Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: relatively uneventful

So this is the day where we're supposed to think about the rest of the year, in anticipation of taking the the time tomorrow (sometimes we simply love alliteration) to determiner what we should do in the next. The Year of Our Lord 2014 is slipping away. His Year of 2015 beckons.

Well, what of 2014? For some reason this morning there doesn't seem to have been much which sticks to our mind. It was the year of at least an increased attention to police shootings and other actions, for most of which the officers involved were exonerated. All the whole, this is right and just quite frankly. Generally speaking, when there is a case of the cops against any given assailant, back the cops. It's safe to say that in the vast majority of police-citizen disputes the police and not the perps are in the right. When you invite trouble you simply must not be shocked, nor seriously attempt to insist injustice towards you, when you get it.

We saw this past November a striking rebuke of the President and the Democrats. We always said that it's the liberals and not the conservatives who are the real controllers and that Obamacare is a perfect example of that. Outside of a relative handful of issues it's the leftists who want to boss you around. Ban trans fats and sugared soft drinks. Reign in urban sprawl and encourage public transportation. No oil pipelines and ozone actions days. This is the Democrats rtalking, not the GOP. The November elections were probably the highlight of 2014.

There was a big soccer tournament in Brazil and everyone seemed to care, even the United States. Or did it? We're not really sure. We think it may have only been the fawning over the game or sense of event which made it seem that way, not unlike what it does with our Super Bowl. Nobody cares that much a bout a single game, folks. Most just want the party. There's nothing wrong with that per se of course. But let's call such what they are: reasons to party more than deep felt support for a game or series of games.

You can peruse lists such as this one: if you really want to think more about what we may have missed in 2014. Have at it. We just don't think that 2014 was all that, at least not all that enough to write anymore than what we today have. We now switch gears and look forward to 2015. We might as well. 2014 wasn't much to write home about anyway.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Garner Responsible for his Death

High School teams in California have been asked to not participate in a regional basketball tournament if they insisted on wearing "I can't breathe" T-shirts. The shirts have been worn by several well know athletes and are in support of Eric Garner, who died after being in a choke hold while resisting arrest at the hands of New York City police.

We're getting just a little tired of all the liberal/libertarian knee jerk support for people who are less than exemplary citizens. While we concede that what Garner was doing did not merit death, and indeed we're not sure that it even merited police attention even though against the law (surely there are worse things happening in New York than selling cigarettes illegally) Garner still holds at least a significant part of the blame for his own death. In poor health, his actions surely contributed to his death perhaps more than police actions may have. And the facts still remain that if he had not resisted arrest or been selling the Satan sticks illegally he would almost certainly be alive today.

This opinion does not absolve the police of what responsibility they may hold. Nor does it mean to assuage concerns about general police overreach or overreaction. We think these are issues which deserve attention. But we also think that no less true than at any other time in our history. We must always be concerned with authority using its power beyond reason. Yet such worries cannot mean that we have writ to excuse the actions of those the police confront either. Police are human beings who will make mistakes, and who will sometimes do stupid things.

Yet so are all the rest of us. What Eric Garner did was stupid, especially given that he knew his health was poor and that he was breaking the law (we can argue that it was a bad law, yet that is essentially a separate question). We cannot serve the more noble cause of justice by making a catchphrase of a plea which was clearly false anyway (he could not have said I can't breathe if he wasn't breathing) on the part of someone resisting arrest when, for his own sake if nothing else, he should have know better than to do.

We will be accused of it, so we'll emphasize once more that we agree that police abuse of authority must be taken seriously and dealt with with justice. But we wish to remind others that few issues are so cut and dry as to be wholly the fault of one side over the other. We don't doubt that the officer involved with Eric Garner did not wish to see him die. Yet Eric Garner did wish to openly break a law and cause a scene. That could be the most important difference between the two.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Free Markets Imperfect

We conservatives like the free market; that declaration ought to surprise no one. But we also know that it is not and never will be truly free. Why is that?

Human imperfection, for starters. We aren't perfect, and it is silly to believe that a perfect system can come out of less than perfect people. Every human construct will be flawed and there's no getting around that. Markets, being human constructs, will not always lead to the right or best result. Of course, we think that free markets are the best there is at getting beyond error. Yet that doesn't mean they always will. As one of chief arguments against government interference in the economy is that too much is going on for governments to efficiently regulate, it applies as well that in free markets too many people and too many decisions are involved for every single effort to work out well. Yes, markets will organize themselves to a certain degree. But not exactly right and not necessarily in everyone's best interest in every single instance.

