Things We Read Today (14), Wednesday

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Why a Country Not Free to Have Father-Daughter Dances Won’t be Free or Prosperous for Long

First, I should admit that I never liked school dances when I was young, and that aversion has not abated now that I’m a father. The feeling was reinforced when I attended a father-daughter dance a few years ago. It didn’t help that I didn’t know the other fathers, and really, my daughters mostly wanted to run around.

Let’s also admit that Rhode Island law is pretty clear that Cranston schools’ opposite-sex parent-child events were vulnerable to the first objection presented in legal terms, so it was only a matter of time until the ACLU did as its nature demands and fired a warning letter.  According to RI General Law 16-38-1.1, “discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited” in public schools, including “any and all… school functions and activities.”  The only exceptions are restrooms/showers, sex ed. classes, and contact sports.

On the other hand, I think it an affront to the freedom of self governance that our state-level law allows left-wingers from one city to impose such a stringent restriction on communities in which they do not live.  But look, this is what you get when (a) you don’t pay attention to the dull minutia of state legislative activity and (b) you’re lulled too easily by feel-good rhetoric about nobody’s ever feeling left out.

Eventually, some tradition or activity that you value (even cherish) will prove to be exclusionary for somebody else, perhaps for reasons that you couldn’t foresee, such as a change in definition of a culturally rich word that’s held its essential definition for millennia. On the narrow issue of the dance, residents and legislators are likely to rally to add a parent-child exception to the list in 16-38-1.1, but a narrow exemption for these sorts of activities is not enough.

Something like a father-daughter dance was never designed to be exclusionary.  The idea wasn’t to force out those undesirable dads who only had sons; it was to create a special bonding moment between female students and their male parents.  Mother-son sports events had the same intention.  For the majority of people, there’s something uniquely profound about participating in your opposite-sex child’s life in that way.

This is all bound up with the ways our culture has so successfully guided families toward economic and social advancement. These traditions bind parents to their children; they teach children about relationships with people of the opposite sex and empathy therefor; they establish a continuity in a person’s relationships across the gender divide, from child-parent to husband-wife to parent-child.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting a mandate for such events, but the idea that they must be banned in a public school setting is a burnt bridge on the path back to cultural recovery. In our zeal to take the edges out of life, it’s easy to lose site of the reality that making an individual’s sad situation a little less uncomfortable does not outweigh the result of unwinding the ties that bind our society together.

Watching the Decline in Real Time

Economic decline is not necessarily related to social deterioration, although there are multiple ways that the economy can be harmed by it. When family ties attenuate, for example, people increasingly need (even demand) the government to step in, not only for assistance, but also to mediate transactions, whether personal or commercial.

I thought of that while viewing a chart from the annual Economic Freedom of the World report that shows the United States down at number 18 — just behind Qatar and farther behind Estonia, the United Arab Emirates, Chile, Bahrain, and a number of countries that are less surprising.

This is why it’s peculiar to hear “fiscal conservatives” pooh-poohing such movements as the one to reverse the father-daughter-dance ban.  (It’s also why the “fiscal conservative/social liberal” philosophy is invariably incomplete, at best.)

PolitiFact Does the Right Thing… Almost

We should give PolitiFact RI (partial) kudos for doing the right thing and publishing its revision of a ruling in the Congressional District 1 race with the same prominence (almost) as its initial erroneous ruling.

Republican challenger Brendan Doherty had said that “the Providence Economic Development Partnership … which [Cicilline] chaired, loaned $103,000 in taxpayer funds to one of [his] campaign workers. The worker never paid back the loan.”  And PolitiFact called it “Mostly False.”  Now, based on information that reporter Tom Mooney was unable to discover as they rushed to press the first time (even though reporter Dan McGowan had the details on GoLocalProv weeks ago), they’ve flipped the Truth-O-Meter to “Mostly True.”

The reason I’m rating the correction as “Almost the Right Thing” is that the deadline to wrap up research on the story was probably set in order to get the original “Mostly False” rating in the Sunday edition of the paper.  The correction ran today, Wednesday.

According to the latest circulation data that comes immediately up on a Web search, the Providence Journal has readership of 122,279 on Sundays, but only 85,496 on weekdays.  That means that  43% more people have seen the incorrect “Mostly False” ruling than the corrected “Mostly True” ruling.

Add that to the fact that Doherty offered a list of 10 “deceptions” from incumbent Democrat David Cicilline and PolitiFact appears only to be interested in two less obviously accurate ones, and it’s still a good example of why ostensibly objective journalists should not be in the business of judging veritas. But at least they didn’t run their correction in small print at the end of some other article.

What the Media Thinks Is News

I also noticed, today, that the Providence Journal devoted a whole page to a comment from Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney in an incomplete, secret recording of a private fundraising spiel. (Although, he’d said similar things a month earlier during a town hall meeting in Rhode Island.)

That over-coverage contributed to the surreal feeling that has already come to characterize this election season.  Victor Davis Hanson summarizes it well, in a post titled “1980 Redux“:

When young Phaethon takes over Helios’s chariot, lots get scorched: China and Japan in a war of words over more territorial disputes as Asia watches unsure of the U.S. position; more unrest against the U.S. in the Middle East; a new cartoon uproar in France as it evacuates embassies; Americans cannot patrol any longer with the Afghan troops they are supposed to train; Iraq slipping out of the U.S. orbit; Israel and the U.S. at a historic divide; Iran full-speed ahead on nuclear-weapons proliferation; “lead from behind”/ Cairo-speech strategy going up in the smoke of the Arab Spring; Syria — who knows what?; EU warnings on U.S. debt, borrowing, and printing, as weak U.S. growth, unemployment, and energy prices hit the public — and in reaction we get presidential summits with Letterman, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z as the media goes ballistic over a video in which Romney warns that nearly half the population is becoming dependent on government.

Here’s a related story, from Alex Pappas, that Hanson missed:

Reporters covering the White House don’t seem to have many questions about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was last week found in violation of federal law against engaging in political activity while on the job.

A review of transcripts by The Daily Caller indicate that no questions have been asked by the reporters who cover the president about Sebelius during official White House briefings or gaggles since Sept. 12, when the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in a report that the cabinet secretary violated the Hatch Act earlier this year.

One wonders whether any “mainstream journalists” are beginning to be embarrassed for their profession.  Scroll back up to the link about the Providence Journal’s circulation and read Ted Nesi’s story about the thousands of fewer people who are bothering to read the paper every year.  Culture and media trends surely have a lot to do with that, but credibility issues don’t help, especially when there are alternatives.



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