Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ayn Rand and Thinking Well

The people who are the most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.
G. K. Chesterton

Ayn Rand, though a very entertaining author, has her philosophical flaws. But if she is right about anything, she is right about this so far as it goes: you must have a philosophy to live by or you will have no bearings for judging your actions. You will have no way of interpreting what to do or when to do it.

Too many people lack this. Set aside for the moment whether any given philosophy is right. That is surely the next question to ask, but it isn't my point just now. The thrust of today's commentary is that a framework is necessary for us to determine the value of our life's, in fact even of our daily, work. Certain frameworks will prove to be wrong; indeed I suggest that there can only be one right set of guidelines when all is said and done. But again, I am veering from the issue at hand.

Rand says, if I remember her correctly, that if you do not discipline yourself towards thinking about things at the least within a context of ideas which you take as a given, you will eventually merely wander from day to day, from idea to idea, and find yourself eternally at the influence of other forces without regard for what you may actually want or need. You will discover, if the thought ever actually develops in your mind, that you have not become an individual of any value. You will be a sheep. The time of slaughter will one day consume you, as you will have no way of defending yourself from it.

Or something worse will happen. You will become a petty little dictator, self assured that all that you do is itself the standard of right and wrong. And why not? You would be at the point where whims and passing fancy will guide you, or, more correctly, you will be the flag proudly fluttering in the wind, too proud to know that it is the air which unfurls you and not your own knowledge or will. As the breeze fades and dies, so do you. And what will be seen of you as you are opened to the world?

So you need a philosophy. You need some way of determining whether the people and events around you are evolving into things useful or things destructive. You need coherency in your life. You need to, in the words of that old saw, stand for something lest you fall for anything. This approach may well leave you standing for the wrong things in the end. Still, your only chance of being found by the just and true lies in the firmness of your stance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Detroit Budget Debacle

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Common Council have certainly agreed on one thing: to disagree, and to do so stridently. Mayor Bing ended talks on the City's budget when the Council did not agree to his plan, asserting that the body was not earnest in seeking compromise. Council President Charles Pugh responded that the Mayor was being childish. The action by Detroit's leader would allow him to make cuts of his own beginning Friday.

It would seem that Mr. Bing is trying to establish himself as a leader by acting so seemingly decisively. He is certainly painting an apocalyptic picture: a loss of police and fire protection, parks grass uncut, a loss of Sunday bus service and Hart Plaza festivals. Hopefully it is little more than posturing.

The underlying problem here is that we are witnessing yet another black eye to Detroit when that is exactly what we can least afford right now. The city government can't see eye to eye, and residents continue to leave in response. Why shouldn't they? What is the incentive to stay? Certainly not the amount of intrigue and infighting witnessed over the last decade.

There is still time, and cooler heads may prevail. It is not likely (is it?) that things will be as catastrophic as Mayor Bing asserts. Political posturing has been around since the founding of the Republic, and there should be no shock that it exists even in the relative backwaters which are Detroit today.

That is perhaps the best way to sum the situation up: Detroit is becoming irrelevant, to the state, and perhaps even to itself. It is said the phoenix shall rise from the ashes. Yet how much ash must be made before the process burns itself out?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Standardized Tests

It seems that, despite facing a tougher curriculum in our schools, Michigan students continue to struggle with standardized tests. While some scores are up, and those interestingly enough in science and math, others are down, particularly in writing skills. In whatever subject, almost half still failed in math, while a solid 53% failed in writing.

The results are definitely a mixed bag. When analyzed further, what is shown is something not really surprising at all: wealthier areas scored better than poorer. The simple fact is that, where there's a greater community and parental involvement in the schools, there's greater progress.

Harder course studies simply won't affect that. While there's little doubt that something has to be tried with ineffective schools, there is also little reason to believe that any method will ever be workable in some areas. It is worth asking whether the best answer for failing students and failing schools is to simply lower standards, to allow lower achieving students to get on with their lives doing whatever work they are capable of doing.

Not everyone can or wants to do math; why make them? If they don't care for social studies, there simply isn't a lot which can be done to force them. Indeed, sometimes the best lessons are the ones taught by everyday life. They may be the only lessons some can learn.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Should We Be Proud?

