experience of preparing for and taking a two-hour final exam such as they will face in college,” the two administrators wrote.

In the memo, Mercurio and Shapiro both deferred the reasoning for changing the policy to “new regulations from the [DOE] will require demonstrations of proficiency that may include testing similar in nature to final exams. In the interest of providing all of our students with the best possible preparation for both high school and college level exams, all Warwick high school students will now participate in final exams at the end of each course.”
While the justifications given in the memo are sound, the problem I have is with the lack of public notification of the committee's findings. The memo gave an "early warning" of the imminent implementation of the proposal to a few people at Toll Gate High as well as those (such as Fryc) who were told of the measure. Unfortunately, the rest of the public was left to discern the exact nature of the proposal while being exposed to only the arguments of those opposed the measure. Only one side of the story was being told. It wasn't until the story published on the same day that the Curriculum Committee's recommendations were to be approved by the School Committee that the public was informed of the justifications for the proposal.

Setting the bad p.r. acumen of the Committee, though, their reasoning appears sound, if relatively unsupportable.
Mercurio argued that national studies have indicated that while many students might do well at the high school level, a majority of those same teenagers fail to survive the rigorous challenges in a post-secondary environment. The new state standards, Mercurio insisted, would create a baseline for every graduate to attain before they could receive a diploma.

Still, Mercurio admitted that he had no data that indicated students who maintained a straight A average in Warwick’s high schools failed to continue to perform well in college.

“No, not specifically,” he said.
Yikes. Before implementing a wide ranging policy, shouldn't all supporting evidence, including statistical, be available for review?

As happenstance would have it, I attended the School Committee meeting at which this topic was discussed. (I was there for another reason). The School Committee attempted to pass the recommendations, but students, teachers and parents all spoke up to object. While many disputed the efficacy of changing the requirements, the argument that was most persuasive was simply that the Committee shouldn't change the requirement in the middle of the school year. As a matter of fundamental fairness, I agree. Further, the closed nature of the Curriculum Committee's makeup and deliberations (no students, teachers or parents are on the committee, only administrators) only adds to the public suspicion. One committee member, in addition to citing the aforementioned reasoning, also mentioned the spectre of "grade inflation" as a reason for a standardized final exam. Unfortunately, he had no "facts" to support his assertion. While I don't doubt the possibility, the lack of supporting evidence was a grievious mistake. By the time the objections were heard, the Committee had decided to put the item up for review.

In this matter, at least for now, the system worked. Enough concerns were raised to prompt further review, but given the array of State and Federal requirements that are coming, I suspect that the testing will be put in place. While there are legitimate reasons to exempt high achieving students, there are equally legitimate reasons to discontinue the process. Thankfully, if belatedly, there appear to be areas of compromise, such as continuing to exempt students in Advance Placement or Honors classes. I'm still not sure where I stand on the subject, but I'll be attending the next meeting to see where things are heading.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Engineers Who Saved Christmas

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has written that
...I doubt that any of the folks at DARPA who worked on TCP/IP had any expectation that they would make a difference, but with online shopping picking up some of the slack, and in the process relieving the crowds, congestion, and frustration associated with traditional retail Christmases, old-fashioned Christmas shopping might actually become pleasant again, in a way it hasn't been in decades -- all thanks to the Internet.

Now there's a Christmas miracle. Brought to you not by elves, but by the people responsible for most of the miracles in our lives: Engineers!
As an Engineer I say, "Here, Here"!

Google: A Modern Day Franklin

According to a New York Times story, Google "plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web." For someone like me, a (eventual) practicing historian who will most likely not be able to put in the time to become affiliated with any particular institution, this is great news. In history, solid research is only possible if one has access to previous sources in the field of study. Presently, without institutional affiliation, that access is limited. Public libraries still can be extremely useful, but scholarly libraries are usually the only place to find rare, out of print and extremely specific works.
"Having the great libraries at your fingertips allows us to build on and create great works based on the work of others," said Brewster Kahle, founder and president of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based digital library that is also trying to digitize existing print information.

The agreements to be announced today will allow Google to publish the full text of only those library books old enough to no longer be under copyright. For copyrighted works, Google would scan in the entire text, but make only short excerpts available online.

Each agreement with a library is slightly different. Google plans to digitize nearly all the eight million books in Stanford's collection and the seven million at Michigan. The Harvard project will initially be limited to only about 40,000 volumes. The scanning at Bodleian Library at Oxford will be limited to an unspecified number of books published before 1900, while the New York Public Library project will involve fragile material not under copyright that library officials said would be of interest primarily to scholars.
Google will sell advertising to generate revenue to support the project, similar to how ads are present whenever a search query is made currently. This could open the door for some amusing results, of course. Suppose I was looking for a book on the "Jack Tars" (merchant seamen of the Colonial and Revolutionary eras). I could find a book, a few scholarly journal articles...and an add for a paving company! This project strikes me as an extension of the original vision of Benjamin Franklin, founder of the first public library in Philadelphia. Thus, Franklin's true spirit seems to be living on via Google and I suspect he would have approved of Google's approach: increase the spread of knowledge among the masses and make a buck in the process!

UPDATE: Here is Harvard University's press release regarding the project.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Towards Pro-Life Fetal Stem Cell Research?

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has a two part piece (part one, part two) up at Tech Central Station that investigate two knew proposals that could facilitate embryonic stem cell research and still pass the "pro-life" litmus test.
Two Columbia University scientists suggested that it might be possible to figure out which frozen embryos at fertility clinics were already dead and to take usable stem-cells from them. And William Hurlbut, a member of the Kass council, suggested that it might be possible to get the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells from artificially-created teratomas. In nature, teratomas are the result of defective fertilizations. They are biological entities that have some of the properties of embryos, but are not living organisms.
Ponnuru realizes that there are still some moral and ethical questions about each proposal. He also addresses the fears of those pro-life champions of adult stem-cell research, many of whom have staked much of their argument on the "dead-end" that is embryonic stem cell research. Simply put, they should not reject these two new proposals out of hand because of fear of losing political power. According to Ponnuru, they should remember their priorities.
If the underlying point of the adult stem-cell argument has been to say that it may be possible to derive scientific benefits without killing human embryos, then the Hurlbut proposal strengthens that case.

If, on the other hand, the argument is that embryonic stem-cell research doesn't have much potential and that this lack of potential is an independent reason to restrict it, then the argument deserves to fail. If a line of research isn't morally objectionable, whether it is likely to succeed or not should have no bearing on whether it is allowed. We should prohibit cloning for research because it involves the injustice of killing cloned human embryos. Where there is no injustice, there is no reason to prohibit research.
To be sure, Ponnuru recognizes that there are some who dislike either approach because they desire unfettered embryonic research. As such, they don't want to be seen as capitulating to religious sensitivies. Ponnuru believes that these proposals deserve to be developed and pursued by using animals as test subjects. I agree.

