Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Life on Other Planets

We have reached the point, it seems, when almost every day an astronomer from somewhere has found a new planet. Most of them appear to be gas giants along the lines of Jupiter and Saturn in our own solar system. Yet there are some which, even from as far away as they are to us, might be Earth like enough to sustain life as we know it. That is, sentient life, beings who are as self aware as ourselves.

That these are exciting discoveries cannot be disputed. But where we have an issue about them is in the interpretation over how finding other life in the galaxy would shake our core beliefs here on our own good Earth. It has been said that we would have to completely rethink our philosophies, and even our religion, should there be other life forms similar to ours somewhere else in the universe.

Why? Would not the same God have created them too? Why would they not be as subject to sin and failure, the whole universe being imperfect, as we are? Further, why should we presume that the challenges they face aren't any different from ours? Getting food and shelter, worrying about how the kids are growing up; why should alien daily life be so much different than ours?

The best guess is that they would still have personal, political, and social struggles akin to ours. Granted, they may be superior or inferior to us in myriad ways and forms, but there is simply no reason to think that the cultures of another world would be, at their core, significantly different from ours. The whole science fiction array which we have been exposed to over the years, the presumption that they would be either smarter and better than us, or have greater technology and be a conquering race with it, is most likely exactly that: presumption and fantasy for the sake of exciting books and movies. We have no real reason to believe that even their science would not be all that different from ours, even if a little ahead of or behind our discoveries. Would the laws of physics be different elsewhere in creation?

So while finding Earth-like planets is certainly exciting, it should not change our outlook on the relationship between God and Man. It only means that He has seen fit to share Himself more generally than some may have thought. There would still be the animal desires competing with the spiritual appetite of those people. There would still be the happiness along with the drudgery of daily life. If we do ever find sentient life beyond our world, they will almost certainly be like us, at least in temperament if not in appearance. That may not be particularly exciting, once the veneer of newness wears off. Many of our scientists don't seem to want anything less than the fantastic. That speaks only of their prejudices, and we can learn from that without even venturing to Alpha Centauri.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Need for Public Libraries is Waning

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.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Standardized Tests are No Big Deal

The American Federation of Teachers, a union, is meeting in Detroit this weekend to discuss the questions which a teachers' union might discuss. Whatever all that may entail, the most widely talked about issue seems to be that of standardized testing. The AFT isn't against it, but will be voting on a measure to encourage less emphasis on the process.

The main criticism of such tests are that they don't measure 'higher order thinking skills' whatever they are (we are skeptical that the phrase means anything useful, but that is an, ahem, subject for another day) and force teachers to 'teach to the test' rather than teach all subjects thoroughly, to the point of concentrating on the students of higher ability in order to ensure overall decent test scores for their particular school.

Perhaps; we are not really sure how much of that goes on. It didn't appear to be an issue in the schools where the Wayne County Conservative Examiner sent his progeny, and they and the bulk of their peers did well enough on the standardized tests they we given. Oh, why not say it right out: we don't see much evidence that that's the case at all, based on the four school systems and three private schools with which we have intimate knowledge. Still, we realize that standardized tests cause anxiety. But why should they?

Colleges and universities typically assess new students on a 45-45-10 scale (we received this information from a source which offers ACT test prep to high school students for pay, outside of regular school hours). That is, admissions are based roughly 45% on a student's academic record, 45% on their standardized test scores, and 10% on extracurriculars and community service and activity. It hardly strikes us as an overzealous emphasis on one test.

What it tells us is that college recruiting and admissions officers want three things: solid academic performance, community awareness, and a snapshot of the student's ability to work efficiently and well in a classroom environment under some pressure (which is essentially what a standardized test measures). None of these strike us as extraordinary expectations, including that last point. There isn't a thing wrong with it. If a student can't do well on a general knowledge test by 11th Grade, which is typically when the first standardized tests for college hopefuls are administered, then there are issues beyond such tests which are at play. Home life, personal expectations, and yes, even poor schools, are at issue more so than the ACT or SAT themselves.

