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Against Being Fair in Foolishness on Energy

The snow coming down, leaving us inside with our heating systems and, for many, the comfort of generators should things get that heavy, creates an excellent atmosphere in which to read Stephen Moore’s thoughts on why “Europe’s Lesson Teaches Us: Don’t Go Green.” Moore also touches on the impetus to make the United States green, too:

So very quietly, Europe and other nations aren’t going so green anymore. The EU spent an estimated $750 billion on green energy handouts over the past decade and what it has bought for that is a doubling of its power costs.

This has given American steel, auto, light manufacturing, agriculture, and technology firms a big competitive edge in world markets.  This is why European nations and Australia are understandably desperate for the U.S. to move to the same green energy policies that they adopted years ago.

Just as it’s in Russia’s interests to bankroll an American anti-fracking movement, the elites of Europe, who have pushed their countries too far toward fashionable energy programs, have reason to pressure the United States to hobble its own economy.  If Europeans were to demand that their leaders put the well-being of workers and families first and loosen their regulations, many in the United States would cheer them on, but our own elites shouldn’t expect us to sacrifice our workers and our families to make us fair in foolishness.


Making Difficult Personal Interactions a National Decision

Perhaps you’ve come across the story of the transgender wrestler who won the Texas title for girls’ wrestling.  If you haven’t, the opening summary of Dan Frosch’s Wall Street Journal article may need some clarification:

Mack Beggs, a star wrestler at Trinity High School near Fort Worth, has a new victory under his belt. On Saturday, he became the first transgender boy to win the girls state title in Texas.

Turning to biology for clarity makes things simpler:  Mack is a girl taking hormones (at the pre-majority age of 17) to become more like a boy.  Previous articles I’ve read were honest enough to note that boy-making hormones are essentially performance-enhancing drugs for a female wrestler.  Hence, the dilemma.

Many folks in the Northeast like to mock Southerners, assuming they’re as closed-minded about their views as New England progressives are about their own, but one must sympathize with the league:

“It is not a clean, easy thing to deal with by any means,” said Cody Moree, a superintendent in Apple Springs Independent School District in East Texas. Mr. Moree voted for the rule but said he understood both sides of the issue.

“I would understand if this student was wrestling in the boys division and there were objections there as well,” he said.

Putting the dilemma that way — and it is a dilemma — gets at a consideration that people around here tend to simply dismiss:  Other children have feelings, too, and they have a right not to have the weight of government come down on them to “correct” their wrongthink.

Even in the boys’ league, Mack would be taking performance-enhancing drugs, potentially wrestling against biological boys who are (for hormonal or other reasons) not as strong. As much as self-righteous, right-thinking people might be prepared to condemn those boys for their insecurities and bigotry, losses to a biological girl could be hurtful.  (They’d probably be at the lower weight classes, after all.)  Why should their feelings be dismissed?

Maybe we need to reconsider setting children on the path to biological transformation so early.


Closing School Gives Context for Choice

Readers may have heard that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny school in Newport (“Cluny,” for short) will be closing after this year.  From Sean Flynn’s article in the Newport Daily News:

“Despite the best efforts of so many over the past few years to reverse the trend in declining enrollment, the school’s leadership reached the conclusion that we did not have sufficient resources to continue our mission of educating and empowering our students to live lives of integrity based on Gospel values,” Sister Luke said in a prepared statement. …

“Like most independent schools, the tuition does not fully cover the cost of educating our students,” Cluny says on the website. “We rely on the generosity of supporters to help close the gap in our annual operating budget. The Fund for Cluny School provides unrestricted funds for across-the-board support of the school.”

Rhode Island’s continuing sour economy, combined with increasing secularism in the population, regulations imposed on schools and employers, and the public schools’ deliberate efforts to squeeze out private schools are putting pressure on schools like Cluny.  That suits special interests in the education establishment, as well as progressives who see private school as a marker of inequality and radical atheists who hate Christianity, but those who foot public bills should pause a moment, as a letter from Portsmouth resident John Brady in the March 6 Newport Daily News explains:

It will no doubt be difficult if not impossible to relocate all of these children in other private schools on the island, which means that our local public schools will be called upon to accept a large number of the 140 students.  Since the cost of public school education is roughly $14,000 per pupil, island taxpayers may have to pay an additional $1.96 million above already budgeted taxes if all of the Cluny students end up in island public schools.