David Brudnoy

As the The Senescent Man, a former student of David Brudnoy, succinctly put it, "Before there was Andrew Sullivan, there was David Brudnoy." Brudnoy, the long time conservative, and gay, host of a radio show on Boston's WBZ radio passed away yesterday after giving his last radio interview the night before. I must confess that I rarely listened to him on WBZ, but the few times that I did while passing through Boston on the way north (usually between Red Sox games), I found his use of the language impressive and his insight and commentary wonderful. He lived his life the way he wanted, and lived with the consequences. He was a responsible man with great talent. He will be missed.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Forecasting Sen. Clinton's Run

Peggy Noonan, who quite literally wrote the book on Hillary Clinton, has offered a preview of the political manuevering the junior Senator from New York will be doing to position herself for a Presidential run in 2008. The piece is worth reading, but a tangential anecdote offered up by Ms. Noonan provides yet one more example of the cold political calculation of the Clintons.
Always remember what Bill Clinton did after he lost re-election to the governorship in 1980. He joined the choir in the only local church whose services were broadcast on television throughout Arkansas every Sunday morning. You could turn in every Sunday and see him in his robe, with his music book, singing spirituals.
I'm not sure why this struck me so, but it really does add to the sense that, for the Clintons, everything is about politics, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Hey, Some Recognition!

I'd like to thank Dave Talan whose Rhode Island Republican Update email mentioned The Ocean State Blogger among the few conservative blogs generated here in Rhode Island. To crib from the email
A relatively new occurrence on the internet is the large number of Web Logs (better known as BLOGS). These are basically bulletin boards created by an individual user, where people with similar opinions can post articles or opinions, and anyone can read them. We have been made aware of 2 well-organized blogs in Rhode Island for conservative Republicans.
I guess when taken in the context of the entire history of mass media, Blogs are indeed "relatively new." The two well-organized blogs he mentions are that of Chuck Nevola (The Senescent Man, which I finally added to my blogroll) and Anchor Rising, to which I contribute along with Justin Katz, Andrew Morse and Don Hawthorne.

Tom Brady: Sportsman of the Year

The Sporting News has selected Patriots QB Tom Brady as its Sportsman of the Year. In an age of steroids in baseball, basketball brawls and contract squables in hockey, Tom Brady stands out as the rare legitimate athlete/role model. He is not a role model because of his on-the-field play, but because of the perspective he brings to his very public life.
"My life ultimately is about the relationships I have with my family and my friends, and those are the things that are important," he says. "As long as those things are in place, all the other things, including football, take care of themselves. But any time you let things get in the way, the distractions — I guess fame is the word — if that starts getting in the way, then you start losing your relationships and it starts affecting lots of other things, the way you play football and then your career. I can't let that happen."
Such an outlook should be applied to and by anyone, no matter their profession. And it is not just Brady's own self-awareness that points to a life being lived properly. Brady's belief that football would take care of itself if he lived the rest of his life the right way is confirmed by his coach, Bill Belichick, who offered his assessment of his star Quarterback's work ethic and professionalism.
"There's hardly anything you can criticize the guy for," says the reticent Belichick, who hands out effusive praise about as often as he loses. "He works hard; he's well prepared; he treats every teammate with the ultimate respect; he doesn't expect anything that everyone else doesn't get, too. If he is doing it, then it's hard for anyone to say they can't do something. But it's not for show. If you bump into him working extra in the off-season, fine, but he doesn't make sure you know he is here."
There is much more of value in the piece. For those who take a jaded eye toward star athletes, Tom Brady shows that it is possible for a "normal" person with traditional values to maintain the proper perspective while being a star. More importantly, he provides an example to all that strong values reinforced by strong relationships with family and friends provide the basis for personal and professional success.

More on Bias in the Academy

Stephen Bainbridge has weighed in on the discussion on liberal bias within the academy, but adds that, in his experience, the bias is less overt and more from the current state of academic networking.
In most cases, a candidate's best chance of surviving the winnowing process is for someone on the committee to become the candidate's champion. The champion will pull the candidate's resume out of the slush pile and make sure it gets flagged for close review. Because most law schools lack a critical mass of libertarian and conservative faculty members, however, there is nobody predisposed to pulling conservative candidates' AALS forms out of the slush pile....In contrast, the latest left-leaning prodigy from Harvard or Yale has a mentor at one of those schools who makes calls to his/her buddies and ideological soulmates at other law schools. The recipients of those calls then flag the prodigy's file, giving them a critical leg-up in the process. Law school hiring tends to be driven by the self-perpetuating network of left-leaning senior faculty.

It may not be deliberate bias, but there still is a disparate impact.
Bainbridge believes that conservatives and libertarians should address the problem not through some sort of academic/intellectual affirmative action, "but we should insist that the pool of candidates not be artificially constricted by either the old or the new networks." Good luck.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Education Reform Prompted By....boredom?

Stuart Buck offers that such is the case. He at least has a partial point.

The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism

The historian John Lukacs has written of "The Triumph and Collapse of Liberalism."
What were -- what still are -- the sources of American distaste for liberalism (a distance from, rather than a disillusionment with, liberalism)? One was the gradual liberal acceptance, indeed advocacy, of the welfare state....Another source of the dislike of liberalism was anti-Communism. Just as the political advocacy of liberalism had moved closer to socialism, the ideology and foreign policy of liberals and Democrats often seemed (and were) more tolerant of Communism and the Soviet Union than were nonliberals and most Republicans. Liberals were, or seemed, less patriotic (more precisely, less nationalistic) than most Americans. And it is, of course, the viscous cement of nationalism that binds so many of the preferences and beliefs of masses of people together.

Beneath these political and ideological sentiments there was the sense, more or less apparent, of a general disappointment with liberal ideals. There was the inclination, sometimes fatal, of liberals to take the ideas of the Enlightenment to extremes: to propagate a public morality devoid of, if not altogether opposed to, religion; to insist more and more on institutionalizing the promotion of justice, at times even at the expense of truth; to emphasize freedom of speech, often at the expense of thought; to make abortion legal; to approve same-sex marriages and affirmative action.

To an increasing mass of Americans, "liberal" began to mean -- rightly or wrongly -- a toleration, if not a promotion, of what many considered to be immoralities.
To paraphrase, if you're going to stand for everyone's right to do anything, then you actually "stand" for nothing.

Pearl Harbor: 63 Years Ago

Sixty Years ago, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation. Three years and three months ago, another sneak attack did the same. The comparisons have been inevitable.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

New Site Feature: Resource Article Index

While I have nothing new to offer by way of original content, I have compiled a simple Resource Article Index of items to which I often refer. Many I agree with, some I don't, but I've learned from them all. I intend to expand the list whenever possible and to come up with a better way to categorize or cross-categorize articles. For now, I hope my simple groupings will suffice.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ukraine: Example of the Positive Aspect of the Law of Unintended Consequences

John Podhoretz makes the insightful point that President Bush's call for freedom in the Middle East is being heard in other parts of the world. Indeed, it was a universal appeal for liberty. As such, the recent events in the Ukraine, in which the people refused to accept the results of a corrupt election, show us that liberty and freedom are valued around the globe. Thus, President Bush's call for people to make this "Liberty's Century," while it appeared to be specifically directed at the the Middle East, has been put into action in other parts of the world. Of course, Podhoretz's neat rhetorical trick of calling the Ukraine an "unintended consequence" may not be applicable. I suspect the President actually "intended" for just this sort of thing to happen. I think Podhoretz probably agrees.