This morning's Detroit Free Press loudly and proudly proclaimed that Michigan is getting more federal dollars than it sends to Washington. The precise number is that the state gets $1.64 back from every buck it sends to the nation's capitol. This is due in large part to the fact that Michigan has been hit the hardest by the economic doldrums, and that we have an aging state. Taxes are not collected from the state to the degree that used to be.

The article goes on and on, discussing all the ways in which tax collections are measured against the way the money is returned. But what gets ignored in all the rhetoric is a simple question: why ought we look at the situation as let's get ours?

For starters, why can't more tax monies just stay here rather than get levied by Washington only to be sent back? Then there's the issue of whether we ought to see things as us versus them. That's precisely what it sounds like: we need to make sure we get what we can, never mind the other states. Particularly the ones who must be underwriting the inequity.

It is little more than a formula for jealousy. And don't trouble yourself too much about our bad economy. Has it occurred to anyone that maybe, just maybe, we might be in better straits if we were simply able to keep our money to begin with, to invest in ourselves? Why is it automatically seen as a good thing merely to have extra bureaucracy?

This is not the type of nation our founders envisioned. The next civil war will be over pieces of silver.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

We Need More Oil

President Barack Obama has order the release of 30 million barrels of oil from the United States Strategic Reserve in order to keep gas prices down and help the general economy, which is still in the doldrums more than two years into his administration.

Such actions are akin to taking aspirin for cancer. They are by their nature limited in scope and do not address energy programs in the long term. Neither will it really aid the economy except, perhaps, for the short term. And that's really the problem with the Democratic Party today, if not the trouble with politics and politicians in general. Shoring up an Administration which must be be seeing the 2012 elections as an extension of the rout the left suffered in 2010 means more right now than any long term help for the American economy or the American citizen.

How about more drilling, Mr. President? How about opening up the ANWAR? Why don't we try using something more than band aids on a gaping sore? If there's one area which the Republicans surely messed up over, it was in not extending oil drilling further when they had both Houses and the Presidency. We might actually be past Mr. Obama's strategy and have more oil of our own at our disposal.

Well, it's something, we suppose. But it isn't enough, and the economy will not fully rebound without a more comprehensive search for energy. Find it, drill it, burn it in our engines. Short of that, we shall have in our future only a double dip recession.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Entertaining Television?

The Deadliest Catch is one of the most popular shows on the Discovery Channel, and it's easy to see why. It is certainly entertaining, and there is a great degree of excitement watching the men involved battle one of nature's harshest environments in the Bering Sea. Still, the practice of king crab fishing and reality television such as this show ignore a question which is of paramount importance: is it worth the risk?

An awful lot of men put their lives at stake for the sake of a seafood delicacy. Should they? What kind of decadence is reflected within our society that we should demand such a food at so terrible a risk, especially as so many other foodstuffs are so readily available so easily? Remember too that two sets of ships are in peril for this: the crab fishermen themselves, and the boats carrying the film crew.

The obvious retort - no one makes them do it - is entirely invalid. No action is moral simply because those involved freely agree to engage in it. What is being done must be moral in and of itself. With this, an awful lot of time, money, and effort is regularly put forth for at least an arguably dubious reason.

We don't have to have king crab on our dinner plates. We don't need to battle rough seas and risk our lives merely for our daily bread. We certainly ought not do things out of any macho need on the part of those involved. In short, we need to ask ourselves whether such delicacies are worth the trouble, or whether an interest in watching guys put their lives on the line for them isn't a bit too reminiscent of the savage events of the Colosseum. In this day and age, we ought to be beyond such entertainment. And perhaps we should learn to be a little more grateful for bounty we already have.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Evaluating Michigan Teachers

The Michigan House of Representatives has passed a bill which, by the 2015-2016 school year, would make student achievement a whopping 50% of a teacher's annual evaluation. Such data will also then play about 22% of a principal's evaluation.

Measuring teacher success is a difficult proposition. There are many and varied items which affect how well a child will perform academically. Home life, personality ability and interest, and indeed the instructor's own ability certainly fall into the mix. It also goes almost without saying that the area where the school is located makes a difference as well. Public schools also suffer from something which private schools do not: private institutions can ship out the troublemakers, while public schools must somehow contend with them. At least for a longer while.

As such, it isn't particularly easy to determine how much a lack of educational success is the fault of the teacher or the pupil. Further, there is always the question of the exact measure of success. Surely a teacher's ability to get ideas and information across to a student hinges to a great degree on the child's willingness to accept the effort. It is all too easy to say that a good teacher inspires, considering that many young minds simply are not willing to be inspired. Not everyone can be reached, idealistic and political views to the contrary.