Brady goes on to suggest, essentially, vouchers to help families attend the schools they want and taxpayers to save money on government schools.  But that misses the dynamic of the government plantation model.  The school districts will absorb the students and simply tell taxpayers that they have no choice but to pay the bill.  If necessary, public school parents and union members will be mobilized to put any budget votes over the top.

In theory, government is meant to facilitate civic society, primarily by ensuring security and a consistent rule of law, but in the expanded view, by ensuring that its own actions aren’t having adverse effects on non-government activity.  Its actions are indisputably doing so, but to progressives like Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, it’s not an issue.  I’m sure if asked directly she’ll proclaim concern for private schools (such as those that she attended), but she clearly sees her role in government as promoting government’s interests.


Do We Need a Temperance Movement for the Internet?

As we all wake up groggy on the first Monday after the Daylight Savings switch and go about our plugged-in days, let’s give some thoughts to Ross Douthat’s exhortation to “Resist the Internet.”  Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Douthat encourages a vast new regime of laws and social norms limiting the degree to which people are plugged in through their computers and smart phones.

Fanciful as most of his essay is, his last suggestion and more-realistic expectation are worth taking seriously:

… The age of consent should be 16, not 13, for Facebook accounts. Kids under 16 shouldn’t be allowed on gaming networks. High school students shouldn’t bring smartphones to school. Kids under 13 shouldn’t have them at all. If you want to buy your child a cellphone, by all means: In the new dispensation, Verizon and Sprint will have some great “voice-only” plans available for minors.

I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently.

That sounds about right.  Those with advantages adjust to innovations and changes, but as with much else in the culture war (particularly around sex and lifestyle), those who need us to build a common culture for their benefit and their ability to improve their lot are harmed.


Unfair And Unreasonable Occupational Licensing Restrictions

It is time to change the status quo in Rhode Island. What if lawmakers were to realize the policy culture of considering only material needs has been harmful to our families? Instead, lawmakers should work to empower more families with the soul-fulfilling power of work by removing the obstacles that stand in their way. Rhode Island needs bold, broad-based reform ideas; ideas that will help existing and would-be businesses and families. One big idea is removing the heavy-hand of government occupational licensing restrictions on small businesses.

Unfair and unreasonable occupational licensing restrictions must be repealed if we want more Rhode Islanders to have a chance to improve their quality of life and engage in entrepreneurial commerce. This burdens are especially harmful to many people who would prefer to start new careers and earn paychecks instead of receiving welfare checks. The Ocean State ranks near last place on so many lists, it is wrong to keep to the status quo. A well-planned “shock” to the system is warranted. In too many instances, Rhode Islanders have to prove themselves worthy to the state, by conforming to its arbitrary standards in order to work. One big example, is the push to free natural hair braiders from these unnecessary licensing restrictions.

We support regulatory reforms that would free natural hair braiders from the occupational licensing mandates currently imposed on the harmless practice. Unfair and unreasonable occupational licensing restrictions must be repealed if we want more Rhode Islanders to have a chance to improve their quality of life and engage in entrepreneurial commerce. Only, 14 states, along with the District of Columbia, require hair braiders to acquire a specialized license. In Mississippi and Iowa, hair braiders have to register with the state. Specialty licenses require 600 hours of classes and can cost thousands of dollars.

Haven’t you had enough of the insider status quo machine? By speaking out, you can have a powerful impact on the debate in Rhode Island. Now is the time to adopt the free market ideas that can transform our home like removing the heavy hand of overly burdensome listening requirements. The rigged system in the Ocean State has kept too many people out of the process. Rhode Islanders want a state government that works for everyone not just the chosen few. Don’t just sit back and wait for change. Your family deserves prosperity, and you must demand the proven reforms that can transform our state.


Addiction as a Selfist Draw into Helplessness

It seems as if we’ve seen an upsurge in contrarian arguments recently, as with Paul Bloom’s book, Against Empathy, which I mentioned in my podcast this past week.  Here’s another example, this time with Peter Hitchens insisting that addiction is a “fantasy.”

Read the whole thing for his arguments, but this is the point I’d like to draw out for this post:

The Christian religion had no idea that a new power, which I call selfism, would arise. And, having arisen, selfism has easily shouldered its rival aside. In free competition, how can a faith based upon self-restraint and patience compete with one that pardons, unconditionally and in advance, all the self-indulgences you can think of, and some you cannot? That is what the “addiction” argument is most fundamentally about, and why it is especially distressing to hear Christian voices accepting and promoting it, as if it were merciful to call a man a slave, and treat him as if he had no power to resist.

