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The Foundation of Human Rights

A British court ruling made international headlines last week when it decided that the Bible is incompatible with human dignity. The case involved a Christian doctor who, out of the conviction of his beliefs, refused to refer to a transgender patient by their desired pronouns. As a result, the doctor was fired.

Should, God forbid, these same sentiments become commonplace in the United States, we should fear that it would mark the beginning of the end of not just religious liberty, but the acknowledgement of universal human rights in general. The most important piece of the philosophy upon which America was founded is the idea that we are endowed by our Creator the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This statement recognizes that human dignity is absolute, not because of the decisions made by judges, rulers, and governors, but because of the dictates of a God that is infinitely more powerful and authoritative.

If the United States, like this British court, at some point decides to throw God out of the picture, we would be forced to come to terms with the fact that government, being the most authoritative force over our lives, is the entity that has the final say over the definition of our rights and dignity. As it currently stands under the precepts of the Declaration, government does not grant us our rights, it dutifully acknowledges them as absolute, universal, and eternal, and protects them accordingly. A society that rejects God’s say in this matter grants this authority to its government, and had better hope and pray it doesn’t change its mind on what human rights should be.

For more thoughts on the issue of human dignity, I have written a more extensive piece on my personal site.

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Making a Tinderbox Out of a City

In response to an ideologically driven attack on a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence on Columbus Day, this is a terrible idea, as reported by the Associated Press:

Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza told WPRO he’d entertain the idea of moving the statue from the city’s Elmwood neighborhood to the Federal Hill neighborhood, which is known for its Italian American community and Italian restaurants. His spokeswoman later said that any move would require input from the community.

If it isn’t immediately clear why moving the statue to an ethnic enclave would be the wrong response, consider this commentary from Italo-American Club of Rhode Island President Anthony Napolitano, appearing in a WPRI article by Nancy Krause:

While moving the statue may not guarantee it won’t be vandalized, Napolitano said the plan would include putting security cameras in place.

“We’ll watch the statue,” he said.

Because the city apparently can’t, the Italians will defend their statue from the assault of others.

Dividing the city into fortified neighborhoods based on demographic identity would be a disaster waiting to happen.  It would declare a retrogression of our community toward a less-enlightened time.  It would be an acknowledgement that, as a society, we are incapable of the maturity necessary to take a balanced view of history and handle each other as individuals and as peers in the modern world.

We face a lot of work undoing the deterioration of our shared culture, but the easy accommodation of moving statues would be a marker of a step too far.

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Pointed Questions About the Anti-Brady URI Professor

On my post about URI professor Kyle Kusz, who became infamous for connecting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with “white rage and white supremacy,” Joe Smith comments as follows:

Maybe URI should start with how a professor with his doctorate in kinesiology is now qualified to be a tenure track professor of English (or English and gender studies as URI website states)?

There are almost 700 kinesiology majors (Fall 18) at URI, barely 100 English, and not even a dozen gender studies majors — why is URI moving someone with a doctorate in kinesiology to English (maybe because he wasn’t really teaching, I don’t know, actual kinesiology) and not hiring English professors who are more focused on teaching literacy skills that are career focused (like how to write if you are a scientist or business person as opposed to teaching some obscure/niche topic)?

It’s one of the problems with higher education that teaching has taken second nature to publishing (for publishing sake in many cases like the Sokal Squared hoax shows). I’m sure the professor needs a book chapter to advance his tenure and/or promotion file. Maybe it will be assigned reading for his class (no conflict of interest there).

The main problem is not the counter balance of ideological representation, but that our higher education board (although isn’t URI free from that now?) never holds a discussion on — I don’t know — actual teaching and learning metrics. Like page 3 of URI’s benchmark survey of freshmen and seniors shows, URI is average to below average for effective teaching.

Maybe that’s comforting, Justin. If they are teaching ideological slanted material, it’s clearly not in an effective manner.

I’m afraid I can’t take the proffered comfort because of a sneaking suspicion that the results for effective teaching indicate that the ideological slant makes the supposed content of the courses roll off the table.  Whether students recognize that the slant is the problem or learn to take it for granted as simply true is still an open question.

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Annette Lloyd: Crushed Freedom Inspires Another Escape Plan

Rhode Island’s ban on flavored vaping shows a mentality that Rhode Islanders increasingly want to escape.

I’m constantly confused by politicians who think that their election also comes with honorary degrees in medicine, education, commerce, and the like… that upon their election, they have a right to appoint themselves as doctor, teacher, etc., to their constituents. Most of our elected officials are purely bought and sold tools of one lobby or another. They know no more than you or me.