Then there's that pesky fact that not every economy in the world is free. True, that is not the fault of free market economics. Yet is another reflection on that pesky idea that people aren't perfect. Simply telling folks that they need freer markets won't lead to them. Government interference alone will see to that, and the simple assertion that open markets are better won't convince everyone that they are. It may be honest disagreement, stupidity, power, or just plain obstinacy which prevents accepting the free market rationale. The markets will never overcome all such obstacles. As such, completely free markets will never exist. There's no point to pretending they will. There will always be interference in them; about the best we will ever have is to limit that through the political process the best we can.

Now we come to those pesky social issues which drive the more rabid free market enthusiasts mad. Not every human trade ought to be in the open market. An easy example is slavery, but it goes beyond that. Prostitution comes to mind, and of course the entire abortion industry is simply wrong. What we're leading up is this: merely because people could do something doesn't mean that they should. Some activities must be banned simply because they're so wrong that an enlightened society must not tolerate them. We can argue where the line should be drawn: that there is a line is another question. There is, and we must find (or at least get as close as we can) and adhere to any legitimate market parameters which exist.

Finally, and this comes directly from our third point, free markets are not the end all be all of human existence. Right and wrong are; doing what's right and avoiding what's wrong the best we can should be our goal. Even the concept of free markets itself recognizes this. Proponents essentially say that markets ought to be free because justice demands it. Yet once we say that, we are effectively arguing not for free markets but for justice. It appears that free markets are a subset, albeit a very important subset, of justice. That also makes it appear that justice can make demands of markets, and that markets not only cannot but should not be totally free.

The freest market possible market is the best market because it allows for the most possible good for the most people. Yet it would still be flawed, it would still commit error, and we need to realize that if we are ever to improve upon it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Secular Bullies

There is a small town in Ohio which we will not name because it would be like calling the dogs out upon it. But it exists, and is a neat little town. The streets are clean and the Christmas decor adorn lamp posts and residences. Why, even the school is considerate enough to leave a nice holiday message on a sign facing the street. It says 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year'.

Clearly, the ACLU has not caught wind of that. After all, a specifically Christian greeting on a public school (and therefore a government entity) surely violates that non-existent idea of the separation of church and state. It surely pressures everyone who sees it to violate their consciences. Indeed, a Muslim family passing by on mere happenstance pulled their car to a screeching halt, sprung from it and ran right up to the greeting. They fell on their knees mindless of the snow, making the Sign of the Cross and chanting the Our Father, having fully converted to Christianity at the sight of such a goodwill wish. It had that much impact.

Of course it didn't. No one with a reasonable head on their shoulders would be that affected by a simple wish readily expressed by a small town school. Quite frankly, even if such wishes were expressed everywhere, whether on government property or not, it is highly doubtful that they would impose guilt enough upon someone of another religion or of the serious atheist to cause their conversion. The very idea is completely irrational if not outright comical. No one comfortable with who they are would care.

So it leaves us with the conclusion that those who protest against such expressions of faith are uncomfortable with who they are. So uncomfortable in fact that they must deny anyone not of their ilk the right to express their true emotions even in so benign a manner.

They say that bullies are actually afraid of others and are afraid that they don't measure up to them, and that's why bully. It brings those superior folks down. Likewise, it would appear that the civil libertarians who despise a common expression of Christianity even on government property are bullies. It leads us to believe that they fear their own rightness; they are very afraid that they might be wrong and the Christians the ones in the right.

It surely is a horrid, cowardly existence they must live.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What is the cost of peace?

We routinely hear people remark that they are against war, all war; indeed that they oppose any kind of violence at all. They are for peace. Peace solves everything.

W beg to differ. It is a wholly untenable position to hold. Would no sane man or woman knock a criminal on the head with a rock if it meant the saving of lives? Would no country with any claim to a good moral standing not go to war to prevent a tyrant's rule? While violence and war must always be a last resort, it is, sadly, almost exclusively by violence and war that evil is kept in check. It is generally the threat and use of force which keeps people in line. For people will do bad things if they think they can get away with them, and will do so often enough despite the chance of violence against them hanging over their heads. If we approach them with no intention of eventually having to aggressively force them into right behaviors if need be, and they know that, we will soon enough have no stable society worth our participation. We surely will not have peace.

Peace did not end the Holocaust or drive Hitler from power.

Peace did not bring about the end of slavery in the United States.

Peace does not apprehend criminals nor rehabilitate them.

