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Archive for September, 2010

I confess, I enjoy Jon Stewart more when he’s creaming Democrats. And I admire the talent, too: unlike Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame, Stewart can lampoon without embedding crypto-compliments (see today’s “He can’t empathize because he’s always thinking” strip.)

Wait- I thought BO had retired the “drove the car into the ditch” metaphor after 6,000 times at bat.  I guess I was wrong.  But, since I’m on the subject, let’s talk about metaphors.  Let’s say the economy is the car and that the Republicans drove it into the ditch.  And Obama and the Democrats have been trying to get that car out of the muddy, sticky, dirty, swampy, ditch, and they’ve been grunting, pulling, tugging, shoving, pushing– to no avail, but it certainly explains the moniker “BO.”  When the Republicans get done with their Slurpees and ask for the keys back, and the car is still in the ditch- that vast, quicksand-y fire swamp of despond– why the hell wouldn’t you give the keys back and say, “Good luck with that.  I’m calling a cab?”

I’ll tell you why.  Because the car, where it is, has been viewed as a valuable just where it sits in the muck by the Democrats.  Obama hasn’t been trying to push it out, he’s set up a chop shop right there in the ditch and has been parceling out the good parts to his pals, while all the folks IN THE CAR who thought they were electing AAA to get them the hell out of the ditch are sitting in the car and voting- and a whole lot of them are not voting for either the guys who ran them into the ditch OR the goombas who are prying the hubcaps off.  Until election time, though, the passengers have been captive, with the goombas coming by periodically to extort money to “jumpstart” the economy car.  That’ll be $Trillion, please.

Speaking of running things into a ditch, I think we should pitch in and send BO one of these.  Just tell him it’s a Telepromter on wheels, point it at the M Street bridge and let ‘er rip.

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My campus was locked down, and then closed, this morning when a gunman began firing shots. He entered the library, where all the security is designed to keep things from leaving inappropriately, went to the sixth floor (early reports said the fifth floor), and shot himself. The university’s warning system, instituted after the Virginia Tech shootings, helped to insure that there were no other injuries. I received a text message telling me there was an armed person in the vicinity of the library within minutes. I was not on campus, but my daughter was heading in to take a math exam. She got off the bus to find a small tank going down the street, helicopters circling overhead, and a woman in a green dress telling everyone that campus was locked down and directing them not to cross the street onto campus. My daughter couldn’t go to class, and couldn’t get home—the northbound bus stop was on the campus side of the street—so I drove in and took her to breakfast. People in my building waited for several hours. A SWAT team frisked them and took them to a classroom, where they stayed for two hours until a search of the building was completed. A friend of my daughter’s was on the sixth floor of the library this morning, and had to stay there for more than 6 hours.

A friend was teaching an early morning class, and reports:

[I] was lecturing on the ‘Crito’, justice, political obligation, civil disobedience and the unimportance of death; with what I thought was admirable Socratic sang-froid, I carried on and finished the lecture. Not sure many of them were paying much attention – at any rate to me. I had to change some of the examples (about coercion) rather rapidly as well.

I suppose that doesn’t say anything very good about the relevance of philosophy—or at least of the ideas of Socrates.

One notable feature of this morning’s experiences: My daughter had rapid access to an amazing amount of information about what was happening. She and I were both receiving the university’s emergency text messages. She could also receive the emergency emails. But she also began receiving text messages from students all over campus—some in class, some in their dorms, some at their university jobs, and some in the library. She had real-time information coming from sources all over the campus. Radio stations also did a great job—KLBJ-AM did an especially outstanding job—but social media beat out traditional media for those with a rich social network. For the rest of us—well, my phone sat there silently. But I heard everything from her.

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Reynolds’ Law

I haven’t been blogging much lately, because I haven’t had many thoughts that haven’t been better expressed elsewhere. But I have to draw attention to a remark of Glenn Reynolds, which seems to me to express an important and little-noticed point:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

I dub this Reynolds’ Law: “Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.” It’s easy to see why. If people don’t need to defer gratification, work hard, etc., in order to achieve the status they desire, they’ll be less inclined to do those things. The greater the government subsidy, the greater the effect, and the more net harm produced.

This law is thus a relative to Murray’s third law in Losing Ground, the Law of Net Harm: “The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.” But Reynolds’ Law rests on a different and more secure foundation. It focuses on character as fundamental.

Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, Democrats—but not only Democrats—have fretted that the middle class is shrinking due to the power of large corporations, and that only government action to “level the playing field” can save the middle class. The “middle class is being more and more squeezed out by the processes which we have been taught to call processes of prosperity.” Obama? Hillary? No, that’s Woodrow Wilson in 1913 (The New Freedom). It’s striking to realize that progressives have been playing the same tune for a century, no matter what’s actually taking place in the economy—indeed, in the midst of the greatest expansion of affluence in the history of the world—with the same set of proffered solutions: greater government power, regulations, higher taxes, and subsidies for the markers of affluence.

