Friday, May 30, 2008


In the year 2000 about two-thirds of North County voters supported Proposition 22. That’s the margin needed to boost a 55-44 percent San Diego city majority to a 62-38 landslide throughout the county.

Last month by a 4-3 vote the California Supreme Court declared that the traditional male-female definition of marriage violates California’s Constitution and nullified the democratic decision made by 4,618,673 Californians. This ruling not only flies in the face of 5000 years of civilized history, it also establishes another dismal precedent for rule by judicial fiat.

The idea that voters should have a say in changing the terms of a basic social institution wasn’t a thought this quartet of magistrates found compelling. Apparently, for these robed eminences, persons lacking J.D.s don’t have opinions that count when it comes to the definition of marriage.

This imposition of elitist ideology (an ideology that ignores the importance of both fathers and mothers) has staggering implications for child-rearing and educational practice. Such considerations mattered not a whit to these blindered oracles--driven as they were by the same arrogance that’s transformed America’s universities into intolerant reeducation camps.

Combined with the SB 777 legislation that bans “heterosexist” language in California public schools, this ruling virtually guarantees that PC educators will soon be asking little boys and girls whether they plan to marry someone of the same or opposite sex. Similarly, grade school libraries will certainly begin to stock and display copies of “King and King”—making sure that gay marriage is given the same affirmative action treatment that was accorded women’s sports as a result of Title 9 legislation.

In effect, the court’s recent ruling reduces democracy to a means for dealing with matters that judges deem insignificant—since all important issues will be discovered lying furtively (like “penumbras formed by emanations”) within the pages of a “living constitution.” Remember Prop 187—a measure overwhelmingly approved by voters but abandoned after being held legal hostage for years.

If the court were serious about interpreting the law instead of imposing elite opinions on dimwitted proles, it would have considered the implications of their ruling for laws that ban polygamy or incest. Historically, polygamy has much stronger credentials than same-sex marriage. But at present that practice has little cachet in Hollywood and New York.

The case for incest was recently litigated, unsuccessfully, in Germany, but the prime-time TV series “Two and a Half Men” is currently playfully ambiguous about such liaisons. You can bet that when Charlie Sheen and his next half-sister bedmate decide it’s ok, our black-robed betters will also, with all deliberate speed, remove that bigoted taboo.

Fortunately, there are still ways to undo judicial tyranny if voters still care about democracy. One way is to support the state constitutional amendment on marriage that’s likely to qualify for the ballot in November. The second is to vote to retire judges, like Chief Justice Ronald George, who find the notion of self-government a quaint anachronism.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Last spring David Brooks stood “on a hill in East Jerusalem, amid the clash of religious and political orthodoxies” and admired a grand Darwinian narrative that imbues history (and presumably postmodern society) with purpose:

“According to this view, human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code. We are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.

The logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose. If some trait, like emotion, can cause big problems, then it must also provide bigger benefits, because nature will not expend energy on things that don’t enhance the chance of survival….

We have a grand narrative that explains behavior and gives shape to history.”

The sleight of hand in this exposition turns on the word “purpose.” Brooks employs the term to cover retrospective explanations within an evolutionary framework. Strictly speaking, however, the term “reason” is more accurate. After all, orthodox Darwinians regularly assert that evolution itself has no goals—that it is, as Richard Dawkins insists in The Blind Watchmaker, a purposeless process.

Only a year after this misbegotten tribute to Darwin, Brooks is off on another philosophical tangent. This effort starts out well by mentioning Tom Wolfe’s 1996 essay, “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died.” It ends by taking another detour into philosophical dilettantism.

Brooks summarizes Wolfe’s typically insouciant remarks about the implications of a worldview where genes determine behavior and free will is illusory. Then he proposes a new philosophical perspective—“neural Buddhism.” This viewpoint is an improvement on genetic determinism since it appears to treat emotions, morality, and religion as more than epiphenomena rooted in a blind, mechanistic process. But the extent of this advance turns out to be less than advertised.

Scientists, Brooks informs us, now vouchsafe the reality of these basic human traits because belief and consciousness “seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings.” Also, according to this cutting-edge research “elevated spiritual states” can now be associated with “a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe.”