In short, worries over standardized test scores are much ado about nothing. Student well prepared over several years will do well. Ones who aren't won't. And it is simply stupid to blame the test or the testing culture for that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Religious Freedom and Gay Marriage

Rick Santorum and Mike Hukabee have throw their weight behind Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has said he will keep the fast food chain out of his fair city. Why have these pols weighed in about Mr. Cathy? Because he has come out (no kind of pun intended) against gay marriage.

What question this illustrates but which may not be immediately seen is the trouble when rights appear at odds with one another. It more directly applies where Mayor Menino is concerned, as he has expressed the desire to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston through the law: not allowing the proper permits to go through for the company to legally operate there. He has no such right or obligation, yet that is not our main point here.

Our main point is that we are looking smack at another freedom of religion question. No one on the left seems to appreciate that, but it is. The power of government is being threatened to keep someone from operating a business within its sphere simply because of the religious views of the company head.

This is a point which simply cannot be dismissed by letting bygones be bygones, or with each side tolerating each other. The Mayor of Boston certainly isn't exuding tolerance. But further: governments across the USA are increasingly applying gay rights statues. These statues are threatening to violate the religious freedom and the freedom of religious expression of a vast segment of the population. They are seen in the Obama Administration's wish to force Catholics to violate their codes and consciences.

Against this backdrop is the idea of gay rights and in particular gay marriage. These ideas are in direct opposition to many mainstream religious beliefs. They cannot be compromised without trampling the First Amendment. Similarly, gay marriage is a non-compromise issue as well: we either have it or we do not. So the question becomes: what does government do?

It must make a decision about the true nature of rights, that's what. It must make a decision about what is a real, true, just and moral right, and what is not. It means that we cannot pretend that the government is or even can be a moral neutral on questions of rights. It must make moral judgments, and it must enforce them.

The next question is, then, what rights will it enforce? How it is answered will go a long way in determining whether we are a moral nation or not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Pro-Religious Freedom Democrat?

Well, well, well, what have we here? A Democrat running for Congress who is pro-life and feels quite strongly that the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds in calling on Catholic institutions to violate Catholic doctrine? It seems we have: Candidate Bob Costello, who is on the August 7th ballot as a Democrat, running for Congress in Michigan's 14th District.

This is refreshing news, especially as he has the endorsement of the Michigan Right to Life PAC, something generally awarded Republicans. Further, his home page openly proclaims that the most important issue this fall is that of religious freedom. It is described as the key issue; the First Amendment is quoted verbatim, followed by a laundry list of Catholic services which would be affected by the President's proposals to mandate those services provide things against Catholic doctrine. Indeed, says the candidate through his website, though the directives clearly target Catholics, all religious organizations should be concerned, If Catholic can be ordered about by Washington, then everyone else can be as well.

Bravo, Mr. Costello. It is good to hear that there are serious Catholics who are Democrats and willing to shout it out loud. Even the secondary issue which he touts, cutting federal spending across the board, is laudable. He even says that oil prices are being controlled by an illegal 'cartel' and that we should not be held hostage by foreign nations as such. To be sure, he targets big oil in his indictment as well. But, hey, nobody's perfect.

Really, the issue we find our most serious disagreement with him is in his calls for mandatory national service for those between 17 and 24. We cannot help but feel that any call for religious freedom is muted somewhat by a call to demand service as such: perhaps some of those youth would have religious reasons for not wishing to participate. It strikes us as a serious inconsistency.