Informed adults don’t need this kind of micro-supervision. Vaping has allowed me to get away from cigarettes, and I imagine the hundreds of thousands or millions of vapers in New England resent having their legal sources of vaping suddenly cut off with no compelling research into the public health effects of the habit.

This ban is a terrible trend by our governor. What she isn’t considering are the local small businesses she is destroying. There are plenty of online sources (for now) which will take more money out of RI. And, even more crucially, those who use vaping as a safer alternative to smoking will be forced to return to tobacco products. Maybe Governor Raimondo has missed the tax dollars from each pack of cigarettes purchased in RI.

The messages she is sending, of government overreach and a total lack of consideration of the ramifications of her edict, are yet another nail in this beautiful state’s casket. The R and I are, increasingly, standing for Really Idiotic.

Once our son is done with high school and Boy Scouts, we are fleeing. In search of freedom and some self-respect.

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An Imbalance in the Testimony Competition

Katherine Gregg’s article providing some insight into how political consultants helped IGT get its employees to the State House to testify on its proposed 20-year, no-bid deal with the state provides tremendous insight into the process:

First came a “Dear Colleagues” email from a senior vice president in IGT’s Global Brand, Marketing and Communications division. Provided to The Journal by an employee who asked to remain anonymous, it said, in part:

“As you are aware, this is a critical week for our RI lottery agreement …. Select employees are testifying at the House hearing. But we need as many as possible employees at the State House on Thursday October 3, 2019 …. We are asking employees to bring friends and family along as well.”

The series of emails informs employees that they’ll be able to dress down that day and maybe work from home the next.  It promises reimbursement for parking, instructions on how to secure a seat in the hearing room and move around the State House, and assures participants of a free dinner.

Anybody who has made a go at grassroots organization at the State House will see the value of this — and the imbalance it indicates between special interests and the public at large.  For the public at large, testifying on legislation is a bear.  Where do they park?  When should they arrive?  What should they wear?  The hearing rooms are either frigid or sweltering.  There’s no food other than a vending machine tucked in the hallway (which is none too modern, to my recollection).

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with a private company hiring political consultants and giving employees incentive to support the organization’s mission.  Still, IGT appears to have required managers located in Rhode Island to attend and to have provided amenities of some value to all employees.  At what point should these things be reportable as lobbying activities?  I remember when unpaid Tea Party members were registering as lobbyists simply so they wouldn’t be tripped up.

My preference is to minimize all such regulation of political activity, but consistency and equal application are crucial if we’re going to have it.

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Candidacy as a Corruption Shield

A column by Marc Thiessen in the New York Post and a related post by Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit raise an interesting implication.  Here’s Thiessen:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking foreign heads of state or intelligence officials to cooperate with an official Justice Department investigation.

As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley explains, “It is not uncommon for an attorney general, or even a president, to ask foreign leaders to assist with ongoing investigations. Such calls can shortcut bureaucratic red tape, particularly if the evidence is held, as in this case, by national security or justice officials.”

Taking opponents of President Trump at their word, then, what is the complaint?  Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Joe Biden, whose family is the subject of the investigation, is running for president.  This presents the impression of the current president attempting to dig up dirt on an opponent.

Note one thing, here:  President Trump didn’t put this in the news; a “whistleblower” did, in order to damage him.  The Bidens’ curious activities in the Ukraine may never have become an issue unless there turned out to be evidence of actual corruption on their part.

Put all that aside, though, for the sake of a deeper, nonpartisan question.  Should we be wary of a standard by which it is more difficult to investigate people because they’re running for offices of public trust?  If President Trump had asked the president of the Ukraine for help investigating some corporate interest — an oil tycoon, for instance — it’s hard to imagine very much outcry, especially from the side of the aisle that periodically cites the International Criminal Court as a legitimate authority over Americans.

Of course, this is all academic, to some extent, because we know we’re observing a one-way standard.  Because they’ve done it already, we know that a left-wing president or candidate favored by the news media could work closely with foreign governments to dig up dirt on their opposition and, as Thiessen notes, it would hardly rate as news coverage.  One side’s impeachable offense is the other side’s “just the way it’s done.”

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Is Government Over-Reacting With Vape Bans?

Are the decisions by the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts to halt the sale of vaping products (which will destroy jobs and small businesses) fueled by solid research or inspired by politically-correct activism?

While we recognize that this may be a sensitive topic to some people, there are many pro-liberty arguments that can be made on why these vape bans are wrong. It is deeply concerning that Governor Raimondo used her office to unilaterally ban a class of products.

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Freedom… From the Progressive Point of View

Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):

“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.

“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.

So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone.  Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees.  You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.