I tend to agree with Hitchens that people can overcome these things if they work at it.  Labeling everything as, in essence, a disease may make matters worse, on a societal scale.  Mainly, that is, I agree with Hitchens that it is detrimental to inculcate a culture with the idea of powerlessness and, therefore, a denial of individual agency.

In gaining freedom from blame, we lose responsibility (which is a topic I’ve touched on before).


Appropriate Context for Retiree Complaints

I’ve been surprised to find my opinion of the Providence Journal commentary pages falling under the editorship of Ed Achorn, but this is a terrific editorial note following a letter to the editor by a retiree in the state pension system, in which she complains about the unfairness of limited cost of living adjustments (COLAs):

The writer retired at 58 from the Bristol Warren Regional School District as a secretary, then went to work in the private sector for 11 years.

The context is especially relevant because in the letter Kathleen Moran insists: “If the governor has money to pay for tuition for students, who as well as their parents, are able to work, she should pay retirees COLA, as some are not able to work.”  To fill in some details, Moran retired in 2000 having contributed all of $22,011 toward her pension, and by the end of the 2014 fiscal year, she’d already collected $227,538.  That is, she was coming pretty close to getting back her total investment every single year.

Now, I don’t support the tuition plan, but mainly because Rhode Islanders shouldn’t succumb to the ideology that says government is their way to take what they want from other people.  Indeed, we’re overdue to get fed up with the sense of entitlement among those who already hold that belief.


Rest and Enjoyment in Modern Society

As I struggle to fit everything I’d like to accomplish into the limited span of a life, it occurred to me to offer an addendum to R. R. Reno’s recent “Public Square” column in First Things:

Modern liberalism discourages rest. We must work in the present for the sake of the future. Everything is subject to improvement, which means we are required to forsake the mode of enjoyment. The injustices tolerated by our system of government cry out for remedy. We need a living Constitution, one plastic and available for the great and the good to use in order to bring us into a better future. The same goes for our history and traditions. They must be critiqued and updated so that they are more diverse and inclusive. By this way of thinking, gratitude for the given brings complacency, and complacency is an enemy of the future.

Thus, the progressive mind disenchants reality so that we are not tempted to enjoy and rest in it. This has become the dominant approach of our era. Literature needs to be dissolved into race, class, and gender. Law students must be taught that the law serves as an instrument of power. The family is a factory of repression. Marriage is a patriarchal institution. What we receive as given is, at root, the present form of what the dead have used to advance their interests. Even the natural world is a vast arena of competition in which the fittest seek to survive, commandeering the flux of DNA for their own blind purposes. To enjoy is to be deceived and used by hidden others.

Reno is speaking here in the social sense — saying that we can never rest in the satisfactions of our culture.  However, the notion of rest and enjoyment has another sense that seems to fit easily into the same analysis with an almost opposite direction:  Per the progressive vision, one can rest and enjoy life if one is suitably liberal.

If one repents of one’s own sins by mouthing the appropriate platitudes, by voting for people who’ll take money away from others, and by execrating those who hold the wrong views (often with working class sensibilities), one gains the indulgences to go on and live comfortably, with all the perks of wealth and modern society.  The private-school parent is absolved of guilt among his or her public-school-(union)-focused friends provided he or she advocates for ever-bigger budgets imposed on other families, most of which cannot afford private school.  Living on a desirable street or being a member of a yacht club is fine, provided one supports giving government more power over the lives of others.

They get their rest and their comforts, provided they’re willing to let the activists continue to attack the foundations of the traditional society that allows those lower down the socio-economic hill to rise.  The arrangement is pretty convenient, to be sure, and it makes one wonder who is pulling whose strings.


In the Dystopia, Turn to the Other Listener

For your Saturday-afternoon unsettling reading, turn to the thoughts of Instapundit reader, security expert Eric Cowperthwaite, regarding the WikiLeaks release of CIA files:

The CIA has built a capability to hack pretty much anything, anywhere. It turns out that they, potentially, have more ability to intrude into servers, computers, smartphones and electronic communications than even the NSA. This capability is now in the hands of people other than the CIA. All the things you’ve read, that seem like science fiction movie plots, are really true. Other people can listen to you via your smart TV, can read your email, turn on the webcam on your laptop, without you ever knowing.