Still, a pro-life, pro-religious freedom Democrat. We would vote for him in the primary without reservation if we were a Democrat. We might even vote for him in the general election depending upon who the GOP opponent might be. Either way, it stirs hope within us that maybe, just maybe, the Democratic Party can one day be saved.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shallow Thought Cannot Defend UFC or MMA

We really hate to belabor a point. We really, truly do. We try to vary what we write about on these pages because we sincerely don't want to bore our readers or bore ourselves. Further, there's no point pigeonholing ourselves, as we would then be seen only as unable to let things go, or worse, as single subject ramblers. Our blinders are not on; we try very hard to keep them off. Yet today we feel we simply must revisit an issue which we have only just addressed.

Just the other day, July 19th, in fact, we spoke against the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as morally wrong on the very simple grounds that it is wrong to inflict pain on someone, anyone, even a willing victim, solely to inflict pain on them. The intent of each is to cause your opponent terrible enough injuries that they cannot continue the fight. Such cannot be moral nor a sport, as supporters of UFC and MMA assert.

One reader took umbrage at the point. His response was rather too simple, and indeed ignored the point we were trying to make. He said in comment: You don't have to fight, you don't have to watch, and you don't have to spend any money that might makes its way into the pockets of those of us who do so ... problem solved.

Problem so not solved. Problem not solved at all, by any rational measuring stick. The inherent weakness of that argument, again after the fact that it ignores our main point entirely, is so obvious that we amazed that anyone could possibly take it seriously.

Let's substitute something else for MMA and UFC here: murder. Do you have to participate in, watch, or pay money for a murder to realize murder is wrong? Do you have to become an active thief or kidnapper to even begin to believe those acts are wrong? Of course not. Likewise, you do not have to go anywhere near a UFC or MMA event to determine whether they are right or wrong either.

It's pretty clear that the person who wrote that weak and wobbly defense of UFC and MMA participates in them. But that means little as well: if it's wrong to do it, he's wrong, and if it's okay, he's okay. We only ask one final question on the matter, at least for the moment.

Who of us has integrity of position on the matter?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sensationalizing for No Good Reason

As if it isn't bad enough that the Federal Government has its hands in too many pies, now we have situations where one of the states has taken it upon itself to get involved in enlightening the citizenry through badgering people about what it thinks important. It should be no surprise that that State is California.

California requires this tag to be put on electrical certain electrical cords:

WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

On what grounds do they force this warning? California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment guideline states thus: “A person exposed to the chemical at the ‘no significant risk level’ for 70 years would not have more than a ‘one in 100,000’ chance of developing cancer as a result of that exposure.” Anything over that, say one extra case per 100,000 people over 70 years, means the tag has to be applied to the whatever it is at hand.

Doesn't this strike anyone as overkill? How am we supposed to feel about getting a scare that we have increased our chances of contracting cancer simply by putting a power cord on a machine? How do the people using equipment day after day react to the news that they are in such a slightly more hazardous situation than they could possibly have imagined? By what right does California think it can violate someone's comfort zone by insisting on a tag where no significant increase of contracting cancer exists?

We could dismiss it as simply the big dog of the nation throwing its weight around. But it's more than that: it serves as a reminder that government, any government, when its gets big enough feels it has the right to throw its weight around. California is darn near a nation unto itself anyway, and seeing as its infrastructure needs are well below what its citizens demand, one would think it would be more concerned with shoring up its physical plant than in promoting scare stories.

But, after all, its still a big brother government. What's not to love?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Conyers and the Lazy Voter

In the newly drawn 13th Congressional District of Michigan, Congressman John Conyers is involved in a true political race for the first time since he won a seat in the House way back in 1964. Still, he is expected to win the Democratic Primary for the seat on August 7th. Why? Name recognition.

If there is a lousy excuse to cast a vote for someone, anyone, this is it. Merely having been around for almost 50 years should not grant a guy title to an office. Yet it all too often does. And we wonder why we get such awful politicians.

The Congressman barely campaigns. He rarely participates in candidate forums; he plays it safe. Politically, it makes sense. The more off the cuff things you say the greater the chance of saying the wrong things, and debates and forums no matter how well practiced are rife with chances to say the wrong thing. Politically, it makes a kind of sense. Practically, it helps only insofar as there are lazy voters to prop up incumbents.

