Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dumbing Down Continues

Students in several school districts in Michigan are being exposed to yet another educational innovation designed to spur their thinking. It's called 'visible thinking' or 'See Think Wonder'. And, on the surface, it's stupid.

An example of this is found in today's Detroit Free Press. An instructor is showing her fourth grade class an enlargement of a famous Norman Rockwell 'Freedom of Speech' painting where a man is addressing a town hall meeting. Students are asked to give their thoughts on what they think the painting is about, as an exercise in getting them to, well, think. The idea is defended on the ground that we aren't teaching students to get into a 'deeper analysis of the subject areas'.

Let's see: we show students something about they know not what, and expect a deep analysis of the issues. Well, that beats the hell out of actually teaching them the issues important in American History, doesn't it? Let's show them a picture, ask them what they think, and call it education. Small wonder we don't know math and science, let alone history.

What exactly do we get out of students following this teaching method? "I think he's giving a speech or presentation", said one. Which, of course, he seems to be. Other students, at the teacher's prompting, notice how the man is dressed (wait a minute: isn't the point to find out what the students believe they see? Why the prompt?) differently than others in the painting. None of what the kids say is untrue...but then, none of it exactly qualifies as deeper analysis of the subject either.

What we have here is a perfect example of what's wrong with American education: we have bought into ideas which do not educate, but sure make the teacher's job easier. The classroom teacher doesn't have to actually bother teaching the students about the meaning of the painting. She can just let them figure it out for themselves. Never mind the prickly details without which we cannot possibly go into 'deeper analysis' of any given subject. Never mind that Norman Rockwell had something very definite in mind when he painted it, and that he almost certainly didn't care what fourth graders might think about his work in open ended discussion. Never mind either that the point in question, a necessary and proper reverence for freedom of speech and democracy, certainly is not served without due instruction about what freedom of speech in a democratic society must mean.

But wait a minute: they get prompted. Yes; but this only furthers the hypocrisy of the education elite. "Teachers now are back in the role of learners as much as they are as teachers", says Principal Adam Scher of Way Elementary School in Bloomfield Hills. "The role of the teacher is much more about facilitating thinking, getting to where they need to go." We can infer quite a few things from this attitude. If the teachers are learners too, who's doing the teaching? If they're only facilitators, why prompt? Why not let the kids go totally on their own, if it's their ability to think on their own which we want? Are you teaching, or are you facilitating? They seem to be different things. If your job is to get them where they need to go, aren't you teaching in the traditional sense under more vague terminology (and what's your point if you are)? And how exactly can we think on our own without sufficient background knowledge anyway?

Or are we to believe that our teachers don't know their subjects? They surely don't have to, using this approach. We need to realize why facilitation is bad education: would you teach you child not to put his hand in a fire because he'll get hurt, and perhaps badly hurt, or would let him stick it into the flames and find out for himself? Social Services will want a word with you if you do. And they should.

All the while we tolerate that precise sort of idiocy from the people in front of our classrooms. We wonder why so many colleges require remedial work. And we wonder why we have trouble competing in the world market, much less even though much more critically why our kids have increasing trouble understanding right from wrong. If they get to figure it out for themselves, then they most certainly will.

It is not a pretty picture. One does wonder what Rockwell would paint to illustrate that.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Hidden Face of Terrorism

Curling is a sport which has been rather in vogue the last few years, mostly, we think, because of its appearances in the more recent Winter Olympic Games. It is a fun sport; we fully understand the allure which it holds for many Americans, especially here in the Detroit area. With our proximity to Canada, the attraction is all the closer. Americans can go to Canada to try out the game.

But not very easily. One of the more minor (yet still important) ramifications of the War on Terror has been the effect it has had on the chance for Americans to curl. The Roseland Curling Club in Windsor, Ontario, right across the river from Detroit, reports that its ice rentals are down by 80%. The main reason is because Americans aren't crossing the border to play. The main reason for that is that it has become difficult to, well, not cross the border, as our Canadian friends allow us into their country without much fuss. Yet American border guards, our own countrymen, are making it too hard to return home.

This isn't to blame the guards themselves; they're working on order and have little leeway in what they do. It has all to do however with our approach to the threats which, to be fair, are very real in our world. Yes, terrorism is a true and potentially violent evil which may cause harm to us. Yet, as has been said many timers by many people, when we must change our way of living because of it, the terrorists have won anyway.

Our borders must be secure. But can it be seriously argued that the average American who simply wants a night out trying something which looks like fun is any kind of threat to our security? Are we actually helping the situation when we make it tough for our Canadian neighbours to make a buck or two while offering the convenience to try curling? No; we're just making our own lives and that of our Canadian friends less enjoyable. To be fair, there in our case a local rookery: the Detroit Curling Club. But that facility rents its ice time out very quickly, and that point itself fails to address the question of the free movement of law abiding American citizens.