On the same topic, Roger Simon of PJMedia takes up some of the media and political ramifications.  This paragraph in particularly caught my eye:

Whatever the case, we all have to do some serious thinking — way beyond the general superficiality and contrived drama of congressional hearings or indeed the quick in-and-out of an op-ed.  What is being revealed here is a sea change in the human condition that is almost evolutionary in its implications. What are our lives like without the presumption of privacy?  What kind of creatures will we become in this brave new world that appears already to have arrived?   It’s not fun to contemplate. Even the medieval peasantry had moments of escape from their feudal lords.

Rather than “evolutionary,” I think I’d go straight to “existential.”  As a Christian, the notion of never being entirely alone is not exactly a new one (and not inherently a frightening one).  The key question becomes who is listening and why.

There is nothing an omnipotent God needs to sneak from us and no worldly advantage for Him to gain by knowing our secrets.  Whatever you’ve thought or done, worse has been thought and done by millions of others.  That is not true when the listeners are other people, with their own schemes and selfish interests.

Whatever new technological twists we put on the old plot, the central struggle remains the same for the individual: It’s them versus Him.


The Long-Predictable Mob at Middlebury

The episode of Charles Murray’s treatment at Middlebury College, as described in the Weekly Standard by Jenna Lifhits, has been a long time coming and, therefore, predictable:

Some professors in attendance gave “tacit and explicit support” to the strategy, one source reported, and admitted that they had not read Murray’s work.

“When asked by students and other faculty members whether they had ever read Charles Murray’s work, the organizers bristled at the notion that they should be asked to read a work before condemning it,” a source close to the meetings told TWS. “‘You mean you want me to read The Bell Curve?'”

When I was studying English at the University of Rhode Island, one of my literature professors mentioned The Bell Curve multiple times, as being “all about” racism and the inferiority of black people.  So I did what anybody with more than a full course load and a job to help cover the cost of college would do: I bought the book and read it.

The next time the professor referred to the book, I noted that I had read the book and didn’t recall the statement that he was proclaiming to be the whole point of the book.  Declining to answer, he noted that he didn’t have his copy of the book handy, so I handed him mine, at which point he noted to the class that all of their books should have such thorough underlining and marginal notes.  Ultimately, he said the statement under question was in a footnote somewhere, and he couldn’t find it on the spot.

And this was a professor whom I liked and with whom I had a good rapport.

It’s not just in academia that liberals have been stoking the flames of fascism.  In 2009, I objected to the local news media’s celebration of a large group (mainly of young Rhode Islanders) turning out to mock and “counter protest” the repellent Phelps Family road show when it came to Providence:

The Westboro Baptist Church crew is certainly deserving of jeers, but there’s an aftertaste of mocking the infirm to this episode, and a belch of moral preening in making it the stuff of newspaper celebration. … Promoting such displays of force against minority viewpoints is a precarious principle, even when that minority contributes nothing to the public debate.

As I expected at the time, people responded by asking if I wanted to defend the likes of the people whom I was defending.  My perspective is that I wasn’t really defending them as critiquing the behavior of people whom I would join in condemning the group.  I fear that we’re seeing my fears borne out.


Some Badly Needed Perspective for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin

Let’s clarify some things for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, shall we, and then explain to him where his political career currently stands.

It is not “his house”, as many have correctly pointed out, it is the people’s house. He does not pay the salaries of his staff, including specifically the p.r. flak who, incredibly, laid a hand on NBC 10 reporter Bill Rappleye so as to silence and even eject him from the press conference. Rhode Island’s hard working taxpayers pay those salaries. All 240 of them.

It is, in fact, taxpayers, not Mr. Kilmartin, who pay for all of the resources of his office. Most importantly, the power of his office is not “his” power. It is power that comes from we, the people of Rhode Island, who devolved it to him in a lawful and democratic manner for one reason only: so that he could administer justice in an equal and impartial manner on our behalf.

We did not pass along the power of and resources to that office so that they could be used for the personal advantage or political advancement of the person who occupies the office. And we definitely did not do so in order that they could be abused to shield the occupant of the office from totally legitimate questions about actions that he took in an official capacity, whether current or prior.