As such, Representative Conyers' above the fray approach works. For him. But does it work for his constituents? Not in any useful sense, no. Still, it keeps him a cushy job and, to be completely fair, how many of us would love the type of job security which the situation gives him?

What that attitude says about both Conyers and the voters of his district speaks volumes. Unfortunately, that attitude says words which neither will hear.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mixed Martial Arts are Immoral

A genre of supposed sports which has been growing in recent years involves, basically, guys beating the devil out of each other inside cages. It goes by several names, such as the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and under the umbrella of mixed martial arts. But however your view them, we can be sure of two things: that they are not true sports, and that they are immoral.

We will go a step further and add prize fight boxing into the mix. No athletic effort in which the primary aim is to hurt a human being is a sport. Intending to harm someone, as fighting until someone can continue no further is surely meant to do nothing save cause injury, is always wrong. Calling it a sport in an attempt at legitimacy is nothing less than an insult to our intelligence. We must see these things for what they are: gory rituals of false bravado.

There's no point defending them on the grounds that no one forces these guys to fight. People at one time regularly agreed to duels and we put a stop to that inane practice for the very reason that it was wrong. Agreement between two or more folks on a plan of action cannot make that action moral. What we do must be moral in and of itself to have any decent bearing at all.

If we are not careful we will devolve into a nation which likes blood and harm for its own sake. We must remember that sports are intended for recreation, for fans and players alike. If all we want is blood, we may as well live in a slaughterhouse. Yet that would be thought insane.

Events which intend to inflict real physical harm are not sports. We need to rise above our animal lusts and see athletics in their best light: ultimately meaningless contests which allow us a respite from the daily grind. Anything more than that and we simply go beyond their scope.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The GOP and Civil Rights

The minority vote is taken for granted by the Democratic Party. That's a shame, when you consider how badly that group has played minorities over the years.

Democrats want to take credit for all the advancements in civil rights in recent times, indeed for any and all forward movements on civil rights in our entire history. Yet at the least, the GOP deserves more consideration in what it has done in that area over time.

It was a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, who sent federal troops to insure that minorities were allowed in public high schools. Going back much further, a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, did the most to free the slaves. Say what you want about what he said at the time, his actions were what ended slavery.

How quickly too we forget the Dixiecrats, Democrats who opposed civil rights legislation. You know, the guys such as the late Robert Byrd, whose past the Democratic party has gone to great pains recently to ignore if not outright, ahem, whitewash? Not that it isn't good that he may have recanted later on in life, there is nonetheless his history of at least initially working against minorities.

It is interesting also to note that Republican support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was actually stronger than Democratic support. As a Party, the GOP voted for the Act by about an 80% - 20% margin; Democrats, while overall in favor of it, voted at about a 62% - 38% figure. Indeed, not enough Democrats in the Senate voted for the measure to have passed it on their power: only 46 Democratic senators voted aye. That means that it would not have passed the Senate without Republican support at a time the Democrats were the majority party by a tremendous number in that chamber, 67-33.

Why don't we hear about this in schools and the media? Because it's not history that they like. It makes conservatives in general and Republicans in particular look too good. So much for the objectivity of the journalists and educators.

When you throw in the fact that many minorities are social conservatives, one cannot help but conclude they need to rethink their ties to the Democratic Party. But when the race card gets played, well, we'll see who's actually played.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

There is No Equality Among Nations

No world order that elevates one nation or group over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.

-President Barack Obama, in a speech to the United Nations

Here we have, in a nice and concise form, President Obama's foreign policy. If it sounds the least bit treacly, well, it should. It is a variation on what has now become the old theme of why can't we all just get along. It is an assertion that all nations, just like all people, you know, are at heart the same. Yet before any of you begin to dismiss this as a preamble to a rant on the glories of America, let us toss out for you to consider two examples of world nationhood: Canada and North Korea.