WMDs of Convenience

Brendan O'Neill investigates the "rhetoric of WMD" used by those on both political poles and finds them wanting. What his piece reveals to me is the intellectual inconsistency of many of those who opposed the war in Iraq. First, they seized on a lack of WMD to skewer the Bush Administration's motive for war. Now they are using the threat of WMDs in an unstable environment to claim failure of a different sort and put said failure on the shoulders of Bush and Blair. Once again, politics triumphs over reason.

Europe notes America's Academic "Diversity"

Using Tom Wolfe's new novel I am Charlotte Simmons, the Economist weighs in on the state of the American University
Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country. On the one hand, colleges bend over backwards to hire minority professors and recruit minority students, aided by an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of 'diversity officers'. Yet, when it comes to politics, they are not just indifferent to diversity, but downright allergic to it.
I've been on this case for a while, but it seems that it is being noticed across the pond, too. Does this mean we are getting closer to a "tipping point"? I can only hope. [via Instapundit and Carl Frank]

Science and Religion

Over at Anchor Rising I've put up an essay about how Religion and Science do not have to be polar opposites. In short, ideology need not put is into a false choice of either Science or Religion.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Evangelicals and Academia

I recommend reading William Stuntz's piece contrasting Faculty Clubs and Church Pews at Tech Central Station. It made me realize that the dynamic between Faith and Reason that was present prior to our country's founding (during the Great Awakening most explicitly) is present again in the debate between Secular Academia and Evangelicals. Both are close to the extreme side of their relative political "coalitions." Both are most often put forth as representative examples of "extremists" by their political opponents. Stuntz shows that they may actually have more in common than they, and we, think.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving and Separation of Church and State

Over at Anchor Rising I've blogged about Thanksgiving, cribbing extensively from Paul Johnson's excellent A History of the American People. Time for me to hit the road (with 30-40 million other Americans, ugh). Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Reforming Academia

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund wrote yesterday about bringing "intellectual diversity" to America's campi. He cites the study by Klein and Stern, the concept of academia's problem of groupthink, (both previously mentioned here and here, respectively) as well as David Horowitz's work. Fund believes a promising reform idea would be in the use of tuition vouchers, which is being tried in Colorado (a target state of Horowitz and his Academic Bill of Rights)
Starting next year, the state will start shifting its higher-ed dollars from direct payments to universities to vouchers that will go directly to students. The idea is hardly radical. It is taken from the GI Bill of Rights, which is widely credited with giving returning veterans a chance at college through a program that won universal acclaim.

Debating such reforms is perfectly legitimate given that about half of the budget of public university systems come from taxpayers. Private universities derive about 35% of their budgets from public money, largely research grants. In addition, much of the student loan and grant money used to pay college tuition flows from taxpayer sources.

Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, argues that its time to scale back taxpayer subsidies to universities and move towards a voucher plan so that schools would have to compete for students as paying customers. That might also end the punishing double-digit tuition increases many schools have been imposing. Our colleges and universities would benefit not only from some intellectual diversity, but also some diversity and competition in how they pay their bills and how students and taxpayers hold them to account.
Obviously, the expected result would be students choosing schools that offer intellectual diversity. There is a chance that this could lead to a sort of academic polarization (swing students, anyone?), but I expect that quality of education would still override any desire to slip comfortably into an ideological cocoon. This plan does have appeal and it should come as no surprise that those at the Wall Street Journal would favor such a market-based proposal. As I've said before, I don't have much confidence that the academy can reform itself. Perhaps it is time to hit them where it hurts to spur on such internal soul-searching.

Meanwhile, there are some movements within the grounds of the academy to reform the system. First are the Horowitz-supported Students for Academic Freedom and the independent National Association of Scholars, two organizations that strive for more of Fund's intellectual diversity. For example, Students at Columbia have had enough of persistent anti-Israel polemics on campus and are fighting back (though the offending professors won't go quietly). Finally, conservative campus newspapers are popping up everywhere...even at Brown!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Backlash Justified ...but Within Reason, Please

Cathy Young, a columnist for the Boston Globe, has offered an interesting piece over at Reason. She makes mention of the controversy surrounding Michelle Malkin's book,Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror, and insightfully portrays, I believe, Malkin's motivation for writing the book:
She hopes that if Americans can be persuaded to get over the Japanese internment guilt complex, the profiling of Arab Americans and Muslims will become more acceptable.
Young also mentions Anne Coulter's book, Treason, an "apologia for anti-communist witch hunts," specifically the McCarthy era. I have yet to read either book, but Young does offer something that all of us should keep in mind:
The left's obsession with America's allegedly unique evilness, and in particular with real or imagined racism, has prompted a fully justified backlash. But that backlash can morph into an ugly and disturbing mind-set -- one that regards all efforts to confront America's past wrongs as the province of sissy liberals and wild-eyed lefties.
In an age of increasing hyperbole, we should all attempt to be a bit more measured in our arguments. Vilification is just as likely to call into question one's own beliefs as it is those of the vilified.

Friday, November 19, 2004

More on Academic Bias

As I wrote about yesterday, a new study detailing bias within the academy has come out. Stanley Kurtz has also taken notice and points to the New York Times article (by John Tierney) on the topic. Tierney's piece includes an especially illustrative, and egregious, quote by a liberal professor
One theory for the scarcity of Republican professors is that conservatives are simply not that interested in academic careers. A Democrat on the Berkeley faculty, George P. Lakoff, who teaches linguistics and is the author of "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think," said that liberals choose academic fields that fit their world views. "Unlike conservatives," he said, "they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake, which are what the humanities and social sciences are about."
This simply illustrates the kind of echo chamber that has been written about before and that is also alluded to within Tierney's piece
Martin Trow, an emeritus professor of public policy at Berkeley who was chairman of the faculty senate and director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education, said that professors tried not to discriminate in hiring based on politics, but that their perspective could be warped because so many colleagues shared their ideology.

"Their view comes to be seen not as a political preference but what decent, intelligent human beings believe," said Dr. Trow, who calls himself a conservative. "Debate is stifled, and conservatives either go in the closet or get to be seen as slightly kooky. So if a committee is trying to decide between three well-qualified candidates, it may exclude the conservative because he seems like someone who has poor judgment."
Kurtz doesn't see things getting any better, though he does mention David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights and other possible solutions. However, legislating change will prove marginal at best. I agree with Kurtz that it is ultimately up to the institutions to effect change. Neither of us hold out much hope for that. Hence, Kurtz's idea of either establishing small "conservative student think tanks" within universities (he mentions Robert George's James Madison Program at Princeton University) or the outright creation of new institutions (he mentions Ave Maria College) may provide the only hope for academic equality.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Geraghty nails it for me regarding Andrew Sullivan

I've not mentioned Andrew Sullivan for some time now as I have come to believe that he has become intellectually unstable. Jim Geraghty of NRO's The Kerry Spot summed it up best
By the way, some left-of-center friends who saw Sullivan's appearance on the season finale of Bill Maher's HBO show were up in arms recently, calling Sully a far-right conservative. I pointed out that label is at least not always accurate, as he recently called me 'desperate and unconvincing.'
I'm sure many Kerry Spot readers who read Sullivan during this campaign season would conclude that he was, when decision time came, a loud anti-Bush lefty. The lesson? Where one places him on the political spectrum depends on when you read or hear him and what he's writing or talking about.
Exactly. Further, this will be the last mention of Mr. Sullivan on this blog.