It is high time to rethink our border policies. If a guard has reason to suspect someone of evil intentions, then make them pull over for a more thorough investigation. Less than that, if the paper work is in order and nothing raises an alarm, no one should sit at the guard shanty more than a minute or two. When we make a day out hard on everyone, we only build resentment. Eventually that resentment may turn from the terrorists towards those right in front of us. Turning us against ourselves may turn out the terrorists' greatest victory.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poor Thought

We have spoken in the past about how many shallow thinkers are knee jerk, and that liberals take advantage of that. I suppose it is only fair to allow that there are knee jerks across the political and philosophic spectrum. Of course there are; but the more conservative, more traditional thinking ones, however shallow their reactions may be, are safer than the rest.

Those who react to stimuli rather than act on principle, the ones who respond in selfish ways to the conditions in their lives instead of really thinking about what they might truly need or what may be best for society in general, pose a threat to everyone's well being. This includes, yes, right wing reactionaries. But they at least have principle on their side, however tenuously the connection may be. They are, dare I say it, on the right side. We must keep them in our camp for two reasons.

First, if someone is starting from the correct point of view there is a greater chance of leading them into holding the right attitudes for the right reasons. If the foundation is there, a sturdy building may be built. Second, in holding to the best principles they are themselves more likely to lead others into the fold. Perhaps their obstinacy may demonstrate to others that they might actually be on to something, especially considering that truth is its own best calling card, one which can be read even in the dimmest light.

Liberal knee jerks, however, on their own level teach selfishness. They may occasionally lead someone onto the path of righteousness, but that would be incidental in the way that a bad example is good as a lesson in error. Poor thinking by and large only leads to poorer thinking.

We see that in the sexual permissiveness of our society. One of the reasons, for example, that gay marriage is wrong is that acceptance of one type of error easily leads to acceptance of other errors. Once a taboo is broken, and that could be any taboo mind you, it is easier to break more even in seemingly unrelated areas. For we are creatures of habit, and poor habits in one aspect of our lives may lead to poor habits in others. If sexual morality is off the table as liberals wish, then it really is a short hop to wondering whether stealing is wrong. For the moral imperative, the Tao of C.S. Lewis if you will, is a whole. Disease in one part of society is bad for the entire community just as a cancerous lung threatens the whole body.

True, conservative knee jerks may drive people away by their callousness, and shame on them for that when and as it may happen. Yet even then, if we are to believe that we are actually responsible for ourselves, the person driven off is no less responsible for seeking the just and true. For we are still obliged to seek the true and the just and act accordingly. It is how we become better people.

So cut the right wing curmudgeon a little slack. He at least has tradition on his side. The left have only the shallow pool of selfishness. It can dry out in the sun. A pool of good thought is more readily able to become an ocean of justice. It will withstand the heat of the moment.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Michigan Statehood

Today in Michigan history, Michigan became Michigan. But it wasn't easy.

Early on, what became our state was more or less bypassed by the westward expansion of the United States. Everyone, it seemed, went west, so that several areas west and south of us became states before we did. Relatively few people made the right turn at Toledo, thinking Michigan a swampland which didn't offer much, and wagons went better straight anyway on dry land. So Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and other areas were given statehood first. That's where the people went.

The opening of the Erie Canal made Detroit a larger economic player in the developing Middle West. Goods crossed New York into Buffalo, and came down Lake Erie into Detroit, or across Canada into the city's waiting arms. Yet even with that event, in 1825, Michigan was still 12 years from taking a seat in Washington.

Perhaps the famous border war with Ohio got in the way. You know, the one we continue today with that University down south. Voices were raised, militias assembled, and one person killed, all over a strip of land which ran out from Toledo, which at the time both the State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan wanted, for the shipping industry involved. Ohio was a state already, so Ohio got Toledo. But we got the Upper Peninsula, thought of as a Seward's Folly (before Seward) yet which paid great dividends with the copper boom of the 1800s. Wouldn't you rather have da UP dan Toledo anyhoo?

More recently, Michigan was the only state to lose population during the 2010 Census. One wonders if all the early tribulations along with more recent ones such as the Census and the lack of economic diversity led to a bit of a pessimistic outlook on the part of Michigan residents. Maybe so, maybe no; but despite the low points of our history, we've had our highs, and we'll have more soon, whenever history is ready. Michigan is not just the Great Lakes State, it's a great state period.

Happy Birthday, Michigan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Being Moral

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 a phrase used as though self evident, 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, as is generally the case anyway, actual immorality.