Reynolds’ Law thus strikes at the heart of progressivism as a political ideology. Progressivism can’t deliver on its central promise. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make things worse in exactly that respect. It’s not that it sacrifices some degree of one good (liberty or prosperity, say) to achieve a greater degree of another (equality). That suggests that the choice between conservatism and progressivism is a matter of tradeoffs, balances, and maybe even taste. Reynolds’ Law implies that progressivism sacrifices some (actually considerable) degrees of liberty and prosperity to move us away from equality by undermining the characters and thus behavior patterns of those they promise to help.

Not coincidentally, progressives accumulate power for themselves, not only by seizing it as a necessary means to their goals but by aggravating the very social problems they promise to address, thus creating an ever more powerful argument that something has to be done.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for looking around! And thank you, Glenn!

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Remember

September 11, 2001

I recall the poems I read to my children at bedtime nine years ago:

URNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

—William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming (1921)

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson, from Ulysses (1833)

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Faith and Affluence

From the New York Times:

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Zombie has completed his analysis of the education wars, and has done a fair-minded job in describing the situation in Texas.

Unlike Thomas Frank, I get it. I understand that American patriotism, far from being nothing more than the reactionary buzzword of small-minded bigots (as leftists believe), is based on a deep awareness that the United States of America is the first (and to date only) nation based on an idea, rather than on geography or ethnicity. And not just any idea, but the highest ideals which the human mind can formulate: freedom, responsibility, self-reliance, equality of opportunity, individualism. And that to be patriotic in America is a shorthand way to declare one’s allegiance to these philosophical ideals….

The revelation: Texas is not trying to push conservatism — it’s trying to preserve patriotism. (And by “preserve patriotism” I mean steadfastly uphold the principles upon which America rests.) Texas’ educational attitude only appears as “conservatism” to analysts because patriotism has been abandoned by the left in favor of internationalism, so conservatives are the only ones willing to stand up for patriotism anymore.

That’s exactly right. The Texas State Board of Education has sought to improve the precision of educational standards in Texas while restoring some ideological balance. Speaking of the United States as  constitutional republic rather than as a democracy isn’t an attempt to score cheap points by including the name of one party rather than the other; it’s an improvement, a specification of the kind of democracy we are. Insisting that students study the ideas of the Founding Fathers is nothing more than insisting that students understand what the United States is.

I don’t want to be ungracious, but Zombie’s criticism of the Texas Board come down to a few points, and on those, it seems to me, he gets things wrong. He quotes the Texas Freedom Network and endorses their complaint:

“Religious conservatives on the board killed a proposed standard that would have required high school government students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” That means the board rejected teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America.” (3/11/10)

…The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue several times in its history, but most of the landmark decisions tended to side with the secularist position that the First Amendment was more than about preventing a national church, but was generally about government not favoring or abetting religion in any way.

So it seems to me that the critics have a valid point here: The TSBE was promulgating as fact its wishful-thinking interpretation of the First Amendment, rather than the Supreme Court’s more “official” interpretation. Which, to me, is not kosher.

But wait. The standards already required students to study the First Amendment. A left-wing member of the Board proposed an addition that inserted a specific interpretation of the Amendment. The majority voted it down. They didn’t insert their own favored interpretation; they just required study of the First Amendment. (The Board’s discussion, incidentally, included a rather sophisticated exchange on these landmark cases; the conservative members of the Board are not yahoos, but highly intelligent, well-informed people.) Now, perhaps that might be judged wrong, if the addition quoted above is plainly correct. But, pace Zombie, it strikes me as highly contentious. Note that the Mavis Knight summary says nothing about the free exercise of religion. Nor does it say that the government may not favor religion (Zombie’s preferred interpretation); it says that the government may not prefer or disfavor one religion over others. Finally, court decisions have allowed the government to disfavor certain religions—those involving the use of peyote, for example, or snake-handling, or human or animal sacrifice. So, there were good reasons for Board members to oppose that addition.

Zombie then complains about the deletion of Thomas Jefferson from a list of political philosophers in the World History course, a list that includes Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu. As I’ve already said, Jefferson’s name was restored, and the deletion seems reasonable on the merits, since Jefferson was not a major political philosopher. Moreover, striking his name from this list would be an odd way to “punish” him for writing a letter mentioning the separation of church and state, since that issue has little to do with the standard in question or the World History course in general.

Finally, Zombie complains that the Board deleted ‘including propaganda’ from the standard requiring students to study the reasons for U.S. entry into World War I. But note that the standards still require students to study the reasons; the standards no longer single out one of those reasons for special mention, leaving it up to instructors and students to determine the relative importance of factors leading to American involvement. That seems reasonable to me, particularly since the major propaganda efforts of the Wilson administration began after our entry into the war.

I don’t mean to quibble. The rest of Zombie’s article is an outstanding overview of other complaints raised by leftists that don’t hold water. And he points out something observers need to keep in mind: current textbooks and teaching standards are tilted so far to the left that the Board could hardly tilt the balance to the right even if it wanted to. The most it can do is move things back slightly in the direction of an even-handed treatment of history.

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