More Proof of the Liberal Bias in Academia

Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern of the National Association of Scholars have just published a report (pdf format) entitled "How Politically Diverse Are the Social Sciences and Humanities?: Survey Evidence from Six Fields." The abstract of the article states:
In Spring 2003, a large-scale survey of American academics was conducted using academic association membership lists from six fields: Anthropology, Economics, History, Philosophy (political and legal), Political Science, and Sociology. This paper focuses on one question: To which political party have the candidates you've voted for in the past ten years mostly belonged? The question was answered by 96.4 percent of academic respondents. The results show that the faculty is heavily skewed towards voting Democratic. The most lopsided fields surveyed are Anthropology with a D to R ratio of 30.2 to 1, and Sociology with 28.0 to 1. The least lopsided is Economics with 3.0 to 1. After Economics, the least lopsided is Political Science with 6.7 to 1. The average of the six ratios by field is about 15 to 1. Our analysis and related research suggest that for the the social sciences and humanities overall, a "one-big-pool" ratio of 7 to 1 is a safe lower-bound estimate, and 8 to 1 or 9 to 1 are reasonable point estimate. Thus, the social sciences and humanities are dominated by Democrats. There is little ideological diversity. We discuss Stephen Balch's "property rights" proposal to help remedy the situation.
My own field, History, had a 9.5 to 1 ratio of Democrat to Republican. Depressing, huh? Overall, the authors believe it is safe to assume a 9:1 or 8:1 Democrat:Republican ratio. However, their deeper analyis, based on replies to 18 policy question, indicates that of those who voted Republican, there it is highly likely that they are more liberal than a generic Republican would be. As such
Further, the 18 policy questions of the survey--not analyzed in the present paper--showed that there is rather little heterogeneity of opinion among Democrats, that the Green voters are essentially like Democrats. Thus the "tent" of the Left on campus is not a big tent, but a rather narrow tent.

The policy questions showed more significantly heterogeneity under the Republican tent. Moreover, the Libertarians have grounds for saying that most campus Republicans are not so different than Democrats. As small as the percentage of non-Left voices are, therefore, they become even smaller when separated into their own camps, such as, traditionalist, neo-conservative, and classical liberal/libertarian. Rather than Left v. Right, it makes more sense to view the campus landscape as composed of a very dominant Left--with some heterogeneity, of course, but less than one migh expect--and a heroic fringe of several different non-Left voices, each almost infinitesimal, who on certain issues join together but rarely sustain a faculty-led program. (p. 15-16)
I get the feeling that I have unconsciously sought the fringe. How else to explain a conservative living in Rhode Island seeking an MA in History? Fight the Power!

Delighting in a pithy comment

Well, if it's Thursday, that means another column by Peggy Noonan. This one is worth reading for its "lets-step-back-and-take-a-breath" tone, but her observation about Condaleeza Rice was striking to me
She is a good person; she has experience and accomplishments; she is stable, hardworking and sophisticated. She is also--this is breathtaking, still--a young black woman raised to the position first held by Thomas Jefferson.
Let that soak in for a second. It could be considered irony to some. I prefer to look at it as another example of the promises of this country being fulfilled.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Sometimes, History does repeat

Though I think the saying "history repeats" oversimplifies the comparison between current events and past events, sometimes current events are similar to historical. According to this story
The president declared victory over a year ago, but terrorists continue to pick off U.S. troops and even American civilians at the rate of three per day.

The maniacal dictator may be long gone, but his hard-core followers continue to wreak havoc across the land, with the interim government seemingly powerless to stop the mayhem.

Back home, the press takes an increasingly pessimistic tone, with some of the most prominent news organs pronouncing the U.S.'s postwar strategy an abject failure.

Iraq 2004? Not exactly.

Try Germany 1946, in the first year after World War II.
The source is Oliver North, but read the rest of the article for the details. Too often, the critics of the war have acted as if Iraq has somehow stood apart from history, that somehow things should have gone easily. This is all the more ironic as many of the same who profess amazement and dismay at the problems in Iraq are often those who predicted dire consequences for undertaking the task in the first place. Finally, when they do call on history, it is inevitably to compare current events to past American failures (Vietnam) and not its successes (Japan, Germany, etc.).

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Bushes on History


Somehow, I missed this earlier. Regardless, the American Heritage magazine interviewed the President and First Lady about their perspectives on history. To me, the following two questions provoked insight and "nuance" that his detractors would have us believe the President does not have:
Question: When you look at American heroes and heroines, some people think they should all be knights in shining armor. But we know that Benjamin Franklin, for example, who did so many great things, didn’t always have a perfect life. Do you think it’s better for us to meet historical figures on a pedestal or see them as they are?

Mrs. Bush: I think it’s better to see people as a whole—

The President: Yes.

Mrs. Bush: Their brilliance and their achievements along with their faults, not in a revisionist sense where you go back and dig up things that you might not know about people, but—

The President: It’s one thing to be factual about a person, but it’s another thing to imply or assume in order to denigrate their contributions. I agree it’s very important to look at the whole, but I also think we should be confident enough about our nation and what we stand for not to denigrate achievement. We should focus on success. Kids need to see that success is possible. Children learning history have to say, “Gosh, maybe I can do that too.” People need to aspire to an ideal, without being Pollyanna-ish about the life of the person.

Question: Mrs. Bush, how should we teach our nation’s history to an increasingly diverse population? As a former teacher, how do you connect with kids who maybe weren’t even born here?

The President: One thing—I’m going to start, and then you can get in here because I feel strongly about this—I’m sure other Presidents have been asked about how we don’t seem to have things in common. That question has been asked throughout our history. There have been other times when waves of immigrants began to change the face of America. Yet what didn’t change were the ideals that united the country. That’s what is essential for kids to learn, that there are common ideals applicable to everybody, regardless of race or religion, that become the principles that bind us together, that make us unique, so that no matter how we diversify, the principles that unite us don’t change. And it says right there on the Presidential Seal, E Pluribus Unum. I didn’t write that. That was here a long time before me. “Out of Many, One.” And that needs to be taught. And we never should lose sight of it, because that is what makes us strong.