While it is important to effectively measure teacher performance and weed out poor instructors, it is also important to remember that teachers aren't exactly assembly line workers. The products simply don't roll down the line on cue to have additional and necessary parts added on on schedule. Teachers often are hurt by unwilling learners through no fault of their own.

The best answer to analyzing teacher performance would be a system which allowed for the expulsion of the truly unruly even at a relatively early age, giving instructors the chance to work as close to exclusively with the willing as possible. But we as a society are too obstinately altruistic to allow that. In the end, given what we have, it is best to proceed with caution. Making student performance count for half a teacher's assessment seems absurd if applied with a trowel, regardless of the school or district in question. We will only be throwing some unfortunate instructors under the bus for the sake of playing to the public.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Romney's Religion

Mitt Romney, one of many Republican candidates for President in the coming election cycle, once spoke out during on the subject of religion and politics. I gathered that his overriding point was that without a Deity of some sort we cannot truly comprehend the moral needs of civil society. If that is what he meant, I have to agree with him.

Everyone either believes in something beyond himself or they do not. The Jew, the Christian, the Muslim, and so on, believe in a Deity which instructs them on behavior. The secularist, I presume, does not. On what, then, does the secularist base his creed? His own affirmation? Well, why should I, as a human being who is a moral equal to him, accept that as a basis for human development? It’s simply circular. Without a Deity above it all, where do we appeal for affirmation (or, to be true, negation) of what we think should be done with, not only our laws, but our own direct dealings with those around us?

That said, the seriously religious need to understand that they cannot make people without faith have faith. If it is coerced, it is of course without value. Yet that does not mean that our faith cannot enlighten even our public will. The trick is to know where to stop: I, as a Catholic, cannot legislate to make you believe the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, as that is wholly a tenet of faith. But on issues which involve more than faith, and I will use abortion as an example not to inflame but as it’s an easy and obvious political issue with moral implications, I can legislate, for it does not require faith alone to see a human life as a human life requiring government protection.

Is there, then, a religious aspect to my politics? Of course. But that does not make my politics wrong. The secular world needs to understand that distinction if it is to understand us at all. The real question is, does it want to? If not, then I may fairly ask who's the one being unilateral and non-inclusive in our political arena. Is it us on the right, or those whose religion is themselves?

Monday, June 20, 2011


The Emancipation Proclamation is making a stop in Dearborn today. The document will be read and many other activities over a 24 hour period will celebrate the end of slavery. It is always good to see history remembered.

That the Proclamation did not free all slaves immediately is not necessarily the point. While that fact may serve as a sad reminder that we as a nation were not then perfect, the issuance of the document made the war in fact what it had been in effect anyway: about freedom for all.

It is worth remembering that history is a process, and that so long as we are going forward with genuinely good progress we are making headway. Our ancestors weren't perfect, but they did what they could. We are better off today for those efforts.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mulberry Season 2011

Funny, isn’t it. how we sometimes identify people with certain times, places, or things.

In the alley behind our old family repair shop there is a row of mulberry bushes which have been there for years. My grandfather would, in the late spring or early summer when they were in season, always stop and treat himself to a few of the little fruits as he went to and from work.

Little? Well, mulberries are small compared to most fruits. In context, they’re like raspberries who have spent a lot of time in the gym; a scant few are a handful. They’re juicy and sweet, and Grandpa Joe liked them. I remember vividly his picking and popping them into his mouth as he made his way down the alley, as though he were a kid again.

Time passes, and so, sadly, did Grandpa Joe. Yet the mulberries still grew, and I couldn’t help over the years but develop a liking to them myself. As I hike to and from work nowadays I’ll stop and have a few. As it were, my daughter also came to know and like the mulberries too. Often we’ll take bowls and go fill them with the little purple black fruits, snacking as we pick, and my wife will make pies out of those which make it back home. I like the idea that three generations of a family have been able to enjoy those berries ripening on the same bushes.