Our vast ignorance about the interplay between “neural networks” and “consciousness” leads Brooks to associate these findings with mysticism and Buddhism. Brooks also implies that micro-neurology somehow supports the idea that “particular religions are just cultural artifacts.” Religion in the most general sense, on the other hand, has a more substantive pedigree—presumably because it can be linked to those all-important neural networks. (One wonders how brain researchers isolate purely general religious vibes in neural networks from vibes infected with “cultural artifacts.”)

The problem with this bio-electrical analysis is that it reduces “reality” to what can be grasped or verified via scientific paradigms. Only on the playing fields of physics, neurology, or biology does one achieve truly significant findings—disciplines where objectification and measurement are essential rules of the game. Naturally, the way Brooks talks about “reality” is also shaped by these disciplines.

Unfortunately, isolating “idiosyncratic networks of neural firings” is as unhelpful to understanding the products of consciousness as discussing Shakespeare’s ink is to discovering the motivations of Hamlet or Richard III. Nor will insights into the nature of love spring from a discipline that sees it as a vehicle for “brain development” (as if that four-letter mystery were an important neural vitamin). A similarly reductive approach, I might note, now touts music education as an effective mental stimulant.

As far as the authority of specific religious traditions are concerned, one doesn’t need conjectures based on neural pyrotechnics to bring absolutist claims into question. The study of religious traditions over the last two centuries has accomplished that task quite well. Likewise, cultural anthropologists are well positioned to make pronouncements about the ubiquity of certain moral norms.

If EEG squiggle-readers wish to interpret their data in similar fashion, they are free to do so, but neurology isn’t designed to address such questions. Nor are truth-claims about religion, morality, and free will obliged to squeeze through that science’s methodological doorway. The unwarranted assumption that all truth statements must quack like a neuro-duck once prompted a medical doctor in my philosophy class to assert, “A thought is a protein”—an observation as meaningless as Brooks’ effusions about “squishy emotions.”

The mathematically gifted philosopher, Blaise Pascal, observed in the 17th century that “the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” A more prosaic affirmation would note that religion, morality, and consciousness don’t mesh well with neurology—Buddhist or otherwise. Like Darwinism, its disciplinary structure doesn’t accommodate terms like “purpose,” “good,” “evil,” or “love”—except by draining them of the significance they have in immediate experience.

In his aforementioned essay, Tom Wolfe makes this weighty observation: “We now live in an age in which science is a court from which there is no appeal. And the issue this time around, at the end of the twentieth century, is not the evolution of the species, which can seem a remote business, but the nature of our own precious inner selves.”

The author’s skepticism about the authority of this scientific Supreme Court is communicated via an ironic portrait of a fidgety youngster who (prior to being Ritalinized for Attention Deficit Disorder) spent hours before a television set—watching cartoons and playing video games. Wolfe’s concluding remarks about built-in limits to human knowledge also suggest a less-than-awestruck attitude before scientific findings that have an increasingly short shelf life.

“More skepticism, less awe” would be a good prescription for David Brooks the next time he feels the urge to promote a scientific discipline into the High Court of Metaphysics.

Friday, May 16, 2008


“Someone’s gotta be last.” That’s the motto I once proposed for a Deep South state that regularly found itself at the bottom of statistical comparisons. The positions held by California, San Diego, and North County vis-à-vis high school dropout rates in a recent national study suggest another slogan: “It could be worse.”

According to an analysis conducted by (among others) Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance, graduation rates for the Golden State in 2003-2004 were 70.7%--slightly higher than the national average of 69.9%. San Diego Unified’s 61.6% (15th on the list of big cities) wasn’t half bad when contrasted with Detroit’s abysmal 25% figure. And North County came off looking good, comparatively, with rates ranging from a low of 61% in Oceanside to 75.6% in Escondido and almost 89% in Valley Center. Carlsbad, Fallbrook, and Temecula also boasted diploma ratios above 80%.

As these figures suggest (and as the APA announcement emphasized) suburban areas do much better than central urban districts. That’s hardly a surprise for adults who pay attention. Nor is it a surprise that graduation rates for Hispanics (57.8%) and blacks (53.4%) are much lower than rates for whites (76.2%) and Asians (80.2%).

On a less comparative note, General Powell observed that the nation’s 30% dropout rate represents more than a million students a year and constitutes not just “a problem” but “a catastrophe.” He also declared that “It’s time for a national call to arms”—a rousing martial metaphor reminiscent of the oft-cited 1983 education study, “A Nation at Risk.”