Mrs. Bush: And on the other hand, all heritages of all of our citizens, of every immigrant group that has come to the United States, have made our country rich. Each of those heritages is also something to study and know about. I was just reading about the Mayan culture. Probably a lot of Hispanics who are here have some Mayan ancestry. That’s a very interesting heritage for everyone to study with the idea that we are all one.

The President: Yes, in the world in which we live, it is essential that the American ideal be explained to people around the world. If you’re a Muslim living in America, you’re just as free as a Methodist. You’re just as free to succeed. You’re just as free to live a life of peace. You’re just as free to send your kids to school. We honor you just as much. We honor your religion. We honor your individual rights. We honor your dignity just as much as we honor anyone else’s. And that ideal is a powerful message to people who live in areas of the world that lack freedom, that lack a unifying principle.

Young kids need to learn about heroes, heroes from all walks of life. One of the things I try to do when I travel the country is point out acts of generosity and compassion done by average citizens and hold them up as models that we ought to emulate. There are ways to enrich history by setting out examples where youngsters will say, “Gosh, what an exciting figure that person is.”
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Rhode Island Education Progress Numbers

I attended a meeting last night at my local elementary school in which data was presented detailing where the school stood with regards to standardized testing for school accountability as mandated by the State and Federal governments. While I may find the specific numbers for my children's school more germane, I realize that there is more general interest in the statewide numbers. These have yet to be publicized, so I guess you could call this a bit of a scoop. For a more comprehensive breakdown, please go here.

The test results here are only for 4th graders statewide and cover Math and English Language Arts (ELA). There is an established standard that all students are supposed to meet. The levels of achievement are measured against that standard for each student and then the percentage of students at each level are calculated.

First, the ELA numbers for the state. The numbers below are for specific skills. In total, 89% achieved the overall standard for READING and 81% achieved the overall standard for WRITING.

READING - Basic Understanding (Students must demonstrated the ability to comprehend a variety of materials of varying length and complexity)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 16%
Achieved the Standard - 57%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 14%
Below the Standard - 11%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 0%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 73%

READING - Analysis and Interpretation (Students must demonstrate the ability to analyze and interpret what they read in the process of becoming critical readers)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 7%
Achieved the Standard - 55%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 24%
Below the Standard - 11%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 1%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 62%

WRITING - Effectiveness (Students must demonstrate the ability to write effectively in a variety of formats for a variety of purposes, audiences and contexts)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 19%
Achieved the Standard - 56%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 12%
Below the Standard - 10%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 1%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 75%

WRITING - Conventions (Students learn to master writing conventions. Writing conventions include spelling, punctuation, grammar and other conventions associated with forms of written text.)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 5%
Achieved the Standard - 54%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 21%
Below the Standard - 18%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 0%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 59%


Second are the Math numbers for the state. The numbers below are for specific skills. In total, 56% achieved the overall standard for MATH.

MATH - Skills (The student accomplishes tasks by using mathematical skills effectively, including the computation and symbol manipulation skills of arithmetic and algebra as well as geometric and graphical skills)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 26%
Achieved the Standard - 44%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 19%
Below the Standard - 9%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 0%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 70%

MATH - Concepts (The student uses concepts of Number and Operation, Geometry and Measurement, Function and Algebra, and Statistics and Probability to solve problems and explains those concepts to others in different ways)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 7%
Achieved the Standard - 37%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 33%
Below the Standard - 20%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 1%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 44%

MATH - Problem Solving (Explanation not legible)

Achieved the Standard with Honors - 14%
Achieved the Standard - 24%
Nearly Achieved the Standard - 18%
Below the Standard - 34%
Little Evidence of Achievment - 8%
TOTAL Achieved Standard - 38%

For more analysis, please go over to Anchor Rising.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Looking Back and Forward

Peggy Noonan offers some very good, pragmatic reasons as to why Bush won and Victor Hanson gives us a sobering look at what the President now faces.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day Comment on Fallujah from an Active Soldier

On Veteran's Day, I could think of nothing more appropriate than to make my first post of the day one that calls attention to some speculation by an active member of the US Army. The blogger 2Slick, in a post titled I Can Finally Say It, theorizes that perhaps Fallujah may not have been an unforseen mess, after all:
For the past several months, the media spin machine has taken much pleasure in writing about how U.S. forces have 'allowed Fallujah to fall into the hands of the insurgents' and that Fallujah is a 'no-go zone' and that Fallujah is just 'one big black eye on the face of the Coalition effort.' It's very easy to spin it that way (which is why they do it), but allow me to offer a different perspective.

What if the Coalition planners decided to let them set up a 'safe' operations center that would, over time, develop such an appeal to all enemies of the coalition, that local insurgents and foreign extremists alike would come running from all parts of Iraq to 'consolidate and organize?' Sort of like grabbing a megaphone and shouting 'Attention all ye Ba'athists and Islamofascists!!! Safe area in Fallujah!!! Bring your friends!!! Anyone interested in killing children and/or driving car bombs welcome!!!!'

Now, instead of having them spread throughout the country, we have the bulk of them holed up in one 'popular' spot. Like a roach motel. Insurgents check in, but they don't check out. Doesn't sound like such a failure now, does it?
I have had similar thoughts myself, though I hope it isn't anachronistic wishful thinking on my part. Regardless, our forces are making progress in Fallujah and our soldiers and marines are following in the footsteps of those who went before them. May God bless America and our Veterans and may He especially bless our brave soldiers, sailors and marines, wherever they may be.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Northeast Elitism: Nothing New

The Chicago Boyz blog reminds that the northeastern pretensions that seem to turn so much of the rest of the country off are really nothing new.
The core strength of 'liberal' America resides in the descendants of Yankee puritans, a memetic 'Greater New England' that sprang from the Yankee diaspora which settled the Northern tier of the country. These folks have been living uneasily with their fellow Americans for over 350 years. They have been trying to reform the rest of us for our own good the whole time: Revolution, abolition, prohibition, civil rights, environmentalism. Sometimes they are even right, as much as I hate to admit it. Look at a picture of Cotton Mather, or Susan B. Anthony, or any eat-your-peas liberal do-gooder. The eyes: sad at the foolishness and injustice of the world -- the mouth, a mirthless line -- and the jaw, set in determination to rectify the world's wrongs and smite its wrongdoers. Those Yankees, genetic or memetic, are the core of the 'progressive' element in American life, and they have been for centuries, and they'll never change.
A similar argument has been made by William J. Stuntz at Tech Central Station, who makes the divide between East and West.
Easterners like theory and process. Westerners care more about outcomes than procedures, and they like whatever works. Easterners are cautious; Westerners take chances. Easterners like universities, legislatures, and the U.N. Westerners like businesses, the executive branch, and the Army. Eastern politicians are more likely to talk down to voters -- think of Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, or John Kerry -- because they are instinctively less democratic; they come from a world where social and educational class matters and where institutions seem to outlast people. (I teach at a university that is nearly four centuries old.) Western politicians are more optimistic, believe that problems can be solved and limits surpassed. Also that institutions are temporary things: they are the creatures; people are their creators, and creators matter more than the things they create. The flip side of optimism is rootlessness: if life isn't working out, go somewhere else and reinvent yourself, like Easterner-turned-Westerner (and Democrat-turned-Republican) Ronald Reagan. Easterners are more likely to be defined, and confined, by place. Eastern candidates want to protect a lead and play it safe -- Dewey, anyone? -- while Westerners roll the dice, not only in campaigns but in the White House: Reagan's simultaneous tax cuts and defense buildup (Howard Baker called it "a riverboat gamble," and it was), Bush's war in Iraq and his decision to wrap his arms around the third rail of American politics.
To these observations I would add my own that the subtle influence of New England's own religious heritage, the sense of being 'selected', which has ironically lost it's religious connotations and changed into a secular-centered ideology, has fostered an often self-righteous belief in the "obvious" and "inherent" wisdom of the opinions of the average northeastern liberal.