Now, I’m not all that naive; I know that Joe Cosgriff was ornery and arbitrary, with a hair trigger temper. I know it from the tales my Dad and his siblings have told, and from the personal experience of having worked with him for a good 15 or 18 years. I know too that there was a part of him which was somehow kind and appreciative, and that there were moments when these came out despite, perhaps, himself. There were good times and trying ones, and lasting impressions. I find as I grow older that, in the end, it is the good times which matter more than the difficult, even if it seems there were more tough days than easy. I believe too that the smallest, almost innocuous, memories can also be the greatest insights into the honest character of someone.

What prompts me to write this? It’s June, and the mulberries are in. And I’m thinking about you, Joe.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poor Losers

The first Michigan redistricting maps have been released, and the expected outrage is being released by the Democrats. The current plan, if enacted, will pit Democrats Gary Peters and Sander Levin against one another.

That's surely not a surprise. With the Republicans controlling the process and Michigan losing a seat in the House of Representatives, of course we would end up with two Democrats pitted against each other. It certainly wasn't going to be the two minority representatives, John Conyers and Hansen Clarke, for the various legal and PC reasons. Don't forget either that the Democrats would have sent two Republicans into a potential face off if they dominated redistricting. Railing against the GOP as things currently stand is simply hyperbole. And hypocritical.

Peters could move, and face Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter in a district which should favor the GOP (again, stop whining, Democrats; you would have done something similar had you the chance). High ranking Democrats nationally see such a pairing as a potential gain should that scenario play out. Yet if voting trends continue as expected, Peters is a goner in 2012. The Democrats will not retake the House at any rate, so it hardly matters.

But the real bottom line is that the Democrats are stuck. Given that compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that minority representation not be diminished along with the fact that Detroit lost a quarter of its population, and drawing snakelike and rabbit like districts as Levin and Peters decry is the only realistic option. If you really want to blame someone for the quandary, well, blame the sponsors of legislation which now commands the process. That's right, LBJ and the Democrats.

We must admit, the irony is delicious.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Right to Die does not Exist

Now that a few days have passed, and hopefully spent in the right frame of mind considering that a human being died, we may now say a quick word about Michigan's own Jack Kevorkian and the supposed right to die.

Did you have a choice in being born? No? Then why should you think you have a say in when you die??

We are not talking here about people taking actions, soldiers, for example, which might result in their death. They are not willing themselves to die but are rather willing to risk death for a cause greater than themselves. Neither should anyone ever equate human suffering with animal suffering and as such justify euthanasia. We are not mere animals; we are sentient, thinking beings on a much higher level. Our lives are not to be dispensed with simply because they face a horrible trial.

In the end, our lives are not ours; if so, we would have willed our births and not simply have had them foisted upon us. As it is, it is below the dignity of human life, even a willing human life, to kill itself merely to avoid anything, even suffering. Our lives are not so shallow as to be ended as with the dumb animals. Assisted suicide as such is not justice. It is cowardice.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cash for Clunkers hurt the Poor

When attempting to buy a good used car in or around Detroit, indeed perhaps anywhere in the nation, and one thing will surely jump out at you: the high prices of used cars. At Auto Round Up on Detroit's west side, a 12 year old vehicle with 225,000 miles was going for $2,400! At A and G Auto Sales on the east side, a 1997 Mercury with 150,000 miles and a badly damaged rear bumper was priced at $1,695. Similar tales abound, but the bottom line is this: in the Motor City, good used cars at good prices are tough to find.

We have our friend President Barack Obama to thank for that. You see, the Cash for Clunkers program decimated the used car market. Every car turned in for the program had to be destroyed; they could not be refurbished or resold. The reason given was to get older, gas guzzling vehicles off the road.

But were they all really gas hogs? One particular area heavily hit are the famed minivans, family cars not especially known to burn excessive petrol or horribly pollute the air. Trying to find a decently priced one less than even 15 years old is a challenge: a 1995 Caravan at a car lot on Van Dyke in Warren, Michigan was listed at $1600. This is a vehicle 16 model years old.

So who benefited from the program? Middle class Americans who could have afforded a new car had they wanted anyway, and unionized auto workers who vote for the Democratic Party and our President. The poorer classes, the ones the left tell us so often how much they care about, meanwhile, are struggling to get something within their budgets. Even the used car dealers are struggling because they can't get cars for inventory at prices their clientele can afford.

The federal government should have never been in the auto sales field anyway, and part of the reason is in the unintended consequences of such behavior as illustrated by the dry yet inflated used car market. Cash for Clunkers hurts the very segment of society which Democrats claim to love so much. Yet a moment's simple thought would have prevent the harm. A basic understanding of supply and demand would have shown the folly of the program as written.