Is there anyone willing to argue that those two countries are of equal stature in the family of nations? Can anyone, seriously, and with a straight face, assert that each has the same moral validity? Do they each deserve an equal say in world affairs? Oh, sure, we may have to deal with the one simply as an exercise in practical politics. Yet the Canadians seem a reasonably reasonable people.

We do hope that that went over as the wry, humorous comment in the spirit of which it was intended. Because, of course, it is much easier in reality to deal with our northern neighbors than it is with the despotic regime in North Korea. Which is, of further course, the point. The nations of the world are no more equal in form and substance than individual human beings are. It is silly to act as though they were, and contrary to any rational foreign policy aims. Of any given nation, not only of the United States.

Seeing nations as moral equals merely by the evidence of their nationhood is bad policy. Even the United Nations doesn't believe it: would we be bombing Libya if it did? If all nations were on equal footing, why aren't we leaving Gaddafi alone?

We must make judgments about the actions of nations in the same way as we must make judgments about the actions of people. Some people will simply refuse to do the right thing. So will some nations. The difference is that the former don't have the capacity to threaten entire regions, if not the entire world. We will have no security until we take off the rose colored glasses which see a false equality among nations.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Part Time Smoke Filled Rooms

Michigan needs to go part time. Part time on the legislative front, that is.

Our state lawmakers make $79,000 per year. They meet less than 100 days per year, typically. That's $790 dollars per day. How many people do not make $790.00 per week? Indeed, how many of the people who make less than $790 bucks a week are more productive than state legislators? A good guess is that high schoolers pushing burgers off a grill at McDonald's are more productive than Lansing. They're getting paid for products in demand as well; we can debate whether those products are good for us, but that is certainly a separate question. For well or for ill, they're doing something the general public wants.

Are the products emanating from the State Capitol in demand? Well, according to Ken Braun at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (you can view an article on the issue from him here: http://www.mackinac.org/8636 ) they seem to spend a lot of time attempting to name highways. How often has that been a question in your mind? Have you ever had a conversation with a friend, family member, or co-worker about that? Have you ever though that our economy would be very much improved if we could only get a road named after Ronald Reagan or Coleman Young?

We have no quarrel with such honors per se. Yet when they become little more than partisan footballs for which the only obvious purpose is to give a legislator a political soap box (my opponent refused to honor Reagan/Young/insert name here) then what useful purpose is served? Why do we pay people for this sort of unimportant wrangling?

Needless to say, there is more than that. Yet it illustrates our point rather well. If Texas can afford a part time legislature, if the vast majority of the states of our Union can as well (the National Conference on State Legislatures lists only four full time legislatures; see here: http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/legislatures/full-and-part-time-legislatures.aspx ) then surely we can. It might force them to consider more important questions than road signage. It might even help ensure than only those keenly interested in Michigan's welfare run for office.

Friday, July 13, 2012

ACLU Sues Everyone Associated With Education in MIchigan

Just when we think we cannot be any more amazed at the rampant inanity of the world, we find that we can indeed be even more amazed. It is not amazing, however, that the source of our latest shock is the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has always been good at provoking reaction.

That august group of do gooders has filed what can only be seen as a genuinely stupid lawsuit. It has filed suit against the State of Michigan, the state Board of Education, state Superintendent Michael Flanagan and the Highland Park school district and its emergency manager, Joyce Parker. The suit claims that children have the right to be taught to read.

Pray, are all the little schoolchildren themselves being targeted in the suit as well? Fairness seems to dictate that they ought to be. For we all know that each and every one of them arrives on the first day of classes with gleaming notebooks and sharpened pencils, and their hair combed neatly, their eyes looking with rapt attention towards the teachers, their faces painted with the yearning anticipation that today they shall learn. They shall allow themselves to be taught.