I would take Stuntz's theory a bit further back though, as I believe that it was, for the most part, the adventurers and individualists who were the ones with enough gumption to board those creaky vessels, leave their old lives in stagnant Europe and create a new life in America. They were the risk takers and those willing to put their destiny in their own hands. The New England colonies were, obviously, some of the first American colonies and were the first to experience widespread population growth. Succeeding migrations, first to the western frontier in northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and western Massachusetts, then the Ohio Valley, and so on, saw subsequent generations of these risk takers and individualists move on. At the same time, those who had built stable, and relatively safe, lives in the northeast stayed home. Their minds turned from survival to aesthetics, ideas and theories that they could put to use to help their fellow man. (Benjamin Franklin believed that one of the first signs of a modern society was this very ability: for individuals to turn from personal concerns to those on behalf of their fellow man and created fire departments and the American Philosophical Society as an outgrowth of this belief). So, relative idleness often provides the atmosphere for the generation of ideas, both good and bad. Sometimes these ideas are tried and they work (the American Revolution, abolition, civil rights) and sometimes they don't (prohibition), but in every case arguments, those who generated these ideas put them in the public sphere for debate. The result was the development of stronger arguments to justify pet theories against skeptical listeners.

The current problem is that many of the "liberal elite", isolated on campuses, holed up in newsrooms, or bound by geography, have managed to narrow the range of opinions to which they are regularly exposed and have lost the ability to provide justification for, or adequately defend, their ideas. This has been occurring for quite some time and has recently been outlined by Mark Bauerlein in a recent article in The Chronicle Review (via Lane Core). Titled, "Liberal Groupthink is Anti-Intellectual," Bauerlein's article outlines the problem in academia, which he breaks down into three major components:

1) Common Assumption - All of one's peers are likeminded. In other words, they are all liberal and are thus unified in this world view. According to Bauerlein, "The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions." It goes without saying that not all share in this Common Assumption, but unless they are tenured, they have no good reason to make waves in the academic pool. The result is intellectual stagnation, or worse. Bauerlein notes, "Apart from the ill-mannered righteousness, academics with too much confidence in their audience utter debatable propositions as received wisdom. An assertion of the genocidal motives of early English settlers is put forward not for discussion but for approval. If the audience shares the belief, all is well and good. But a lone dissenter disrupts the process and, merely by posing a question, can show just how cheap such a pat consensus actually is."

2) The second component is what Bauerlein terms the False Consensus Effect, which "occurs when people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. If the members of a group reach a consensus and rarely encounter those who dispute it, they tend to believe that everybody thinks the same way." However, most now realize that those outside of the academy, the average American, if you will, holds opinions vastly different than those found within the Ivory Tower. As such, Bauerlein says, "Some take pride in a posture of dissent and find noble precursors in civil rights, Students for a Democratic Society, and other such movements. But dissent from the mainstream has limited charms, especially after 24 years of center-right rule in Washington. Liberal professors want to be adversarial, but are tired of seclusion. Thus, many academics find a solution in a limited version of the False Consensus that says liberal belief reigns among intellectuals everywhere." (Fine examples of this are the recent NY Times column by the historian Gary Wills or reading the majority of the regular fare at the History News Network.)

As such, there is no such thing as conservative intellectual within academia because "Professors cannot conceive that any person trained in critical thinking could listen to George W. Bush speak and still vote Republican." However, they realize that there are some intellectuals in other areas of society, such as the various think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and others, but they right off the veracity of the work done in these institutions because they are privately funded by big business. As Bauerline points out, nearly all "references to 'right-wing think tanks' are always accompanied by the qualifier 'well-funded.'" In general, they believe that to be conservative means to be ignorant. "When a Duke University philosophy professor implied last February that conservatives tend toward stupidity, he confirmed the public opinion of academics as a self-regarding elite -- regardless of whether or not he was joking, as he later said that he was."

There are conservatives on campus, though out of necessity they usually wait until they are safely tenured before speaking up. Ruth R. Wisse of Harvard recently offered a conservative insight into the situation:
Personally, I greatly enjoy being in the conservative opposition. My colleagues are cordial, and since I'm not looking for promotions I willingly sustain an occasional snub for the greater advantage of being able to speak my mind. Students making the transition from liberal to conservative are often wounded by their first exposure to the contempt that greets their support for the war in Iraq or opposition to abortion or whatever else separates them from the liberal campus. I suggest to them that, as opposed to living in constant terror of offending some received idea, they relish their freedom of expression. The self-acknowledged conservative never experiences intellectual constraint.

But this enviable autonomy doesn't extend to graduate students or untenured colleagues. Recently, I had two encounters with sobering implications for the academy. A junior professor told me that when she began teaching at Harvard she resigned from several organizations that would have betrayed her conservative leanings. She hadn't wanted to give colleagues an easy excuse for voting her down when she came up for tenure; but now that the prospect of tenure was before her, she didn't know whether she wanted to stay on in such a repressive community. My second conversation was with a rare pro-Israel Muslim whose contract as lecturer hadn't been renewed, very probably because he was critical of the way his subject was being taught. This young man was in a great mood. He was leaving for Washington, where he could make a greater contribution to national security.
Presumably he was going to one of those morally compromised think tanks so demonized by the majority of the liberal professoriat.

This attitude casts a pall over the academic side of academia as well. "When laymen scan course syllabi or search the shelves of college bookstores and find only a few volumes of traditionalist argument amid the thickets of leftist critique, they wonder whether students ever enjoy a fruitful encounter with conservative thought. When a conference panel is convened or a collection is published on a controversial subject, and all the participants and contributors stand on one side of the issue, the tendentiousness is striking to everyone except those involved. The False Consensus does its work, but has an opposite effect. Instead of uniting academics with a broader public, it isolates them as a ritualized club." A local example is offered by Paul W. Anghinetti, professor of English at Rhode Island College:
The litmus-paper test for the English department resides in its course offerings, which will reveal, even to those possessing only a casual familiarity with traditional English offerings, its radicalized shape. Euro-centrism, Feminism, Marxism, The New Historicism, Reader Response, Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction Theory got adopted with a fervor worthy of medieval scholastics or Muslim fundamentalists. Collectively, these post-modern dogmas obviated any semblance of traditional literary theory.