But appealing to the people who vote them en masse and are also more likely give the Democratic Party cash and effort means more to the left than rational government policy. Yet the poor? The ones the Democrats so much for?

We suppose that they may eat cake.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

BIg Brother Lurking

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network has issued a report claiming that more than $23 million dollars in undisclosed cash went towards TV ads during the 2010 election cycle in the state. The people on the receiving end of such expenditures, including failed Democratic candidate or governor Virg Bernero as well as Governor Rick Snyder, supposedly gained exposure through the televised media without dropping a dime from their own coffers.

Granted, the ads did not ask anyone to actually vote for him or any of the others in question. But groups seeking disclosure over exactly who donated the money for the ads are crying foul. They want full disclosure.

Why? Why must someone have to report, or have their donations reported, on the grounds of a presumed public right to know? Why does the public have the *right* to know?

To keep bad old liberals or bad old conservatives at bay? Perhaps; but as the, well, we'll call it secret giving here, happened across the political spectrum, it would appear as though there was a fairly equal distribution of private funding. So if what is driving these people are a fear of smoke filled rooms, well, neither side had any apparent advantage.

“The gubernatorial general election was not a different kind of politics. It was the same old same old: Secret spenders, no accountability,” reports MCFN director Rich Robinson. So who are they supposed to accountable to? Why should a private individual have to account for his actions in the mere support of a political candidate or political creed anyway? It surely is no more than an expression of free speech, isn't it? Is free speech the greatest thing since sliced bread? Should someone wish to keep his face from the public view, why ought we not respect that wish as much as any public expression?

The only even semi-rational defense would be to stave off the buying an election, Yet isn't that the point of any given electioneering, up to and including TV ads? So what's the point?

This is nothing more than self proclaimed public interest groups acting as busybodies for a public which didn't ask for their help in the first place. If there is a real threat to our liberties, it is from them, not anonymous donors to political action groups. When they have the right to tell us as a matter of course how we are to spend our own money, we are indeed under the specter of Big Brother.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sting of Kilpatrick will linger a long while

It is, in many ways, the saga which never ends. But the fact is, the specter of Kwame Kilpatrick just keeps hanging over Detroit.

The latest issue has to do with the fact that the former Mayor used campaign funds for personal use; namely, that his lawyers in the text message scandal were paid out of it. It is a clear violation of state law.

But rather than accept a much smaller fine as proposed last year by then Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Kilpatrick bid his time and never took the deal. Now, new Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is insisting on a fine of close to a million bucks.

All of this is before the former Mayor must return to Wayne County to face federal charges for public corruption next year. The saga simply has no end in sight; it appears as Detroit will be paying for their old leader's miscues for a long time to come. This cannot help current Mayor Dave Bing or the Common Council move Detroit forward. Indeed, it surely will do the average citizen little good.

The sad fact is that the average citizen is exactly who put Kilpatrick in power in the first place. Hopefully, there will be a lesson learned, even if after years of it being taught: keep a better eye on your elected officials. When Detroiters learn that lesson, they shall indeed better serve themselves.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Abortion Kills a Human Being

Pope Benedict XVI has said that human embryos are 'dynamic, autonomous individuals.' It is a good and clear statement of what seems a reasonable philosophic position: human beings have human babies.

It is high time that we state things clearly and emphatically where human life is at stake. We aren't talking about potential, we are talking about reality. The sooner we begin to emphasize that, the sooner we might begin to convince all but the hardest hearted that abortion is a great moral evil.

This is not a wholly, or even particularly, religious position, yet many will attempt to dismiss it as such. Concluding that, again, human beings have human children is no more inherently religious than asserting that rape, theft, or kidnapping is evil. Not that the religious aspect of this or any other moral question isn't important, but only that, when trying to convince someone not particularly or even openly hostile to religion that something is wrong we cannot use religion to defend it. We have to play the game on their field until such time as they come around to a more inclusive point of view.