Are their parents and guardians included in the suit too? Certainly not; they must of course, almost by definition, be dutifully depositing their progeny at the schoolhouse door, imploring them to pay attention to their instructors and to do their sums well and yes, most definitely pay attention to the details of learning to read. And they must all be ensuring their kids do their homework and not disrupt class, either.

To be sure, we know there are poor teachers. We know there are underperforming schools if not entire school districts. We also know that much of the trouble in the schools are not and cannot be reflections on the teachers and administrators. They can only work with what they've got, and if what they've got are ill prepared to sit down, shut up, and actually work at their lessons, they cannot succeed at educating anyone. Even if legally ordered through absurd lawsuits to do so.

The have a right to be taught to read, eh? Any mention, anywhere at all, in the suit, of their obligation to learn to read? Of parental obligation to support the schools by having their kids ready to learn, and to discipline them should they resist? No teacher on earth can reach the unwilling. No teacher on earth can or will inspire everyone. Is that recognized in the suit?

Yes, yes, yes, the problems all too often run deeper than that. But is it the fault of the schools? To a point it is. To the degree that the schools fail of their own particular stupidity is an issue of an educational philosophy which presumes that each child is ready and willing to learn. There is a degree to which the schools have sold us a bill of goods, and that they are now facing the ultimate truth of what that means: lawsuits assailing them to do what they've asserted they can, which is to teach everyone no matter what. It was a dumb idea when first put forth however many years ago by whatever idiot professor of education, and it is a dumb idea today. Yet we must presume the thought is at the root of the ACLU's action.

But it is more than that. This is what happens when we make a public trust of private obligations. Education, and we have said this before and will say it again and again in the almost certainly vain hope that someday people will get it, is a private responsibility in the same way as feeding and clothing and housing children. Only when parents and guardians fail at their jobs can we as a broader society do anything to fill in the gap. If a parent will not or cannot feed their child, only then can society step to help or do whatever else may be necessary. If we were rational, we would have the same approach to the education. Otherwise, we will be forced to deal with selfish and headline grabbing lawsuits which simply do not illustrate the issue properly.

That will not aid our understanding of a complex issue. But it will make us selfish and headline grabbing just the same.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's Not Evil to Expect English

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, July 6, 2012

It's Different in da UP

Reporting from Michigan's glorious Upper Peninsula...

Things are different in da UP. A quick and easy glance over the local newspaper, which only comes out once per week, demonstrates as much. The car show in St. Ignace was more deeply and personally covered than the North American Auto Show each January in Detroit is covered by the Detroit papers. It's all glitz and glamor downstate. At St. Ignace, the cars were labors of love. They were all restored classics, and the restorers got the attention of the local press. To be sure, it's a different type of show. It is nonetheless more endearing.

The little ville of Hessel was featured as well, in the St. Ignace News Weekly Wave edition which we have been alluding to. There's an issue with the beach there, and the question of the beach volunteers overstepping their ground in not getting the approval of the local government before getting certain improvements in place. We don't want to say any more than that; we aren't familiar enough with the issue to speak intelligently. But it seems so, well, we hate to say quaint, as that's far too dismissive. The issue matters to the locals every bit as much as Kwame Kilpatrick matters to Detroiters or Robert Ficano to Wayne County residents. Still, it's refreshing to be somewhere where these things matter.

The local Little Caesar's, which isn't exactly local as it is 35 miles away in Sault Sainte Marie, or the Soo, had those little white table like things inside their pizza boxes to help keep from having the toppings smashed into the underside of the lid. You don't get that type of service in southeast Michigan. Passing through St. Helen on the way up here there was an ad for the Charlton Heston Academy Patriots school opening in September. In Chippewa County (where the Soo is) we noticed that Rambo is running for sheriff. Paul Rambo, that is, but there's something very right wing about seeing political signs touting 'Rambo for Sheriff.' which aren't jokes.

It certainly is different in da UP. And we can learn from that.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Free Speech and Responsible Speech

We Americans boast routinely about free speech, being so proud of the right that we put it smack at the top of the Bill of Rights. So, perhaps, it should be. But there are unfortunately degrees to which it must be seen negatively.