Peace only works among the peace loving. It almost never will turn the heads of those who hate for the sake of hatred, no matter what the treacly entreaties of the peaceniks assert.

Seeing as we live in an imperfect world, one which, quite frankly, shall never be perfect without divine intervention, the price of peace must ultimately be anarchy. At that point, will the Department of Peace flower, or simply become a seed crushed against the ground and bake, exposed, in the sun?

The cost of war is, needless to say, grim. But from the greatest human costs come the greatest things, if properly driven, and without any loss of human dignity. Indeed, I rather believe that our dignity is enhanced when we stand for the greatest things. We stand for nothing when we stand for what will not work.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Conte drops the ball

So drop the damn ball. What does it matter? - Joe Cosgriff

The above is an exact quote from one Joe Cosgriff, who was not much of a sports fan. Oh, he'd watch something occasionally, and was even known, every now and then, to ask how the Tigers had done. So we're not saying that he had no interest in sports and games. But we do wonder whether he, perhaps, had the right idea about them.

His words came to mind after recent comments by Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte, saying that playing in the National Football League is worth losing 10 to 15 years of his life, even at the cost of injuries (including two concussions he has suffered this year alone) which will possibly haunt him in his older days. Yep, it sure looks like he views sports in the right light.

So let's ask Joe's question again: what does it matter if an outfielder or wide receiver drops a ball? What really can we take from a successful dunk or pretty goal or even an uphill 35 foot put with a significant left-right slope? Or in Conte's case, so what if you miss the tackle or have a potential interception bounce off your hands?

It could make millions of dollars to some people; okay, we get that. But that's only, we will say it, about the money. There's nothing wrong with that per se either. But the athletes who do not bag the extra cash still have friends and family, don't they, as well as more than the capacity to care for themselves and those who depend on them, right? So it hardly really matters, in any rational sense of value or virtue, what the outcome of the game or match might be.

Yes, yes, sports and games can be good recreation. Yet even that value seems a very minor one these days, especially when so many athletes aren't playing for recreation, are they? They're playing to show that they're better than the other guy. They're competing. It strikes us that such goes beyond recreation, so much so that any concerns about relaxation are out the window.

But sports teach us things, don't they? Things like discipline and doing your job and living up to the expectations of people who rely on you. They teach teamwork; they teach sportsmanship and respect for others.

Respect for others. That's are difficult point to take seriously when you're in a naturally, physically adversarial position. Indeed, arguably, such can't teach respect but rather the other side of respect: the idea that I'm better than you. I'll knock you on your tail because I can (we can't say must, because no one has that right inherently). Such extreme competitiveness cannot truly teach anything useful. It more likely only encourages jealousy and arrogance. Beyond that, so much of the discipline which comes from playing games can be learned without the games, and much more easily and directly. Get to school or work on time; get your job done; be there for people when they need you. If these and a great many other virtues aren't learned day in and day out as you live your life, it seems highly unlikely that the mere practice and play for a game will do it. At best, they are only part of the learning process, and a quite obviously unnecessary one at that seeing as they're a small part of most lives. Even the lives of most athletes.

We're not saying that sports and games are wrong. We're aren't saying don't do your best when you play them. But we are saying that they're become too much a part of our society considering their relative worth. At the end of the day, no matter how you doll it up, a game is just a game. Nothing more.

We will have good sportsmanship only when someone drops a damn ball and everyone simply shrugs and says, oh well. Until then, we will not have learned a thing about the real value of any given game.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't simply agree to disagree

All too often, when we find ourselves in disagreement with our political and philosophical fellows (which seems, indeed, all too often) it is suggested, why can't we all just get along? Further, we are asked why can't we just agree to disagree? Well, because that's all just talk, and talk is cheap. Especially when you already have your way.

We should, of course, strive to get along with everyone we meet no matter where we find ourselves on the issues. We should do all that's reasonable to get along with others even when significant differences are involved, so long as the debate is kept civil. We even recognize that for the survival of the nation we might have to tolerate certain evils, because we would have no say over them anyway from the outside or in anarchy. But as to agreeing to disagree? That is simply a tool which the left uses in an attempt to shut the right up, because on the major issues with which we disagree, quite often the laws and society are already on their side. It is easy to say let's just agree to disagree when you have what you want in place.

So, how about we change the law and make abortion illegal and then agree to disagree? Why not enact a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman and then agree to disagree? Ahem, my dear conservatives, that's because we really don't want to agree to disagree. We want you to accept our judgment, and check yours at the voting booth curtain or courthouse door.