Fortunately their field offers arguments not directly religious. We have defenses based on reason: if they are reasonable people, they will eventually begin to see these for themselves. If they are not reasonable people, well, they face a future of their making, either secular or religious, at their own peril.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Catholics and Politics

Metro Detroit is hosting a gathering of liberal Catholics this weekend. The local Church authorities are warning the faithful to stay away, as the meeting will broach subjects contrary to Catholic teaching. Interestingly, the group appears made up largely of older Catholics. Are we left to believe that we are seeing a rebirth of the Faith, as such a demographic indicates that liberal Catholics are slowly fading? Let's hope so.

The Michigan Legislature has begun asking for redistricting plans, the first step towards redrawing the state's political districts. What will happen in the end we cannot know precisely, but look for Detroit to lose influence while suburban and rural areas gain a bit. That's simply the nature of the beast: Detroit is losing people while the rest of the state gains. But watch out: there will be all kinds of pigheaded charges as the process plays out. Any attempt to take seats from our fair city will be fought tooth and nail, mainly by the Democrats, Detroit and other urban though less populated areas are where their greatest influence resides. Redistricting will not likely be a fair fight.

That's it today; a Saturday two-for. Let us know what you think.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Who Needs Whom?

New polling suggests pretty heavily that the Democrats and President Barack Obama need the so-called moderate vote in order to win elections, while the GOP can rely on the conservative vote quite readily. This can be interpreted in several ways, but perhaps the most insightful is this: moderates aren't really moderates, as a group, but, rather, lean towards more traditional and familiar thoughts whenever in doubt.

That makes sense, in the end. For when there is a crisis, don't most people act based on what they know? When President Reagan was elected back in 1980 to stem the tide of Democratic and hence more liberal leadership, what was his appeal? To make America great again, based on the traditional American values of individualism and hard work. When the GOP ran the tide last November, what was the big question: nothing less than obtrusive, interfering government trampling the rights of the people.

The moderates responded as they knew how, by throwing out those who did not support real American values. That's why conservatives don't have to appeal too overtly to the presumed middle: they aren't actually in the center after all. They are in fact more moderate to conservative rather than being between the left and the right as they are generally portrayed.

Given the fact that so few people, about 20 percent or one in five, call themselves liberal, and it seems that what we truly have in our nation today is an overall aversion to liberalism. Even the presumed center appears to harbor similar doubts about the left, seeing as the Democrats need to get about 60% of the middle of the road vote to win major elections. It is a telling statistic, and does not bode well for any long term success for the party of Jefferson and Jackson.

Of course, the Democratic Party left the beliefs of those American stalwarts behind eons ago. But that is a tale for another time.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Consenting Adults; So What?

One of the most pervasive while also one of the most ridiculous arguments in favor of certain presumed freedoms is the one about consenting adults. Simply put, it makes moral a given action on the grounds that the folks involved are in agreement as to their joint participation. It is ultimately a wholly untenable position.

To begin with, if all that is required to make something ethically acceptable is the agreement of the parties involved, then we really ought to allow duels. The (presumably) two participants agreed to take shots at each other. So no matter how barbaric, as they freely entered into the contract we would have to let them fire away.

Absurd. Yet when applied to other moral questions, and prostitution for example is one key area where the adage is often used, it is something accepted as axiomatic. The truth is that you would be on stronger ground simply to argue that paying for sexual favors is not in itself wrong rather than to say it's okay because there was no coercion.

The mere fact that people are willing to sell themselves that way while there are also folks willing to buy the, ahem, product, in fact reeks of coercive effects on its own standing. One person wants money, the other wants something which money can buy. A certain coercive effect is in fact at work. Still, even setting that point aside begs the question. The best answer is that nothing is good solely because those involved want to to do it. The act in question must be good on its own stead lest those involved be acting on mere impulse or selfishness. Or, indeed, actual immorality.

This is not to say that a free will act without pressure isn't a factor in moral decision making. It goes without saying that for most personal acts to be moral they must be entered into with a reasonable amount of freedom. In marriage, for example, both the man and the woman involved must do so of their own consent. Yet a hypothetical marriage between a man and a woman both of whom are free to marry is itself already moral. We are in fact beyond the issue of the morality of the potential nuptials by the time the question of will enters the fray.

In short, when considering the rightness of something there are two questions at hand. The first and most important query is whether the act is morally right, seen objectively, on its own. The second is whether those involved are the proper parties to it. Their consent is never a point until after the moral correctness of the action is assured.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Human Needs, Animal Needs

Today we are expecting potential record high temperatures, after setting a record yesterday with a high of 94 degrees. Naturally enough, this is bringing out the precaution parade, and not without good cause. High temperatures can affect certain groups of people more seriously than others. Senior citizens and children are more likely to suffer ill effects of the heat, and we are advised to keep an eye on them, as well as to drink plenty of fluids and stay cool ourselves.