This is not to say that making 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 such 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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

First Principles

Much fascinating discussion can be had with an attempt at affirming the critical role reason and objectivity play in our political and social discussions. It all begins at the beginning, so to speak. One such starting point held by those against objective norms and conservative principles is a statement something like: nothing can be true for all times and all places.

That was a fun one back during sophomore year at university, when we discussed whether such a statement itself could be true for all times and places. But beyond such nonsense which such assertions naturally invite, it is clear that the statement cannot be true. For if it is, then there is an objective standard of right and wrong in that there is no right and wrong. And if it's not, then there must be standards of objectivity generally.

So where would we begin? Where would we seek this objectivity?

Without self-evidence, nothing can be proven; so says the British author and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis. He is quite right. Without axiomatic statements, things true in and of themselves, things so obviously right that no one can deny them and still call themselves rational, things which are Reason Itself, we can make no progress within the realms of morals, politics, law, or even simply treating the cranky old next door neighbor with charity. Without things which must be accepted on their own terms, which it would be social and personal suicide to deny, we cannot know what to do even in our daily lives.

It is in this realm that most questions can be answered. Abortion is wrong because human beings have human babies. Gay marriage is wrong because it is self evident that we are made to be male/female couples. Some extrapolation may be necessary as circumstances may dictate, but all morals begin with dogmatic statements.

This means that any decent consideration of what laws we must have must start with a reflection of how much they are in line with the first principles. Do they codify these axioms or disparage them? Do they encourage society to live within them or do they in fact deny their worth? Will proposed laws make us better or worse people?

It all starts from the right beginning. If we choose to start from somewhere else, we will end up who knows where. We might, by happy accident, arrive at our destination with good laws and a good society. But there's no point taking that chance when we have a handy road map, available to all who will have it, at our beck and call.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Detroit Districts and the Michigan Primary

The first maps for the seven City Council districts which must now be set up in Detroit according to the City Charter revisions which were approved last November, have been released. Once everyone has had their say, they almost surely will not be the final map. But the real problems with Detroit will not be solved by political gerrymandering. They will be solved when the people elect good representatives. Draw all the lines you want, but remember, a rose by any other name...

Newt Gingrich has won South Carolina. Now we have had three Republican contests, and three Republican winners now that Rick Santorum has proven the actual winner of the Iowa Caucuses. We can now safely discount the Romney win in New Hampshire: it was in his backyard and everyone figured he'd win it anyway. We shouldn't put too much faith in Gingrich's win Saturday either. Sure, since 1980 the Republican who won South Carolina has been the eventual nominee, but that really doesn't mean anything. It as likely as not is just a statistical anomaly.

It is probably safe to count Ron Paul out. Yes, he could shock the GOP, but our money isn't on it. The occasional surprise notwithstanding, he'll poll his 10-15 percent and that's all he'll poll. But having said all that, where does this leave the Republican Party?

Apparently with a more wide open race than it anticipated. It may even be such that the Michigan Republican Primary, slated for February 28th, might actually be in play. The Michigan vote might matter. Farther down the line, there's even talk of the first real convention battle since Ford and Reagan in 1976.

It's all just talk right now, but still, the primary election season may be worth watching after all. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Abortion costs a Human Life

On this, the anniversary of one of the most heinous Supreme Court decisions in our history (it's right up there with if not more awful than Dred Scott) we must take a moment and consider what our nation has become since then. Do we really support life when we give of our money and time to soup kitchens and homeless shelters yet will not protect people at their most defenseless?

We do not. What the liberals who have approached me over the abortion question always seem to fall back on is that I need to put all 'life' issues on the same plain. I need to find a balance, of which, they assert, abortion is only one issue.

It may well be only one issue, yet if it is it is the issue. It is based on the dignity of human life, which is what drives any respect for humanity in general. Why should the poor be helped? Because of their dignity as human beings. Why should people not be murdered or stolen from or raped or kidnapped? Because of their dignity as human beings. Where does this dignity begin?

It begins in the womb. Simple Reason tell us as much: human beings have human children.

If you won't support life at its beginning, when it can do nothing for itself, how can I trust that you really will support human dignity later? How can I even trust what you call human dignity? If I can't trust you on that, then, quite frankly, your opinion on education and the environment and our role is world affairs must be held suspect as well. If the dignity of the human person isn't first in your thoughts, then I have difficulty believing in your sincerity on lesser causes.

End abortion now. Work for and vote for the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Then we might discuss, with some promise, what to do about ancillary questions.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Abortion is wrong

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.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shallow Words

We have pointed out many times the number of empty words, words often used without real meaning such as peace, freedom, and education. There are also words used with very definite intentions even though they appear to be innocuous. Perhaps first and foremost among them are 'diversity' and tolerance'.

