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Archive for August, 2010

Zombie, a blogger for whom I have great respect, and whose blog I use in teaching for his wonderful examples of fauxtography, has begun a series on education in which he is looking at left-wing multiculturalists and conservative Christians and declaring a pox on both their houses. “The two competing visions couldn’t be more different. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unfortunately, whichever side wins — your kid ends up losing.” I’m dismayed by that characterization of what’s been going on. Zombie writes,

Innumerable liberal critics condemn the anti-science and partisan revisionist lunacy coming out of the Texas school board meetings. And you know what? The criticisms hit home. It’s next to impossible for a sensible person to defend the TSBE’s often ridiculous proposals.

I’ve testified before the Texas State Board of Education, and their proposals aren’t ridiculous at all. What’s ridiculous are the left’s distorted version of those proposals, which bear little relation to anything that’s actually in the State Board of Education’s recommendations. The Board has been presenting precisely the “rigorous non-politicized back-to-basics freedom-centric educational framework” that Zombie says he wants. But make such recommendations publicly, and the Left screams that it’s a Neanderthal, politicized recipe for foolishness.

As Zombie’s articles appear, I’m going to respond (at least on the social science points; I was not involved in the theory of evolution debates, and don’t know the details there). For now, let me address his initial complaint:

First, they defeated a motion to have students learn about the separation of church and state, a foundational principle of the United States; the board members seem to have no problem ignoring those parts of the Constitution (such as the First Amendment) which they personally dislike. To add insult to insanity, they then removed all mention of Thomas Jefferson as one of the writers who “influenced the nation’s intellectual origins,” since he was the bastard who insisted that the U.S. be a secular nation in the first place.

No, no, no. That’s not what happened at all. That’s the Leftist spin on what happened. Let’s take them in turn:

  1. The Board did reject Mavis Knight’s proposed amendment that students be required “to examine the reasons the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.” They were right to vote it down. Read it carefully. The First Amendment, and the rest of the Bill of Rights, are already covered in the standards. The amendment doesn’t add study of the First Amendment; it’s already there. Defeating it correspondingly doesn’t reject study of the First Amendment. The Board voted the proposal down because it was ideologically loaded. It contained a presupposition: that the content of the First Amendment is “the government may not promote or disfavor any particular religion above all others.” But that’s an inaccurate reading of the First Amendment. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion. That is not the same as promoting or disfavoring one religion over others. It also protects the free exercise of religion, something about which Knight’s paraphrase is silent. In short, the Board voted Knight’s proposal down because (a) its topic, the First Amendment, was already included, and (b) the proposal slipped a sloppy and ideologically loaded paraphrase into what was otherwise a neutral description of the First Amendment.
  2. Thomas Jefferson was not written out of the standards; he was not even downgraded. He’s a major figure who is included more times than anyone other than George Washington. The Board proposed removing him from one list—a list of major political philosophers who had an impact on European revolutions—in the world history course. (His status in American history was untouched.) That list included such figures as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. The Board thought, reasonably enough, that Jefferson was not an original political philosopher of that stature. Faced with criticism, the Board backed down, and left Jefferson on the list. But their position was defensible on the merits. Jefferson did not belong on that particular list. (The “get him back for speaking of separation of church and state” motivation is an unfounded allegation by leftists; no one ever said anything of the kind. Leftists were also infuriated by the Board’s addition of Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone to the influential political philosophers list, alleging, again without any evidence, that this stemmed from the Board’s desire to cram a particular version of Christianity down students’ throats. Which version that might be is unclear, since Aquinas defines Catholic orthodoxy, Calvin is a sharp critic of that orthodoxy, and Blackstone originated the phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and gave influential definitions of other key terms in our founding documents and in political and legal philosophy more generally.)

I’m sorry to see Zombie taking articles written by leftists based on propaganda from the radical Texas Freedom Network as his sources. They do not offer a fair description of the Board’s deliberations. The Left wants to paint the Texas Board as a bunch of crazies so they can distract people from their own craziness and get fair-minded people like Zombie to think the truth must be somewhere in the middle. It is in the middle, between the two extreme descriptions, but looking at what actually happened, rather than the Left’s version of what happened, makes you realize that the Board has been right there in the middle all along. Go to the Board’s web site for more complete and accurate information.