Such is all well and good. There is nothing wrong with the general community having basic concern for their fellow man. Yet what we cannot help but find just a little disconcerting is that, in today's Detroit Free Press anyway, right on the heels of cautions for human beings are the worries of animal advocacy groups that we should mind to keep our pets safe from the weather as well.

This is not to say that anyone should mistreat their pets, of course. But it does leave us to wonder: when we place animals on very nearly the same plain as people, being urged to worry about them very nearly as much as actual human beings, have we perhaps made an equivocation which is simply not particularly valid? Especially as the Freep article goes so far as to give specific advice on caring for pets ahead of offering similar advice on the care of people, it would seem that we are putting the animals ahead of ourselves.

That we should care for our pets is simple decency. Yet caring for people is more important and our actions and articles ought to reflect that. It is disconcerting when those groups such as journalists who presume to speak for human goodwill advise us on how to treat animals ahead of how to treat real people. We wonder how much they may actually care for us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ozone Action Days

We are now well beyond the start of the Ozone Action Day season, according to SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. And although today is not an action day, SEMCOG's website reminds us to be aware of them and to check frequently about when they occur. People are encouraged to not gas up their cars or mow their lawns on Ozone Action Days.

Go ahead and do it anyway. Indeed, look for such days and gas up and mow on them precisely because our local government has said we should not. Nature is incredibly resilient and will survive what little real effect gassing up and cutting grass may do. But more than that, it would serve as a protest against precisely the kind of government intrusion into our lives that is evidence by declaring such days.

To be sure and fair, avoiding certain things on Ozone avoidance days has not been made a point of law. But that step is surely somewhere down the road. The first step is to condition people that the government knows best, that SEMCOG is smarter than and better than you and ought to be obeyed. The slippery slope is exactly how basic human freedoms are the surest way eroded.

So look out for them, and purposely violate them. You're serving a purpose by asserting your authority over your property.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recall Attempts are Undemocratic

About a dozen Republican elected officials, among them Governor Rick Snyder, are faced with recall petitions. So it goes; it is difficult to call such drives undemocratic, seeing as the recall process is written into state law.

But we'll call these efforts undemocratic anyway. It seems that there are folks out there, generally liberals, quire frankly, who simply cannot accept that the results of elections sometimes go against them. So when it happens, they have to do whatever they can to muck up the running of the government and disallow the public will enacted through the ballot box to take effect. They have to pull every lever they can in self serving attempts, like petulant children with a temper tantrum, to get their way.

Granted, the Michigan Constitution is without judgment on what ought to qualify an officeholder for recall. What that means, basically, is that anyone may be subject to recall for any reason. So what is happening is that the Democrats, merely because they do not like the political actions of the elected Republicans, are attempting to have them removed from office. The exact nature of each individual recall is not important to the point here, as they are all nothing more than political gripes.

It would have been interesting to see what those same people would have said should conservatives have tried to recall former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Yet the fact is that conservatives and the GOP didn't. They recognized that she had been legitimately elected and that the only proper recourse (outside of some kind of genuinely horrid action) was to try and see her removed during the regular election cycle. They did not try any shallow political gamesmanship but rather accepted things as they were. They did not try to stall progress in Michigan by creating a sideshow which shall only cost time and effort which would be better spent making our state productive again.

Our Democratic friends feel the need to redo any election which does not suit their purpose. It is an attitude unworthy of anyone who truly respects democracy, and speaks loudly of their real feelings about the voters.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Abortion and Capital Punishment: not the same

In the great and ongoing debate about abortion, it is often suggested that opposition to abortion and opposition to the death penalty go hand in hand. Perhaps so; capital punishment should no longer be a shirt sleeve issue for Catholic conservatives, seeing as Rome has spoken so forcefully about it in recent years. Still, it does appear that the one question does not so easily blend with the other.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

"If however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." (#2267)

While this is obviously a very strong statement against capital punishment, it does not condemn it. Indeed it seems to say that, though 'practically nonexistent' the right of the state to use the death penalty does exist. It almost sounds like the admonition against violence or war: it should be used as a last recourse, when no other option exists.