We are told that we ought to embrace diversity and that we ought to be tolerant. Interestingly enough, the very first problem with these term is no different than testing the use of calls for education or peace or freedom. When someone asks us to accept diversity and become tolerant, we must ask: tolerate what? Tolerate it why? Accept what type diversity? All of it, or only parts of it? For of course all that diversity really means is that A is different from B, and all tolerance means is allowing something to happen or be. It is only through the answers to these question that we can really know what the person is talking about or what they want us to do.

So you see, to actually understand what the preachers of tolerance and diversity want we find ourselves in the same boat as our friends who preach freedom: once we begin the discussion in detail, we aren't talking about toleration or diversity. We're talking about, at the least, acceptable personal and social behavior, and, at the most, good old right and wrong. For surely in asking those necessary questions we aim to draw conclusions about propriety or morals. Indeed, even the person asking for diversity must mean that they want you to accept what they support as right and true. If your compliance didn't matter to them, they wouldn't make any demands upon you.

Another and better question to ask is, if all it's really about is accepting people as they are (which, you may notice, in itself only begs the same questions as descriptive words alone do) then why don't you tolerate me? I'm diverse. All right, so maybe I am intolerant of your creed. Well, then. Put that in your pipe and smoke it too, if it's all about tolerance.

But, as we all know, it isn't about tolerance and diversity. It's about making the more conservative among us accept what we cannot. The fact of the matter is they surely do not appreciate our diverse opinions; they most certainly do not wish to tolerate us. And why? Simply because we disagree with them, and have the audacity to say so.

That leaves us with one final question. Who between us is truly audacious?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Obama's Disregard for Canada and Ourselves

President Barack Obama has rejected the Keystone Pipeline project, despite the fact that it would create 20,000 direct jobs. Who would those jobs go to, you might ask? Mostly union members, the exact people who seem to have wed themselves to the Democrats without any real real concern for what Democratic policies must actually mean for the working stiff. Is there a lesson in all this? One would think so; yet they'll still vote for him in November.

The President had three and a half years to make up his mind about the Pipeline, then had the audacity to blame the GOP for his dismissal of it. What more needed to be done? This is little more than an elections year ploy towards the environmental left, a group for which many if not most union members have little regard. But will they ask whether the President is selling them out because of this? It's highly doubtful; they may even bend over backwards to find reason to support him anyway. Has Big Labor ever stopped and asked if maybe they're being played?

Meanwhile, what does this say about our regard for Canada? This is costing them time, effort, and jobs as well. They're trying to be good neighbours by selling to us first, and we spit at it. What kind of message does that send? Isn't it better to get oil more locally rather than from halfway around the world and stay involved in the Middle East? Call it dirty oil if you will, but we'll never have a war for oil with Canada, you know. Now they'll simply sell it elsewhere.

We have a President who hurts America and her greatest ally and friend. He hurts the very people who are supposed to be among his core supporters. Yet it will all mean nothing to his apologists.

But it does mean something to the rest of us. November 2012 cannot come quickly enough.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Troy Recants

Well, the city of Troy is going to get its transit center after all. The new model will be scaled down and cost around $2.2 million less than in the original plan, and will be paid for entirely by a federal grant.

So much for looking out for the taxpayers. But such actions are hardly unexpected. With Michigan Governor Rick Snyder behind the project, a switch is not surprising. Further, considering that Troy business leaders have pledged to foot the annual costs of the center for all times it is small wonder that one individual should change their minds. It gives them a chance to look as though they care about Troy and Michigan on Washington's dime. For after all, Councilman Wade Fleming, only taking $6.3 million from the Feds is certainly a more responsible position than the whole $8.5. Yes, our federal deficit will be fixed with that sort of thinking. Yes, sir.

Multiply that over the dozens and dozens of federally backed programs and we might pare the projected deficits to under ten trillion. But we get what we pay, well, what the taxers and spenders pay for. And that can buy a lot of bull.

But that's okay. Our grandkids will be manning the shovels to clean it up with. And what a pretty transit they'll have for it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Monday Holiday Law

Today is Martin Luther King Day! Of course, today really would have mattered little to him, as it isn't his birthday or anniversary or anything important to him or his life. But thanks to the Monday Holiday Law, most holidays are celebrated on the Monday after a truly important day, if it falls on a Sunday, or on the nearest Monday if it happens to fall at a different time of the week. Why do we do it? So that workers may enjoy an extended weekend several times a year. Perhaps too so that it may make the work week easier to plan if we simply get the day off at the start of the week rather than as an interruption to the flow of things on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

But have we ever considered that such a practice is immeasurably insulting to the people and the events and the causes which we celebrate? We are speaking about people who gave their lives so that we could be here today to grill or watch ballgames or what have you, causes which speak to the soul, and events so important to our history as a nation that without whose remembrance we commit a great affront to our collective memory. And what do we do?