Dead White Male authors became anathema to my colleagues, who shuddered at the sound of "Milton," "Melville" or "Hemingway." Even Shakespeare had to be cleansed of his racism and sexism. Literary value yielded to extra-literary political and theoretical concerns.

Down with form and content, up with socio-political and pop agendas! John Ellis's Literature Lost and Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals tell the debacle more efficiently than I have here.

3) The final social pattern is the Law of Group Polarization, which, as described by Cass R. Sunstein, a professor of political science and of jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, "predicts that when like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs." Bauerlien offers a few examples of this phenomenom, but what is most important is that debates between like-minded people aren't debates at all. Accortding to Bauerlein, "The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they've reached an opinion through reasoned debate -- instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they're stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren."

Bauerlein does point out that the same would occur if the overwhelming number of people within academia were all conservative. The bottom line is that intellectual diversity is the most important goal for our society, at all levels. Liberals in some regions of our nation, particularly here in the northeast, have lost the ability to even accept contrary arguments. Conservatives have tall walls to climb before they can even get to the base of Mt. Liberalism and begin the real work of convincing people that they offer a real alternative. Before that work can begin, conservatives first have to convince liberals, as well as those who live in an environment dominated by liberal thought, that they aren't out to starve their kids and grandparents, fatten the wallets of the rich, or embark on a religious crusade. Yet, once the debate is engaged, the conservative argument finds a receptive audience because conservatives have learned to convince people. In contrast, the success that liberals have had in dominating academia and the media has only served to render them ineffective. People don't like to be dictated to, they like to be convinced. Should conservatives one day find themselves in the dominant positions in the media and academia, they would do well to remember that intellectual consensus is not always a good thing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Specter Debate

I have been following the debate among Republicans regarding the efficacy of allowing Arlen Specter, a "moderate" Republican, to ascend to the Chairmanship of the Senate Judicial Committee. Those against such a move point to his past hostility to pro-life judges and to other conservative favorites, especially Judge Robert Bork. The two biggest forces aligned against Specter, at least as far as the New Media is concerned, are probably National Review (with Katherine Jean Lopez in the vanguard) and conservative talker Laura Ingraham. Specter has his defenders, including the usual Senate suspects, but, to the surprise of some, Hugh Hewitt, a conservative blogger and talk show host, has offered the most strident defense on behalf of Specter.

Without getting to the merits on either side (and they both have them), the argument seems to be essentially between those who hold their conservative idealism closer against those who are engaged in party building (broadening the big tent and all) and are willing to make some compromises to strengthen the majority. As a conservative and a Republican, I must admit that I am torn on the issue (GET OFF THAT FENCE!). Specter is the worst kind of milquetoast Republican moderate, is wrong about so many things (as far as I'm concerned) and really doesn't deserve the Chair after backhanding the President who saved his bacon in the Republican primaries. On the other hand, there really are moderate Republicans, especially in the northeast, and keeping them happy bolsters the long term strength of the party. At the convention we saw "Ahnold" and Rudy, both "moderates" who have widespread appeal, whether we conservatives like to admit it or not. Therefore, I agree with Hewitt that we should not take a scorched earth policy by telling moderate Republicans to toe the line or get out.

My problem is this: I don't trust Arlen Specter. So, on a day where Lincoln Chafee finally decided to still be a Republican, at least for now (wink wink), I think that moderates are worth keeping because they make the Republican party more appealing, though I would hesitate to say that Chafee is a plus but would include Maine's two Senators (Snowe and Collins) as positives. The problem with Specter is that he strikes me as a Jim Jefford's type of moderate Republican...he is a political opportunist who would jump if it suited him. In short, Specter is not interested in party building. He is only interested in himself. As such, he doesn't deserve a 475th chance.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Hoisting the Anchor

After about 2.5 seconds of deliberation, I agreed a few days ago to join fellow Rhode Islanders Justin Katz and Andrew Morse in launching a new website, called Anchor Rising. For more on the project, please follow the link. For now, suffice to stay that this solo conservative writer is proud to now be part of a team.

New England - Blue States on the Fringe

Yesterday's Providence Sunday Journal had a predictable, but informative, story concerning the political and financial repercussions that will be felt by the Ocean State and her New England neighbors as a result of their lock-step Democrat voting patterns.
There is this harsh reality for New England Democrats in presidential politics: Eight times in elections since 1968, a prominent Democrat from the region has been on a losing Democratic ticket or run unsuccessfully for his party's nomination.

President Bush's close but clear-cut victory over Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry means that, "you can be born in New England, you can be educated in New England, but you can't run from New England," says Garrison Nelson, a University of Vermont political scientist and expert in the region's politics.
Nelson has a point. Since 1972, Edmund Muskie, Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean and John Kerry have all made credible bids for President and come up short. However, it is simplistic to say that it was because they were all from New England that they were unpalatable to the national electorate. Rather, it was the nature of their politics, a liberal message delivered with an implied "we know what's good for you" tone, that failed to catch on with the south and midwest.
What is more, a region that historically had powerful senators and U.S. House members now has little clout in conservative, Republican Washington. No state in the region voted for Mr. Bush; the president even lost New Hampshire, a state he carried in 2000. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont voters all gave Kerry victories of better than 20 percentage points; Kerry won big, too, in Connecticut, and comfortably in Maine.

From just after the end of World War II until 1987, a Massachusetts representative held the House speaker's chair for 23 years; Republican moderate Joseph Martin of Attleboro served four years; Democrat John McCormack of Boston was speaker for nine years; and Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, of Cambridge, led the House for a decade. Maine Democrat George Mitchell served as Senate majority leader and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy had a stint as Senate Democratic whip.

Now, No New Englanders are in top leadership positions in either the GOP-controlled House or Senate, and such moderates as Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee have no friends in the White House.
Add to the list the two moderate Republican Senators from Maine (Olympia Snow and Susan Collins) and it becomes obvious that even those Republicans that the region has sent to Washington are on the fringe of their party. This can be a blessing, though, because they can wield some clout as their crucial votes will be needed to break Senate filibusters. Nonetheless, reduced overall political influence within the party in power translates to fewer "goodies" for the states that continually send members of the minority party to Washington. For his part, Sen. Jack Reed recognizes the danger:
What also worries Reed is that the Republicans will move to slice the region's share of federal money that is distributed to states under complicated mathematical formulas that support such programs as housing for the poor, medical research and education.

"These formula fights are ferocious," says Reed. "I got my staff together on Wednesday afternoon and . . . said we can't be down about this, we have to get right back to work for the people of Rhode Island on the isssues we care about."
The article also made note of the disparity between New England and the "Red States" on social issues.
On these issues, too, New England is sailing against the national wind. Eleven states had same-sex marriage bans as ballot questions; they won overwhelmingly everywhere, even in Oregon, the Vermont of the West Coast.

Vermont has had civil unions for almost five years. Most Vermonters have accepted the institution and there is no movement to repeal the civil union law. In Massachusetts, no legislator who suppported same-sex marriages lost his or her seat last week.