There are folks who opine that free speech means the right to say offensive things. They forget that there are two ways in which someone is offended: either when the listener is a fool, or when the speech in question is genuinely offensive.

No one has a moral right to voice offensive remarks solely for the sake of making offense; that is simply rudeness at best and insulting and vulgar at worst. To say that they have such a right under the guise of free speech is really only to hide irresponsible behavior behind a pretty face. As rights only grow from responsibilities, it is reasonable to argue that the right to speak freely comes from the obligation to speak truthfully, in the reasonable interests of ourselves and the general society, and considerately, so far as circumstances may allow.

Still, the only way to really stifle morally offensive speech is censorship, and the problem with censorship is that it is only good when good people are in charge. When bad people hold the reigns, then good and necessary free speech will be prohibited. It is a risk we cannot take.

In the end, though, no one has the right to say offensive things, but merely the practical option of expressing them freely. No one has the right to be wrong in the truest sense of the term, but only the free will to be in the wrong. Until we understand that, we really won't understand the importance of a well regulated freedom at all.

Rights must be viewed in their proper perspective. They are not, not a one of them, open ended and subject to mere personal interpretation. We may treat some select few of them as absolute, but only due to abject necessity. Actions which beg the true nature of free speech do not promote but instead denigrate the right. They make us less than we can be and less than we should be. We should be good and decent people.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

American Exceptionalism

We believe in American Exceptionalism. There. We said it. And we mean it.

We do not think this means that we're automatically better than anyone else. Certainly not on a case by case basis. In some things at some times other people have done things better than us. Rather significantly better than us indeed. But taken on the whole, we have done things better than an awful lot of our friends in the world.

The Roman Empire lasted, if a bit of artistic license is incorporated, somewhere around 1500 years. Closer to 2200 years, if we are to take Romulus and Remus seriously and incorporate the Roman Republic. Yet we eradicated slavery by the blood of many patriots within 100 years of our birth. They had it for the bulk of their run, if not all of it.

To be sure, the British Empire eradicated it long before we did. Yet how were we to expect that while the British Empire held us in chains itself?

We are not today, if you listen to our European friends, quite so enlightened as they are. Yet our blood made their vaunted enlightenment quite possible, and their enlightenment may still destroy European civilization as we and they know it. Will the Euro survive Greece? Will Europe survive it? Yet we are here, and the similar fears about us somehow do not appear quite so awful. The loss of civilization for an single nation compared to that of an entire continet seem somehow muted.

They do not understand our horror at the recent Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare. Well, we do not understand their fascination with cradle to grave socialism. We do not understand their belief in the government over the person. We feel, quite securely, we might add, that our sense of personal freedom and responsibility trumps their statist ways.

Freedom to many seems to mean simply throwing off the old chains. Is that real freedom for Iran and Egypt? Too many people forget that it is an enlightened and responsible freedom which truly makes a free people. Simply tossing aside the old ways means nothing, if it should be replaced by a newer and more voracious despotism.

We had something at the start of our Republic which many today or indeed in world history do not nor did not have: the realization, the understanding,the knowledge, that freedom is more than the lack of authoritarianism. Freedom is disciplined, freedom is rational, freedom is meaningful only in the context of the profound and the eternal; freedom is only possible within the confines of the just and true. When we want what we want precisely because it is what we ought to want, we are free. We become free when we accept and embrace the true, and are willing to defend it against the false. Anything before that, and we are merely selfish.

Has America always and everywhere stood for that ideal? Of course not. Nothing of human construct will ever stand for that. But, quite frankly, and at the risk of the scorn of many of our friends, we have come closest. For a nation to succeed as we have takes foresight and Providence. WE have been blessed with both more so than most other nations in history. That is American Exceptionalism. And that is what we believe on this Independence Day 2012.