Shove them around the calendar for our convenience.

Wow. That Dr. Martin Luther King was such a great guy, let's make his birthday a holiday. Only let's make it on the nearest Monday if January 15th inconveniently falls on a Tuesday this year, so that we can enjoy a prolonged vacation. Whatever we do, we better remember our heroes in the way which suits us best: by us taking time off to do as we please. That's what matters: our convenience.

That's simply wrong.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Expecting English isn't Wrong

The single most important way that we can get along with our fellow man is to understand him. This understanding can occur in many ways, but the critical one is through language. We have to be able to understand what he says in order to get along well with him. And that is why anyone coming to America to live must learn English.

This is not a xenophobic assertion. It applies to any situation where a newcomer enters a foreign nation. If someone were to take a job in Warsaw it would be incumbent upon them to learn Polish. The Poles would not be obliged to learn English for the new arrival's benefit. Such a fact is so obvious that it should not have to be stated. For one thing, it's a practical necessity. For another, it only shows a decent respect for one's new culture. You're in their house: you do things, as a rule, their way.

To be sure, there's nothing wrong with a neighborhood of, say, ethnic Poles living in the United States having signs in their stores in Polish. Nor is it wrong to keep your old customs within your own household or group. But if you really want to become part of a new culture, and presumably you do if you've moved into one, then you are more obliged to learn the language of your new home than your new neighbors might be to learn yours. That might be nice of them but it is not obligatory. They were here first; you came to them. You're the one who needs to adapt.

If you insist on having things your way, well, it is that which is truly arrogant as opposed to the majority of the nation wishing to keep things as they are. Why should a newcomer demand such consideration? But more, it will in the long run keep you separate. Language will be a wedge which will keep you from being understood and accepted. That would not be the fault of the general populace. And you and your family will be the ones who suffer most.

Anyone short of thieves and ne'er do wells should be welcome in America. It is our reasonably open borders which made us great. But if you really want to be an American, speak English. Only then will you fully understand Her.

Friday, January 13, 2012

We Didn't Ask for the Help

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.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Libertarian Paradox

There is a certain allure to libertarianism within the conservative community. The stress on individual freedom definitely has its merits. Human freedom, personal liberty; these are terms which are deeply embedded in the American psyche, perhaps more so than anywhere else on Earth these days. So why aren't American conservatives more overtly libertarian seeing as so much of their rhetoric employs libertarian phraseology? The irony involved in answering that question lies in the very same ideal of freedom which is at the heart of the libertarian movement.

Libertarians preach freedom. But the trouble is that, at the end of the day, freedom is a means, and not an end.

When someone says that they are for freedom, can we ever really drop the subject at that? Might anyone actually say: Oh, he's for freedom, so we know where he stands. If we do, we are pretty close to talking nonsense, don't you think? In order to really understand what our libertarian friend supports, isn't it necessary to ask: Freedom from whom? Freedom from what? Freedom to do what, and why? How might this freedom be attained and secured? Indeed, why should we think we are entitled to any sort of freedom and liberty at all? When we ask these questions, there appears one important point which sort of encompasses them all (and a great many others), a critical point which few people rarely consider.

Once we begin asking these questions, we aren't really talking about freedom, are we? Aren't we actually saying that we can only support freedom in the context of the question involved?

We're in fact talking about what might be called doing justice; it might be called The Golden Rule; it might be called ethics and morals or plain old right and wrong. But whatever we call it, we cannot call it freedom. Freedom of action, so far as it goes, must be seen as valuable only insofar as the action in question is right and just, or encourages rightness and justice. For it goes without saying (even though we are about to say it; don't you hate that?) that freedom as freedom simply means doing what you want because you want to do it. Freedom as freedom does not necessitate reflection upon whether we ought or ought not do something. It means nothing at all, on its own terms, except that Joe Smith wants such and such done and has the ability to do it, so he does it.

But when asking whether are free to do something, or whether society should sanction or prohibit a given action, well, isn't it implied that we are only truly free to do it if it's just? Isn't it in fact putting restrictions and qualifiers on our freedom? In this light, when our libertarian friends say they're for freedom, well, it's hard to take them at their word, for in the very act of making that assertion they themselves must mean they support something beyond mere freedom. When they protest torture, are they really protesting the lack of freedom of the persons tortured or the fact that torture is wrong, even if part part of the affront is denying him his freedom? When they clamor for homosexual rights, they must mean that such rights are worth support in themselves, or what's their point? Indeed, when they protest oppressive taxes and regulations, something which we right wingers can agree with them about, they must be claiming that the government is wrong to aggressively tax and regulate citizens and businesses and not, ahem, that the government is free to do so. For if freedom is our measuring stick, who's to say that the government isn't free to overtax and overspend?