How seriously the education establishment takes this problem is indicated by the fact that no generally accepted formula exists for calculating dropouts. Recent estimates for San Diego County suggested an 85% graduation rate—much higher than the number researchers get by focusing (as the APA estimate does) on dwindling enrollments from ninth to twelfth grade.

Comments by public educators—which include the need to focus more attention on after-school programs, nutrition, and health care—also suggest that they consider the APA data less than “catastrophic.” Then there’s the observation that we need a “culture of respect” toward teachers, a comment that reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comedic prescription for world peace: “If everyone in the world would play a violin…”

Folks love silver bullets—from smaller classrooms to Finnish makerovers to more money. Realistic solutions, however, involve more intractable factors: bureaucracy, unions and tenure, rotten schools of education, lack of competition, illegal immigration, and negative influences at home and in the broader culture.

In his well-known monograph, “Defining Deviancy Down,” the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan noted that the correlation he discovered between school funding and educational achievement was abysmal—that a higher correlation existed between the proximity of state capitals to the Canadian border. Thus, his tongue-in-cheek proposal for improving education was to move states closer to Canada.

The most significant correlation in another study, Moynihan observed, was the parent-child ratio—a finding that’s also illustrated in the APA study, where divorce-averse Asian-Americans stand atop the educational heap.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


“Normal people—those are the folks you don’t know very well.” That saying applies in spades to Carmel Valley wife and mom Marie Walsh, formerly Susan LeFevre.

Who knew that Marie was once Sue in Saginaw, Michigan—or that in 1975 she’d been sent to prison for selling heroin? Who knew she escaped the next year (drastically shortening her stiff 10- to 20-year sentence) then headed west to reinvent herself?

Even Walsh’s husband of twenty-three years was largely unaware of this skeleton in his wife’s closet—a secret that involved a fake Social Security number, a driver’s license that hadn’t been renewed since 1999, alienation from relatives, and a low-grade fear of discovery that continued till the day Marie’s past finally caught up with her.

For those who knew only Marie, her confinement in Santee’s detention facility seems pointless. Why should a 53-year-old wife and mother of three children be put behind bars for a crime that was committed a lifetime ago? What good will it do? And why saddle the state with the cost of an inmate with a thirty-year track record of good behavior?

Friends and neighbors who feel this way have organized an appeal to Michigan’s governor for clemency. An anonymous tipster who knew Marie as Sue, however, employed that knowledge, like the mythical Furies, to avenge a breach of justice.

That person was probably closer to the 19-year-old defendant who, in a court transcript, appears to have been willing and able to sell five spoons of heroin to a longhaired undercover agent. The young woman in that transcript wasn’t, as Walsh implied in a TV interview, a pot-smoking bystander to a friend’s “morphine” transaction. Instead, as the stammering defendant told Judge Joseph McDonald in 1974, “We just did it together.”

Michigan authorities also point to records that indicate a much deeper involvement in drug trafficking than Walsh acknowledges. Those accusations bring into view dozens or hundreds of “victims” that were part of the crime wave that gripped Saginaw in the mid-70s.

Richard Anderson, who participated in the deal for which LeFevre was busted, received the same sentence as she did but was paroled after two years. He was shot dead in 1981.

As I listened to a jailed Marie Walsh speaking to a TV journalist, thirty-two years of self-justification were exposed: “It was the 70’s.” “I was a child.” The Rolling Stones made it seem glamorous. I tried to settle this, but lawyers took the money and did nothing. They promised me a deal. (Judge McDonald made it clear in the transcript that there could be no promises.)

One statement came close to hitting the right tone: “Escaping is a never-ending sentence.” Unfortunately, that sentence includes the husband and family she deceived for so many years. Forthright acknowledgment of that inescapable fact would make it easier to give Sue LeFevre legal credit for turning her life around.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


In this article Goldberg exposes the lie that blacks were "infected" with syphilis for the Tuskegee experiment.

Of equal or greater importance, Goldberg provides the "big government-black complicity" context for this experiment that began in 1932 (the same year FDR's NEW DEAL was embraced by U.S. voters).

This penultimate paragraph is particularly significant:

"Liberals like to invoke Tuskegee as if it’s solely an indictment of what other people did, proof that we need more progressive government. But Tuskegee was in fact the poisoned fruit of progressive government."

Here's the link.