[Tip] O'Neill, the avuncular House Speaker, was fond of saying that most people view politics from the prism of their kitchen window; they vote on such basic economic issues as whether they have good jobs and believe their children will have career opportunities.

Last week's election showed that a significant slice of voters in the states of the Midwest and the old Confederacy see politics through the prism of a stained-glass church window.
It is this last which seems to confound many Democrats who believe that economic issues stood them in good stead this election. However this seemed based on their rhetoric not on the reality. (I'm not going to go into the Democrat assertions of a bad Bush economy compared to the reality of Clinton like unemployment numbers, etc.) As Kate O'Beirne noted recently in the Washington Post:
Republicans don't talk patronizingly about the issues that matter to voters by telling average Americans to "vote their pocketbooks." Rich Hollywood liberals might put aside their own economic interests to support a candidate who pledges to raise their taxes, but the little people leading small lives in small towns are not expected to look beyond their parochial concerns about overtime pay or health benefits. Leaving aside whether Democratic prescriptions on taxes and the economy would actually benefit these middle-class voters, Bush recognizes that they, too, care about issues larger than themselves. Despite Ohio's poor economy, moral values almost tied jobs as a matter of concern to the state's voters, who -- by the way -- also gave the edge to Bush in handling economic issues.

Bush recognizes that American diners are filled with middle-class voters who likewise have concerns that transcend their daily lives. He let them know that he shared their worries about marriage and its weakening as society's most fundamental institution, about the chilling brave new world of cloning and about the coarsening of the culture -- at the hands of Kerry's Hollywood supporters. The guests enjoying dinner at Tina Brown's sparkling table have not had their daily lives affected by Halliburton's no-bid contracts, the USA Patriot Act or missing munitions in Iraq, yet these are the kinds of issues that motivate liberal elites.

Bush believes Americans are smart and unfailingly decent. He doesn't think southern conservatives are closet racists, that opponents of gay marriage are hateful homophobes or that pro-lifers are mean-spirited misogynists. He is well aware that America's liberal media (and as well as European commentators) view him as a dangerous fool. Nonetheless, the majority of high school and college graduates voted for him.
Some, such as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, realize that the Democrats have some work to do on the morality front:
"We Democrats better think long and hard about what happened . . . and how our party is going to connect with the hopes and aspirations of the people," Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said last week. "We have lost the ability to connect with people's value systems and we're going to have to work to get that back."
The problem is that, to a large degree, the politicians in New England simply reflect the morality of their constituents.
New England is "closer to Canada on these social issues than most of the rest of the United States," says Brown University political scientist Darrell West...Such scholars as Nelson, the University of Vermont political scientist, a Boston native, and Anthony Corrado, a Colby College political scientist and Barrington native, believe the region's differences on social issues are rooted in history.

"Are you surprised that a state founded by Roger Williams supports separation of church and state?" says Corrado, referring to the 17th-century father of church-state separation who was Rhode Island's first white settler. [I'm not]

Even in rural parts of New England, evangelical movements are not strong, and haven't been since the Great Awakening of the 18th century, Corrado says.

New Englanders were steeled by generations of religious conflict in a region of tribal, ethnic and religion-generated fissures. "There was a time when you couldn't put Congregationalists, Catholics and Jews in the same room," says Nelson.

It seems hard to fathom today, but New England was plagued by religious intolerance, even violence, especially in the anti-immigrant Nativist wave in the early 20th century. Native Protestants burned Catholic convents and the Ku Klux Klan even had a foothold in rural Rhode Island; the target was not blacks, as in the South, but Catholics.

"There was virulent anti-Semitism among the Irish in Boston and other European ethnics," says Nelson.

The Ivy League colleges that are among the region's top educational assets had unspoken quotas for Jews.

"These religious conflicts held the region back for many years, but after the 1960s things changed," says Nelson. "The leadership class in New England basically decided that we would be better off without all this conflict."

Interfaith marriages and a knowledge-based economy have also winnowed religious divisions in the region, says Nelson, which has made New England states more like each other politically than red-state America.
This history of religious tension is characteristic of a dense population made up of disparate groups. In the so-called "Red States", such diversity doesn't occur as much where communities are more isolated and more homogenous. However, religious tolerance shouldn't necessarily mean religious abandonment, as has occurred with rising secularism (a religion of sorts, itself, I would argue) in the Northeast and West Coast. Additionally, while differing perceptions of morality explain the Red/Blue divide, as O'Beirne alluded, perhaps those of us who vote Republican, regardless of our geographical location, have actually exhibited a bit more "nuance" than our more "enlightened" liberal opponents would like to admit.
There is one great irony in Kerry's loss, says Corrado.

"Gay marriage in particular was a galvanizing issue," he says.

But it probably would never have vaulted to the forefront of campaign topics without the Supreme Judicial Court decision in Kerry's home state last spring that legalized gay unions.

"It was the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that allowed President Bush to really get a focus on this issue."
Here, simply, Corrado is wrong. President Bush didn't focus on the issue, his opponent did. What the issue did highlight was that the judiciary was untrustworthy in matters concerning legal definitions of morality or traditional institutions that have upheld said moral values. Thus, it wasn't gay marriage, per se, that threatened people so much as the fear that, regardless of one's own personal view, it is the citizen who should decide, not an un-elected judge. In other words, what troubled many voters was not necessarily the outcome so much as the vehicle by which a revered social institution (marriage) was redefined. Recent history has shown that what liberals can't accomplish via the ballot box they instead pursue via the judiciary. A majority of Americans have had enough of this tactic and believe that keeping George W. Bush as President ensures that fewer "interpretive" judges will be named to the federal bench.

The majority of New England voters apparently don't prioritize their reasons for voting for a presidential candidate in the same manner. Now, we in New England find ourselves on the outside looking in. Yet, there is some hope for the New England-style of moderate Republican, as explained by O'Beirne:
Republicans were mocked when popular social liberals Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger were showcased to make their party's case on national security and economic opportunity at the national convention in New York. What Democrats saw on the podium were dissident Republican politicians with enlightened views on abortion and gay marriage who had been enlisted in order to deceive voters; what we were all actually looking at was the makings of a successful majority party.

The moderate Republicans who spoke at the convention are at home in their conservative, pro-life party and represent countless others who share their views on such issues as foreign policy, tax rates or tort reform. Political parties are coalitions, and elections are won when a self-confident party can remain faithful to its core principles while appealing to voters with different priorities. President Bush's success exemplifies that approach: He is unapologetically opposed to abortion but passes no judgment on those who disagree with him and encourages them to find common cause with him elsewhere. Last year, Sen. John Kerry was calling pro-lifers "the forces of intolerance."
In fact, with the exception of our own Congressman Jim Langevin, I'm hardpressed to name a pro-life Democrat. They simply won't allow it and one believes that Langevin's unique personal story is the only reason that he gets a pass. As such, it seems that now the Republicans are the "big-tent" party. Unfortunately for most of New England, we're on the outside, on our hands and knees, attempting to peer under the canvas.