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.