We don't see how anyone can be for 'freedom' any more than they can be for 'education' or 'civil liberties' or 'peace'. But we can see how people can want to support what is right and disdain the wrong; we can understand why they would want to encourage good and discourage evil. We understand that doing good and avoiding bad is precisely what the individual and the broader society needs. That, perhaps, is the key difference between libertarians and conservatives. And it's all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Romney is on Target

Mitt Romney wins in New Hampshire. But it wasn't exactly a startling win; everyone knew he would win the Granite State anyway. So now it's on to South Carolina, where he leads, and Florida, where he leads as well. If the conservative Republicans or the Ron Paul supporters are going to make a move, they better do it soon. These early primaries are the ones which typically create the nominations.

Should Iowa and New Hampshire, or even South Carolina and Florida, have such pull? No offense to our sister states, but why should a Mitt Romney (or anyone else) effectively sew up their party's nomination based on so little? Yet that is what often happens in American politics: a few thousand people in New Hampshire - indeed only 8 in Iowa this year - appear to be handing the race to the former governor of Massachusetts. To be sure, there's more involved than that.

But how much more? Momentum being tomorrow's starting pitcher, and as the media and, to be fair, the voters themselves seem to like to anoint front runners, and it is pretty easy for those with a leg up to coast to a win. As the media depicts Romney as the eventual winner (are they making the news or reporting it?) a certain bandwagon effect is almost bound to happen. Romney will almost certainly be the Republican standard bearer.

Is that what the nation, or even the GOP, need? That's a question for history to answer. For now, well, the next step in the coronation process is South Carolina. Maybe the South Carlonians could secede again and make things interesting. Otherwise, the next big political news will likely not come before the summer conventions.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Libraries are Past their Prime

Library Larry loved his local library. So much so that when he learned that it had to cut its budget significantly for the next year he remarked, "I would gladly pay a few dollars more on my property taxes to keep that from happening."

"I wouldn't," replied Conservative Carl.

"But the community needs the library!" Larry protested.

"Why?" Carl asked. "You have books and the Internet at home. You can read and research from there. Why should I have to pay for a library you don't actually need simply because you have made the value judgment that it's necessary? I am not expected to pay for your other forms of entertainment. Why should I pay for your use of the library?"

Library Larry muttered that Carl was a fascist and stormed off.

This may or may not be an oversimplification. Yet libraries, like the print media, are fast becoming obsolete. But perhaps more importantly, why should Library Larry be seen as such a hero (he will be for some who read this) for being willing to force his neighbors to spend their money on what he likes? It's arrogance, pure and simple. Yet that attitude is the basis for an awful lot of public spending.

All democracy ultimately means is that fifty percent of the population plus one person can force everyone else to do what they want. That is not a rationale for good public policy or public spending. But it can and will create jealousies which, in the long run, will rent asunder the body politic.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Fork in the Road

"Ron, I'm a conservative. I'm not a libertarian. I believe in some government."
- Rick Santorum, from the GOP debate 1.7.2012

As though the direction of such a quote isn't obvious enough to anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of current American politics, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum shot that barb towards the decidedly libertarian Ron Paul. It perhaps best explains, concisely, anyway, the difference between right wingers and libertarians. Conservatives believe in some government.

It reminds us of James Madison's famous, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." It is precisely the sort of ideal which libertarians often forget. Of course, as so many of them don't believe in God or religion, the comment likely falls on deaf ears.

The fact is that we need some government, to borrow from Mr. Santorun again, or even the rights defended by libertarians would not be rightly defended or protected. To be sure, with the exception of the ultra libertarians who don't believe in basics such as driver's licenses, the charge isn't entirely fair. We know of few libertarians against any and all types of government.

But we do know that the type of government they want is simply not wise in the modern world. The libertarian minded like to point out that George Washington warned us against entangling foreign alliances, yet do not want to concede that Washington would have never imagined rogue nations such as North Korea or Iran having the potential nuclear power which they claim to have. Indeed, and with all due respect to the great General, even at the time he gave such advice, now taken as pearls of wisdom by certain members of the libertarian and liberal intelligensia, one has to appreciate his words held irony even then: would American independence have been gained without the aid of the French, Dutch, and Spanish?

Yes, Washington has grown too large and must be reduced. It has grown far beyond the scope which the framers intended for it. But to pare it down to the level Representative Paul and his ilk would like to see is simply dangerous. The foreign affairs sphere is precisely the area where the federal government should be the largest. Conservatives understand that; libertarians do not. Yet our nation and their creed would not survive without the knowledge and rational application of so very basic a principle.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

By Any Other Name

Have you ever noticed that libertarian and liberal both begin with the same five letters? Is it a coincidence, or not?