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Here’s a quick test:

1. Do you often feel used by the person?

2. Have you often felt that he (or she) doesn’t care about you?

3. Does he lie and deceive you?

4. Does he tend to make contradictory statements?

5. Does he tend to take from you and not give back much?

6. Does he often appeal to pity? Does he seem to try to make you feel sorry for him?

7. Does he try to make you feel guilty?

8. Do you sometimes feel he is taking advantage of your good nature?

9. Does he seem easily bored and need constant stimulation?

10. Does he use a lot of flattery? Does he interact with you in a way that makes you feel flattered even if he says nothing overtly complimentary?

11. Does he make you feel worried? Does he do it obviously or more cleverly and sneakily?

12. Does he give you the impression you owe him?

13. Does he chronically fail to take responsibility for harming others? Does he blame everyone and everything but himself?

And does he do these things far more than the other people in your life? If you answered “yes” to many of these, you may be dealing with a sociopath. For sure you’re dealing with someone who isn’t good for you, whatever you want to call him.

The rest of the article is similarly illuminating. What do sociopaths want?

A sociopath’s goal is to win. And he (or she) is willing to do anything at all to win.

Sociopaths have nothing else to think about, so they can be very clever and conniving. Sociopaths are not busy being concerned with relationships or moral dilemmas or conflicting feelings, so they have much more time to think about clever ways to gain your trust and stab you in the back, and how do it without anyone knowing what’s happening.

One of the questions in the list above was about boredom. This is a real problem for sociopaths and they seem fanatically driven to prevent boredom. The reason it looms so large for them (and seems so strange to us) is that our relationships with peopleoccupy a good amount of our time and attention and interest us intensely. Take that away and all you have is “playing to win” which is rather shallow and empty in comparison. So boredom is a constant problem for sociopaths and they have an incessant urge to keep up a level of stimulation, even negative stimulation (drama, worry, upset, etc.).

It’s worth noting that Jonah Goldberg points out boredom as one of the chief characteristics of fascists and progressives. They look to politics for meaning because the don’t get meaning from anything else.

If your President, Senator, or Congressman is a sociopath, what do you do?

…there is only one solution for dealing with a sociopath: Get him or her completely out of your life for good.

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I’m back after some time in the great north woods, staying in a cottage without internet connection or even cell phone coverage. I wasn’t even able to get internet access while in town. It was good to be “off the grid” for a while, swimming with the loons. (There were three on the pond this year—mom, dad, and a little loon.) But now the fall semester has started, the kids are back at college, and I am overwhelmed at what’s been going on while I was away. I began accumulating tabs for all the articles that have appeared over the past month that seemed worth remarking on, and crashed Safari, thus losing them all. So, I’ll just pick up in medias res. Maybe it’s just the memory of the loons and their haunting cries, but I keep looking over my shoulder, on the watch for black swans.

I have been appalled, as I have been more or less since January 2009, at the cluelessness and corruption of our elected officials, and I have been fearing, not only the expected consequences of their actions, which are dire enough—what do you expect if you respond to a financial crisis you helped to bring about by emulating the policies of Herbert Hoover?—but also the black swan, the unexpected event that can disrupt continuity and lead to a cascade of decisions that bring us to the brink of disaster. The probability of any given black swan is generally quite low, but the probability of some black swan or other appearing is started to get perilously high. What am I worried about? Well, here’s a list, for starters:

  1. The Iranian bomb. Even the IAEA now says that Iran is engaged in producing nuclear weapons, and may already have enough material for one or two bombs. The Russians have delivered fuel to the reactor, which means that any attack risks release of nuclear material as well as international responses that include Russia. Meanwhile, the Israelis appear to be accepting a nuclear Iran, for reasons that puzzle Caroline Glick, but seem to have something to do with Obama’s influence with Ehud Barak. The U.S. and Israel may be playing a game of chicken, trying to force the other into acting to stop the Iranians, a game that seems destined to lead to a nuclear Iran, if it hasn’t already. The other possibility, which seems increasingly likely, is that the Obama administration prefers a nuclear Iran. That strikes me as insane, but it appears to me the best explanation for why Obama did not put his weight behind what was by far the best option for dealing with the Iranian problem, namely, to do everything possible to support the protests in Iran and bring about a regime change. That would have been my policy, but the administration, handed the perfect opportunity in the summer of 2009, did precisely the opposite. So, we now face a nuclear Iran and an escalating arms race in the Middle East, with a variety of countries headed by zealots who profess to believe that nuclear war is an acceptable option. Great. The black swan: Iran, emboldened by its possession of nuclear weapons, attacks, directly or through proxies, Israel, the U.S., or international shipping.
  2. The economy. The economy shows increasing weakness—unemployment remains “unexpectedly” high, the deficit is “unexpectedly” large, housing sales are “unexpectedly” low, and the Keynesians, thankfully, are running low on ammo. David Brooks observes that Germany, which resisted the Obama medicine and instead cut spending, is recovering superbly, enjoying a 9% growth rate compared to our own 1.6%. This is real-world evidence against the Obama administration’s policies, but no one in the administration seems to pay any attention to evidence. People have largely forgotten, for example, that the Great Depression which haunted the U.S. throughout the 1930s was far more severe in the U.S. than it was in Europe, where it lasted two-three years instead of a decade. The Hoover/FDR policies the Democrats so love made the Depression worse in intensity and duration. It’s happening again. But the facts don’t fit “the narrative,” so the facts are ignored. The black swan: sovereign defaults (Greece? Spain?) or downgrades (the U.S.?) brought about but reckless borrowing and spending—spending for which, as a Democratic Congressman now admits, we have nothing to show.
  3. Our inability to confront the Islamic threat. The astounding debate over the Ground Zero mosque shows that our elites refuse to admit even the most obvious facts about the war that Islamic expansionists are waging against us. I would be heartened by the Left’s sudden discovery of property and First-Amendment rights, except that they are so blatantly insincere. (Would they defend the right of a property owner across the street from the mosque to display a large banner reading “To Hell with Muhammed”? Of course not!) While it’s encouraging to see 70% of the public realize that the mosque is, in effect, a monument to Islamic victory that might as well fly a banner reading “To Hell with the U.S.A.”, the fact remains that the other 30%, and a majority of the political class, don’t see it that way at all. The black swan? The next Islamic initiative, which the political class will again do all it can to accommodate. If they’ll accommodate this, they’ll accommodate anything—or, at least, anything accompanied by a large enough check.
  4. Fascism. It’s now becoming acceptable to say what I began saying privately to people back in 2008: Obama is a fascist (or, if you will, a believer in the “corporate state“). I don’t mean that in the sense the Left uses the term, as a generic label for people I don’t like. I mean it in the sense Jonah Goldberg uses in Liberal Fascism. Obama believes that every problem is a public and indeed political problem, which the State must address. He believes that a very large State, with no formal or substantive bounds on its power, must “work together” with unions, nonprofit groups, Leftist political organizations, and large corporations to formulate and implement policies that direct economic activity to what are perceived as social goods, but tend in practice, if not in intention as well, to promote the interests of those in power. He believes that people’s lives are capable of having meaning only through association with the State, and that anything outside the State and its corporate/union/NGO partners is an expression of false consciousness and potential threat to the State that must be crushed. As Warren Meyer observes, all this is great for government, for large corporations, and for unions. But “The losers in all of this are … everyone else. In effect this corporate system is just another age-old, historically time-worn effort to cement the power of a small group of elites. Entrepreneurship and innovation are often impossible, as incumbent businesses can call on tremendous state powers to stifle competitive threats. The unemployment rates of the young and unskilled can be astronomical, even in rich nations like Germany and France, as older unionized workers have worked to calcify labor markets to their own advantage. In the end, consumers and taxpayers pay for the whole system in the form of reduced growth and economic output, higher prices, higher taxes and less mobility for those not already in power.” The rest are starting to figure this out, which is why Congressional approval ratings are so law and why Republicans seem poised to make huge gains this November. The black swan: Fascism and democracy are an unstable mix. The possibility of electioneering of a kind we haven’t seen before, electoral fraud, lame duck enactments, unconstitutional end runs, conflicts between executive and legislative branches, declining respect for government and democratic processes generally, etc., is increasing. I expect a series of attacks on an already weak system.

There! So much for my worries. Fall classes look great. It’s a beautiful, sunny, Texas summer day outside. I’m taking the family and dog to an outdoor cafe to eat breakfast tacos. I saw West Side Story on a big screen last night; tonight, a Telemann concert, and, tomorrow, playing jazz with Rich and Alex. Life is good. Let’s hope it stays that way. (Hope and change, indeed!)

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