So tying abortion to capital punishment, especially in a state such as right here in Michigan, where capital punishment has not existed since the middle of the 19th Century, indeed to place the death penalty under the umbrella of 'life issues' seems nothing short of a brazen attempt to call conservative anti-abortion activists hypocrites. Don't misunderstand this: if getting rid of capital punishment would in turn rid us of abortion, then we should do it.

But it won't. It would only force the pro-abortion crowd to find another bad name to call the right wing. Because they, unlike the Church and true conservatives, do not want what's right. They want what they want because they want it. They want it, not on grounds of true morals, but on the selfish grounds of mere human will.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian, Detroit's own and national proponent of assisted suicide, has passed away this morning at Beaumont Hospital.

Known colloquially as Dr. Death, Kevorkian certainly knew how to draw a crowd and was unabashed in his belief ion a supposed right to die. It is somewhat ironic that he died quietly. Yet no matter what we may think of that, no matter how venom either side on the issue may want to inject into any eulogy about him, our duty now is simple and direct: pray for him.

It is presumably not something he would want himself. That is not, however, the point. Nor is the point today to reinvigorate the debate about any right to die. The point is that, as his soul has passed on, we are where we can really do the most good him. We can ask for the mercy of the Father, and hope that Kevorkian himself somehow made amends before he left his earthly bonds. Because right now, what he did and supported isn't important. Where he is going is what matters, and we should wish him the best on that account.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More Alternative Education?

A local school district, Warren Consolidated to be exact, has taken up the problem of what to do about dropouts. Nothing new there, except that the dropouts they are concerned with are those leaving the Alternative High School the district supports. In the words of an administrator, “We are looking for an alternative to alternative education.”

Now, you really should not be snickering at that. It happens all the time in education: every one must be educated, willing or not, and if we can only just find the way to reach them they will become educated.

Right. The education establishment refuses to accept that some young folks simply will not be educated. That isn’t necessarily the fault of educators; indeed it’s likely not the fault of theirs in the overwhelming majority of cases. But it is pig headed to think that everyone will learn. That attitude simply forces us to keep students in the system who should not be there yet are, to the detriment of those really trying to learn and the teachers really trying to teach.

Yes, state and federal laws (think No Child Left Behind, that onerous boondoggle of W’s) compel us to such nonsense. Yet a lot of that was brought on in the long term by the education elite who promised the education of every single student. You got what you asked for, guys. Deal with it.

Unless you can find an alternative to that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Single Mothers and the Minumun Wage

A recent study based on the Basic Economic Security Tables for Michigan has concluded that people can't live on minimum wage.

Shocked? You shouldn't be. Yet what is so often forgotten is that no one generally has to live on it. The overwhelming majority of minimum wage earners are exactly those who don't need to live off of it. They are teenagers and others on the first step of the employment ladder, or the second wage earner in a traditional household. In short, they are, generally speaking, those just getting their feet wet economically. They're getting job experience; what ought they expect when just starting out?

But that is not the real intent behind the study. One of the people it focused on was a 23 year old unmarried mother of two, trying to support herself and her kids working two jobs which paid between $9.50 and $13 bucks an hour. Another is a single mother of three who makes $7.54 an hour as a telemarketer. Single mothers... is anyone willing to stand up and point out that these are not traditional families?

How did they become single mothers? It doesn't matter, because we will be told that that's none of our business as a society. Yet when these single moms want sympathy, and a liberal organizations such as Wider Opportunities for Women and the Michigan League for Human Services, who created the report using public data, want attention to their views on how the government ought to run the economy, then their lot in life is supposed to be our concern.

To call that effrontery is to understate the point. Yet simple common sense says that if these single moms had waited to have kids until they were in a more stable and traditional home environment, or at least until they had gained the skills themselves to qualify for better jobs, then their current wages wouldn't be such an issue.

This is not to disparage all single moms. Some are in that position through no fault of their own, to be sure. But as to the ones who are in such circumstances as the direct result of free will actions of their own, it is fair to wonder exactly how much society ought to change for their benefit. Simple Christian charity indeed calls on us to help...but more for the sake of the children involved. They are the innocents. Their mothers are all too often merely insisting that they be allowed to act any way they want, then demanding society help hold the bag.

It is a point which should not be lost on the larger society when considering wealth and poverty issues.