They look down their noses from such tall pedestals that they will not even consider that maybe, just maybe, what they ask for is selfish and inane. Such is the height of liberal hypocrisy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Teachers not Teaching

Do you want to know what's wrong with American schools these days? Yes, quite a lot, and particularly with the public ones. Yet certain trends permeate the whole scheme of education in this country, and one in particular has come to mean more than most. And it can be summed up in two words.

Cooperative Learning.

This is a fancy name for group work. The kids are assembled together in small groups to do a project, often made up of smarter students along with, ah, challenged learners, and the magic happens. Everyone learns and everyone's happy.

Except that those of us who remember such group work projects remember well that that ain't the way it happens. The smarter ones drag along the rest, and the rest appreciate that they don't have to work as hard while earning (yeah, right) a better grade at our cost.

But wait! The education elite have discovered a way around that. Simply assign segments of the project to individuals within the group.

But how does that help? If it really does anything at all, it means that the better students risk not knowing the object of the project (sorry, silly Suessian slip of the tongue) in its entirety because some parts of it aren't their responsibility. Besides, hasn't that made the project individual rather than group anyway? Why bother then?

To cut straight to the chase, why is it that we expect students who presumably don't know anything about something to be able to master it on their own especially (as is often the case) when working with other students who don't care as much as they do? Why is a teacher present anyway if the pupils, or some of them, that is, are expected to do their job? Further, how much time is wasted on these projects? How much more material could be covered, and how much deeper would the understanding and appreciation of a subject be, with a traditional pedagogue at the front of a classroom keeping things moving?

The entire idea of group work is patently ridiculous. It eases the teacher's job more than anything else by blowing it off on twelve year olds. All that can do is inspire them to become teachers, where they can collect a paycheck at others' expense. All the while, we wonder where America's work ethic has gone.

It has done nothing but follow its teachers.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Presumption of Innocence

Rolling Stone magazine has issued an apology of sorts to a fraternity at the University of Virginia after printing a story about an alleged rape at their house on campus. A young woman whose identity was hidden openly accused by name the Phi Kappa Psi and several of its members of the school chapter of raping her as part of an initiation ritual, a charge the frat denies and for which there appears credible evidence in its support. In the meantime, the University has cancelled all fraternity activities until January 15, 2015 as it investigates what now look like fraudulent accusations.

That this is shoddy reporting is the least of the matter. So a few questions to the accused were not thought important; why should that get in the way of a good story? But the real sin here is the presumption of guilt. Why should we presume that a rape charge is true simply because it has been leveled?

Rape is a heinous, unspeakably terrible thing which no woman should be subjected to. Yet isn't the converse equally true, that the charge of rape, the crime being so disgusting, ought not be tossed around lightly? A woman who is raped has had her very life torn asunder. But has not a man's life when unfairly accused been ripped apart as well?

It is interesting that there are issues where we are supposed to assume that the mere charge means guilt. Sexism and racism appear to be two such questions. Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Institutional racism of course. A young woman cries rape to a Rolling Stone reporter three years after the supposed incident? The frat is obviously guilty. Bill Cosby accused of rape thirty years after the supposed fact? He's shunned by the entertainment world without further consideration. All this belittles the victims of real rape and actual racism, and serves only to fuel the fires of those who doubt such evils actually exist. And this all comes before the fact that we're supposed to presume innocence. Because a young woman said she was raped, then she was raped. No trial necessary.

We cannot imagine the horror which a rape victim suffers. But a worse horror may be the false accusation with an underlying presumption of guilt. All that serves to do is create a culture of distrust and fear. It is the same threat upon which the old witch trials were based, and equally tyrannical for the all. Especially for the ones who are actual victims of actual crimes.

Friday, December 5, 2014

We Don't Need A College Football Championship

Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Beginning with the Big Ten Championship game tonight, and rolling through the various other conference championships to be played this weekend which then culminate in a select group picking which four teams will play for the National Championship means a big weekend of college football. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Yet we have just one little question about all the whistles and bows.

Why must we have a national college football champion at all?

It isn't as though championship games and playoffs aren't inherently flawed. At the highest levels of play any team could beat any other team in any given game. If Missouri beat Alabama in the SEC or Wisconsin upends Ohio State in the Big Ten, that doesn't mean that Missouri or the Badgers are better teams. It just means they won at the right time. And the same can be said about the winner of a four team runoff for what would actually be an engineered national championship, because not all teams which have a decent chance of winning it will be involved. Why? Because non players will choose who plays for the mythical ring.