There are indeed folks who have begun to call themselves 'liberaltarians'. It is as though libertarians are seeing the light.

Somewhat, anyway. The precise nature of the change in heart isn't really important. The fact is that libertarians are a bit of a schizophrenic bunch: liberal on social issues while conservative on fiscal matters. It is fair to ask if you can have it both ways and maintain any philosophic consistency.

Can one really be fiscally responsible in public policy while essentially arguing that social responsibility is a radically different question? Why do we have the freedom to do almost anything we want personally (provided it does not violate that vague and rather self-serving platitude: so long as it doesn't harm anyone else) yet have no such similar freedom politically? Indeed, how can one reasonably argue that financial discipline and personal discipline do not go hand in hand? If you are no good at the one it is doubtful you can be particularly effective at the other.

In short, libertarians are essentially liberals who happen to like fiscal discipline. Yet such is like getting blood from the proverbial turnip. If folks are not personally disciplined they are not likely to be publicly disciplined. After all, we reap what we sow. Sow freedom, reap freedom, with all the errors that must grow from that field. But sow justice, the idea that some things are really right and others really wrong on their own merit, and we improve society by having bettered ourselves.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Emergency Manager Needed in Highland Park

Due to a severe budget deficit, it has been recommended by a review team that Highland Park Public Schools be brought under an emergency manager. Described as being in a financial free fall, the action would make Highland Park second to the Detroit Public Schools as the only districts under a Michigan emergency manager.

Yet refreshingly, the response of Highland Park School officials has been rather conciliatory. Superintendent Edith Hightower has said that they must live with Lansing's recommendation, and that her first job is to see that the students in her district are educated. The District is in trouble despite its efforts (it has done several things called for by the state in attempts to remedy its problems on its own) yet has acknowledged they aren't working. School board Chairwoman Alma Greer echoes the point.

Of course, someone always wants to protect their turf, and this is no less true with the Highland Park Schools. One Board member, Robert Davis, speaks of legal action to prevent an emergency manager from stepping in. He's an elected school board member, you see, and Highland Park parents will be losing their right to elect their representatives if the situation plays out as seems likely. That's garbage, of course: Highland Park citizens have and will express their opinions about state actions through their state legislators whom they elected. No one's right are being violated; Mr. Davis is simply grandstanding. A lawsuit will only drive the district further in debt or, at the best, delay necessary actions.

It is good to see that the reaction to this difficult situation is, on the whole, positive. Such an approach is best, for Highland Park, for its students, and its taxpayers. The rest of Michigan, and we will pointedly include the City of Detroit in this, should taker note. Sometimes it is best to take our medicine and get on with things.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Razor's Edge

Iowa has come and gone, and its message, simply put, is that GOP regulars don't know what they want. When someone wins a statewide race of any type by eight votes, it is safe to say that many folks either don't like what they see or are truly confused about what they want.

Does the Republican Party want to be little more than the old style eastern establishment, vaguely moderate party? Or does it wish to be more definitely conservative, at least fiscally? To go even further off the deep end, does it want somebody who isn't Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul?

Rick Santorum certainly seemed to come out of nowhere, given that he has been technically in the race since last June. That he polled so well after so many conservatives have struggled just to stay in the race for the GOP nomination is tells us that the right wing isn't happy about the prospects of a Romney Presidency. Give them someone articulate who doesn't appear too much on the fringes, and he'll get their support.

So it's on to New Hampshire, where Romney is expected to have easy pickings. Yet even there, Ron Paul Tuesday's third place finisher, has decent support, while momentum being tomorrow's starting pitcher may mean Santorum has the fuel to have a good showing there as well.

Maybe this contest won't be so short after all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Any Real News Yet?

Has anyone heard from Iowa yet?

Today is, of course, the Big Day, the day when the coronation of the GOP challenger to President Barack Obama begins. The crown may be placed upon one head and never removed, or we may have surprises in store and the entire race will actually be thrilling. Either way, what the future brings starts now.

The last polling data which we saw had Ron Paul with a lead, albeit a very slim one at 20%, while Romney was at 19% with Santorum (where'd he come from?) next at 18%. Yet a whopping 41% of Iowans claimed in the same polling to be undecided. That would seem to have left things up for grabs. But probably not; we have long suspected that an awful lot of undecideds are in fact quite decided but like to feel their options are open. We'll know tomorrow.