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The Solution to Selective Admissions at Classical

One common observation that conservatives make about the progressive approach to solving problems is that it attempts to fix things with the most direct, immediate means possible without considering what is therefore given up.  Complaints that Classical High School in Providence isn’t inclusive of English-language learners because its admissions test is in English fall into this category:

… for the ever-increasing number of Providence students who are learning English as a second language, the barrier for entry to Classical is remarkably high. The admissions exam is offered only in English, despite nearly a third of the district’s 24,000 students being designated as English learners. …

[City Council President Sabina] Matos, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and learned English while attending Rhode Island College, said having an admissions exam that is only in one language “perpetuates the harmful stereotype that non-English speakers aren’t as capable or as intelligent as their English-speaking peers.”

“This English-only practice systematically discriminates against students who may possess a mastery in areas like math, science, or history but are barred for simply not speaking the ‘right’ language,” she said.

The first thought arising from this article is:  Why not work to ensure that students are able to take tests in English by the time they apply to high school?  That way, testing in English won’t be as much of a concern.

Of course, some portion of students won’t quite get there, perhaps because they moved to the country too recently.  That possibility, however, points to a second thought:  Why is it obviously wrong to have a school that can help students who excel without having to overcome a language barrier, too?  Maybe it is, but shouldn’t the argument at least be made, rather than falling back on assertions about discrimination?

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Progressive Regunberg Defames the Working Man

Maybe it’s an echo of my angry-young-man laborer days, but statements like this continue to grate on me:

Former state Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg issued a statement Friday on behalf of Never Again Action: “We are glad to hear that a grand jury is looking into this incident. Our hope is that justice will be served. That means holding accountable the individuals who attacked peaceful protesters with pepper spray and a truck. It also means holding the Wyatt accountable as an institution.”

He continued: “These were Wyatt employees, in uniform and on the job. If they were willing to assault peaceful protesters, in public and on camera, we know that this violence is just a shadow of what happens behind the walls.”

Let’s review who the speaker is, here.  Regunberg graduated from an Ivy League school.  Since graduation, his work appears to extend to progressive activist and legislator.  When he failed to win the lieutenant governor seat (for which he ran with copious help from out-of-state funders), the progressive mayor of Providence gave him an $80,000-a-year job as, it seems, a professional activist to tide him over until he started at Harvard Law.

In short, this is a guy with a golden ticket who is going to be just fine in life.  And here he is saying that he knows the working stiffs at Wyatt are perpetrating acts of violence against the inmates.  Worse, he’s doing so as an official statement in the state’s major newspaper.  Even worse, I haven’t seen anybody, anywhere call him out on it.

Meanwhile, here’s a news tidbit from another prison in Rhode Island:

A guard in the high security unit of Rhode Island’s state prison has been assaulted by an inmate. …

The guard was taken to the hospital, treated for a wound and released.

My 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Murphy, taught me not to make accusative statements about people or organizations without more-substantial evidence than “everybody knows.”  Apparently, it’s possible to get through Brown University without learning that lesson, and apparently, it’s possible to rise to the top of progressives’ activist network while exploiting that educational deficit.

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Ocean State Exodus: We Are Losing Productive People

No single indicator should be of more importance to lawmakers and civic leaders than whether or not our state is retaining and attracting talented and productive people.

The opportunity for prosperity is a primary factor in the migration of families from state to state. In this regard, our Ocean State is more than just losing the race. Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.

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Where Might an Objective Morality Come From?

The essay to which Isaac Whitney linked this morning comes right up to a question that is almost so obviously right at the center of questions about morality that nobody ever asks it:  If people are coming to their own conclusions about morality, where are they coming from?

Writes Isaac:

In one of my favorite quotes, Thomas Sowell says, “…each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late” (162). If, God forbid, the death of freedom should arrive, its death will be a result of our refusal to civilize these little barbarians. Our downfall will begin with our fear of infringing upon their personal autonomy, and our playing into the individualistic American gospel that says we must be free to choose our own path, find our own morality, and speak our own truth.

If everyone were rational, you’d expect this notion of radical autonomy to overlap with small-government and religious perspectives.  One oddity is that those who most vociferously proclaim that society has no right to impose a moral code also tend to emphasize the use of our most compulsory institution — government — to solve problems and disputes.  Another oddity is that you would expect people who trust in our ability to discern morality would also believe that there must be some form of deity dispensing it.  The opposite seems to be the case.

Of course, people don’t tend to be rational, especially in these areas of thought.  We tend to come to the conclusions that we want to be correct and then fit arguments to that image.

Consequently, as Isaac suggests, we risk coming un-moored.  Whereas conservatives would suggest that God defines an objective morality toward which we should guide each other by the least coercive means feasible, radicals object to any coercion at all (except where they want it to be total) on the grounds that there is no objective standard (except the one they trust us all to follow).