That's not even an honest tournament, quite frankly. But do tournaments even give us an idea of the best team in a given year? Not as a matter of course. The best team might win, but quite often do not. And it's really kind of of a cheat, isn't it, to make teams plays long schedules only to say: what you did in the long haul matters not. To be vaunted you must win this one special game, special only because the powers that be say so.

What does a single game mean anyway? If the team which should win does, then accolades are shallow because that team should have won. If the underdog wins, they arguably were no more than lucky to have played well at the right time. That's hardly championship quality, and not at all really sportsmanlike.

The best team in a given season with most any sport is the team with the best record at the end of the regular season. With sports as far flung as college football, three playoff games mean little except to the monied types, schools and television networks who like the hoopla because of the cash flow. Because, let's face it: the new national championship won't necessarily crown a real champ. But it will certainly drive beer and pizza sales, and that's all that really matters, isn't it?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wither Responsibility?

The great current debate over the amount of institutionalized racism we may or may not have is intriguing. We don't doubt that there are racists and that that will at times influence the decision making process adversely. We see that argument applied to the Michael Brown case and others involving individuals and the police. The point is worth considering, and indeed commands consideration: if a broad societal influence is adversely affecting justice, the issue must be addressed as a matter of justice itself. Yet the question remains: how much injustice is the fault of society, and how much of the individual?

At the risk of oversimplification, the trouble here is that too many folks insist on grand background theories which purport to explain everything while actions themselves are essentially individual. This doesn't mean that the twain shall never meet, nor that we should not examine the big picture. Surely a root cause of crime is poverty, for example, and we should strive to eliminate it. Yet poverty can never excuse crime; a mitigating factor no matter how relevant can rarely fully absolve an individual of responsibility for his acts. At the end of the day, if we truly believe in individual freedom and responsibility (indeed of the dignity of the individual), then we have to be careful about blaming society more so than the person when the person does something wrong.

When all is said and done, what we are left with as each individual action occurs is little but to study that action on its merits or lack thereof and go from there. As to the institutionalized questions which may lie nearby, whether racism, poverty or the like, the best we can do is discuss them freely, openly, and without rancor, and as such work towards freeing the individual mind from biases (on either side of the divide) which hurt rather than help human understanding and the search for justice. If talking about the underlying issues which may or may not lurk beneath the Michael Brown tragedy will help us prevent similar problems in the future, then let's talk about them. Yet they cannot, no matter how deep one may feel they may run, absolve Mr. Brown of his own ill thought out actions.

That's the bottom as we see it. We truly hope it helps rather the hurt the ongoing debate over society, the person, justice, and freedom.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hands up, Don't shoot an ineffective racism fighter

Hands up, don't shoot, has become a catchphrase now to the point of distraction. The trouble is that it's an attempt to make a statement about something which belittles the very cause it portends to support.

That there are longstanding troubles between police and black communities is almost without question. The causes are myriad, and we don't know what to make of them. We're skeptical of the blanket charge of institutionalized racism (by all the evidence it really doesn't apply with the Michael Brown case except to left libertarian zealots) but are not so naive as to think racism has been eradicated in these United States (or anywhere else for that matter) and neither so naive as to believe it can't in fact be institutionalized. Sometimes police forces and government agencies fail to represent the community but for reasons which aren't racially motivated in any direct sense. Some cities such as Highland Park, Michigan here locally saw the makeup of the communities change so relatively quickly that, due to public service contracts and such, there was no way that the makeup of their police, fire, and civil service workers could have been expected to keep up with the demographic changes. If those changes were racial, and it seems unlikely that they weren't, then at least the charge of racism wouldn't necessarily reflect upon government structure or policies. Still, to where racism borne both of individuals or civil units exist, we must all strive to reign it in.

But that cannot be done successfully if a less than sympathetic character should become the symbol of the movement.

Like it or not, the Grand Jury looking into the issue has made up its mind, and the decision is in favor of Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police. There is little compelling evidence that Brown acted properly within his rights, and no obvious reason to cry racism over the troubles. As such, raising the banner of 'hands up, don't shoot' to fight racism must be seen more as a group seeking a cause rather than as a group of concerned citizens who desire justice. They will be dismissed as extremists who see racism everywhere, as they should.

What we need in America today is a mentality which wants justice for everyone, not any one group. This means studying the issues with a blind eye which, should it see racism, call it out. But should it it see simple and offensive criminal acts, call them out too. Without that as our guideline we will have little but mob rule. And we should not want to be ruled by either the pro or anti Michael Brown rabble.