It would be a good thing for the Republicans if Ron Paul won Iowa. We need a strong libertarian conservative to set many things aright in our great nation. True, he comes with a lot of baggage. Yet he says things which Americans need to hear: it is at least arguably more important to secure our own borders than to play world policeman, for example. We don't fully agree with the Representative from Texas on that an other questions (a reasonably adventurous foreign policy is in our national interest, to quickly counter his libertarian shallowness on such questions) yet he speaks to American individualism in a way no one else seems to.

Should he in fact get the nomination, the GOP will be in trouble in November because, quite bluntly, he allows himself to be painted as a nut job, the cranky old uncle at family picnics who everyone tolerates, and may even smile at, while not seriously considering his words. Should he get the nod and win, we're rather sure that he will face the same troubles most Presidents have with most Congresses and not be allowed to stray too far into the abyss. In short, a good showing by Rep. Paul isn't the end of the world.

He may even carry lighter baggage than several of the more prominent conservatives such as Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry, themselves seemingly relegated to sidebar status. Let that all be as it may. The bottom line is that the Sun will come tomorrow upon somebody. Hopefully, we pray, somebody worthwhile.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Peace? Education? Ethics?

There are many things which no one seems to oppose. We're all for peace, correct? Education? The environment? Observing the Golden Rule, perhaps, if such references are not too religious? Yet so often these claims ring hollow. They must, you see: for peace and education are just words. By themselves, they really mean nothing.

It is critically important that we bring up and discuss the important questions which must follow these words if our actions are to mean anything; indeed, if the words themselves are at some point to be of value, of good use. We must ask: peace under what circumstances? Peace for whom? Because of course peace in the sense of a lack of war was very useful for Hitler and Stalin yet was a rather poor mantra for Austria or the Communist Bloc.

Simply put, the next time someone asks you if you are for peace, or education, or the environment, ask them relevant questions before you answer. Ask them peace under what conditions? Education to what purpose and in what manner? The environment for whom and how? Before these issues are addressed we have nothing but a shallow and insipid pool of vacuous semi-thought. Yet afterwards, we may actually accomplish things.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Expectations

We find ourselves this morning at the start of a New Year, when everything is supposed to be fresh and, well, of course, new. So, not entire unlike the fluff journals found conveniently at the checkout line of your favorite grocery store, it seems fitting to make a few predictions about what 2012 will bring. What can it hurt? If we're right, we get points for courage. If we're wrong, then the crystal ball was a spot of dirt on it. We call that a win/win.

Detroit will fall under the direction of a state emergency manager. There will be great convolutions as all involved try to keep that from happening, but in the end it will. Detroit is simply too messed up and wrought by infighting for any other result to be expected. The rest of Michigan will be labeled racist; it will yawn in response with the only the barest attempts at hiding the yawn from Detroit. Michigan as a state isn't racist; Detroit as a city is incompetent.

November 2012 will see the election of a Republican President and a Republican Senate. Yet unless the GOP finds a headliner with the ability to really energize the electorate, it will not be with the same excitement as the 2010 debacle suffered by the Democrats. To wit, it will be another election where people vote against certain people and ideas rather than for great new leadership. Mitt Romney will benefit from not being Barack Obama. Unless Ron Paul can truly stir things up in the primaries and force the Republicans towards a more truly libertarian/conservative, smaller government focus, our next President will be Obama lite.

Hopefully, a strongly conservative GOP led Congress will keep that in check, but, as you know, power corrupts. It would not be a huge surprise to find the Republicans drifting leftwards once in power, as the Democrats tend to drift right. Sadly, our feeling is with the former. But that may be more of a 2013 prediction than a 2012.

The Detroit Lions will not win the Super Bowl. But they might snag a playoff game for the first time since, 1991, was it? Yes, we know this isn't a political prediction. But why would they all have to be?

The new Iraq will survive without a strong US presence. Call it a hunch, for that's all it really is, the old gut feeling at work, but something has to change in the Middle East. We feel that, on the whole, the US excursion there went well. We think it will prove of lasting benefit to the people there.

The American economy will not exactly boom this year, but it will improve. Much of the reason for that will be the anticipated change in Washington. You see, the world really doesn't work on particular initiatives but on broad principle. Say all you want about analyzing the economy or the political atmosphere or whatever, people and businesses (who are moral people, moral in the sense that we must see them as a types of persons in order to judge their actions and intentions) tend to work on much more vague ideals. For businesses, even, quite frankly, for the general populace, it's GOP good, Democrats bad for business. As money makes the world go round, there will be hedging on long term financial workings until the Republicans are in control, but enough short term action to make things begin to improve.

That's five of our best guesses on what 2012 will look like. For what really will happen, keep reading. We will score ourselves honestly, we promise, if for no other reason than, we will be called on it when we err. Happy New year!