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Welfare-Related Advocacy Presented as News

If you hear that the federal government is changing some policy that will affect welfare benefits for millions of people, what is the first bit of information you’d want to know?  For me, the answer is what the change actually would be.  For mainstream journalists, that’s often a secondary or tertiary consideration, probably because they fundamentally see their job as advocacy, not the provision of information.

A prime example is the Columbus Dispatch and Gatehouse Media article by Catherine Candisky and Jayme Fraser about the Trump administration’s proposed rule change for food stamp eligibility appearing in the Providence Journal.  Readers have to get more than halfway through the article before finding a direct statement of what the policy does:

The proposed change would end benefits for people who receive assistance because of broad-based categorical eligibility.

The policy change would only add a requirement that state governments must actually check the eligibility of people applying for food stamps even when they are already receiving other forms of welfare.  The only people who would lose food stamps under the new rule are those who are not eligible for them now, but who receive them because states don’t check.

Of course, as a society we can have the conversation about what level of income ought to entitle a family to assistance, but sneaking beneficiaries onto the rolls seems mainly to be a way to expand the business available for government and the dependency of the people on it.

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The Autonomous Individual Versus Institutions

Looking for ways to create the new and improved you? This mindset can be harmful to society.

Freedom, liberty, and individuality are great things, but a society that considers them to be the ultimate things is bound to lose them. The art of subjectively finding one’s own truth without outside influence may sound attractive on the surface but will ultimately lead to destructive ends.

I explore this theme and ways to combat it in a blog post titled “The Surprising Roots of Liberty.”

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Governor Signs Executive Order to Increase Smoking

The appropriate response to Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive order banning certain forms of vaping in the state is to challenge her authority to do so.  If we accept the principle that the governor can simply ban products she doesn’t like, we’ll soon find our governors believing they can simply ban anything.

What makes the governor’s action doubly objectionable, however, is its complete reliance on fact-free emotion:

In response to the growing public health crisis of e-cigarette use among young people in Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Health to establish emergency regulations prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The Executive Order also puts in place a number of other measures designed to the curb the initiation of e-cigarette use by young people.

As far as I can tell (and the press release doesn’t provide anything additional), the only “crisis” is that people are doing the thing that the governor wants to ban.  Indeed, the governor is banning “flavored e-cigarettes,” while the only actual “crisis” has been illness nationwide, mostly having to do with people vaping THC (the marijuana chemical).

For vaping generally, it isn’t even clear that it has had a net negative effect.  The governor’s press release may insist that decreases in teen smoking are “thanks to decades of public health education and advocacy,” but the numbers for smoking and vaping suggest that there’s more to the question.  This is from a post in this space in January 2018:

… According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, “from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of 12th-grade students who had ever used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 16 percent.” But over that same period of time, the percentage of seniors who said the same about actual cigarettes decreased from 10.3% to 5.5%. Smokeless tobacco (like snuff and chewing tobacco) is down from 8.3% to 6.1%. (These groups aren’t exclusive, meaning that there’s some overlap between them.)

As of 2014, more students had used an e-cigarette than an actual cigarette. The question that the advocates and (in turn) the journalists miss is this: If the alternative to e-cigarettes is not nothing, but smoking or chewing tobacco, isn’t this outcome positive?

If, as looks plausible, the availability of vaping has reduced smoking, one foreseeable consequence of banning vaping will be an increase in teen smoking.  The fact that this possibility doesn’t come up in government statements or coverage thereof suggests that the whole thing is just a moral panic stoked for political reasons.

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The Essence of Educational Freedom… for Providence Pols

Ian Donnis’s article looking into the educational choices of government officials who live in Providence has received much-deserved attention.  I don’t think anybody has adequately noted how telling it really is.

The upshot is that, out of 38 officials he reviewed, Donnis found only eight with school-aged children, of whom there were 13 between them.  Of these:

  • Four go to private schools (religious or otherwise)
  • Three go to charter schools
  • Six go to regular district schools

That’s not the whole story, though.  One of the children in district schools went to charters before entering high school.  He and one other politician’s child go to Classical, which has been ranked #1 in the state.  Two more go to a particular elementary school, which Erika Sanzi implies is “on the fancy side of town,” with a lottery even for children in the neighborhood.

This scenario illustrates the essence of educational freedom that wealthier families enjoy.  If they are interested in utilizing public schools, they’ll move to specific zip codes for that purpose.  If that isn’t an option, or if the schools change, they apply for charter schools.  If they don’t win that gamble, or if a particular school has an entrance exam and their children don’t succeed on the test, then they’ll turn to private schools.  (I’ve long suggested that charter schools’ introduction was in some respects an attempt to capture those families that were escaping to private schools.)

If we consider education to be as critical as politicians like to claim, then it shouldn’t only be families of means who can make these decisions.

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