Secondly. When Bill Rappleye or any of the other fine reporters in this state ask Mr. Kilmartin or another elected official a question, they are not doing so for their own idle amusement. They ask on behalf of the residents, taxpayers and voters of Rhode Island to whom Mr. Kilmartin and all state officials are accountable. Therefore, when Mr. Kilmartin moves to shut a reporter up, throw him/her out of a press conference or, in a stunningly juvenile manner, actually stop sharing official communication with the news outlet for whom the meddlesome reporter works – communication which, once again, DOES NOT BELONG to Mr. Kilmartin – he (Mr. Kilmartin) is not telling a reporter to shut up and butt out, he is telling every resident of this state to shut up and butt out.

In short, Mr. Kilmartin was way, way out of line Thursday and yesterday, in his conduct, attitude and motivation which has disturbingly been revealed as one of deep entitlement rather than public service.

The fallout from this inures largely to Mr. Kilmartin and it isn’t pretty. A talk show host on WPRO – I believe it was Dan Yorke – said that the incident made Mr. Kilmartin look thin-skinned. It did, in part. But much worse, Mr. Kilmartin looked as though he were stifling an inquiry about his own culpability in 38 Studios – and using the power and resources of “his” office to do so. His official actions throughout the aftermath of the 38 Studios debacle had been dubious, culminating most recently in a volte face from the-investigation-is-open-indefinitely-so-I-don’t-ever-have-to-tell-you-anything-because-we-may-reopen-the-case-even-though-we-absolutely-will-not-ha-ha-like-I-would-ever to the-investigation-is-closed-now-so-I’m-blocking-the-release-of-38-Studios-materials-from-the-Grand-Jury-criminal-inquiry-because-er-it-might-have-a-dampening-effect-on-the-Grand-Jury-process-yeah-that’s-the-ticket. The incident Thursday involving Bill Rappleye followed by Mr. Kilmartin (incredibly) removing NBC 10 from the press list cements the impression that Mr. Kilmartin is no longer allowing justice and the best interest of Rhode Island to guide his official actions – for sure when it comes to 38 Studios and, therefore, possibly with regard to other official matters.

Accordingly, Mr. Kilmartin’s tenure as Attorney General cannot end quickly enough (I suppose there’s no point in suggesting that he step down, though that would be best). And as images like this and this would almost certainly feature prominently in his opponent’s campaign, it is a good thing for the people of Rhode Island that Mr. Kilmartin’s chances of getting elected to future office have been considerably diminished as it is clear now that he has a distorted view as to what comprises public service – and what he should be trying to accomplish in “his” house.


Violence Comes from Those Who Cannot Win by Words

Megan McArdle is good on the descent of left-wing activists to fascism:

The implicit assumption here is that their protest movement is not merely entitled to be heard, but to win – win with a victory so total that no voice is ever even raised in opposition. And if they cannot win by raising their voices, then they must move on to more aggressive means. This makes sense only if, as [Greg Lukianoff, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)] says, you define Yiannopoulos’s outrageous statements as equivalent to violence, or worse than violence.

I will admit that this is a coherent world view. Indeed, it cohered for decades in the old Soviet Union. But most of us don’t want to live in the world it leads to, if for no other reason than because we aren’t so confident that we’ll get to be the ones choosing who needs to be violently silenced.

I do wonder, though, whether McArdle has missed a piece of the problem.  It’s not just that the Left feels an entitlement to win to the extent of wiping out its opposition; it’s that this entitlement is mixed with an incoherent worldview.  As progressive positions become founded more and more on an absurd worldview that doesn’t comport with reality, not only can debate not produce an enemy-destroying victory, but it can’t be won at all.

In other words, the Left can’t win a fair debate, so its activists must escalate to violence and silencing to ensure the victory to which they feel entitled for reasons of ideology or emotion.


Gaming the Intersection Blockage

Do you have the same thought I had when you read this?

Later this year, if you find yourself stuck in the middle of certain traffic-clogged city intersections blocking cross traffic when the light turns red, you may be facing more than the disapproval of your fellow travelers. You could be looking at a fine of $100 or more.

Providence is poised to be the first municipality to take advantage of a new state law dubbed “Don’t block the box.” It allows the city to designate intersections for special enforcement of rules against blocking traffic.

I may put signs in my car windows with left-wing slogans like #BlackLivesMatters and “resistance” messages.  Then, if I get caught in an intersection, I’ll tell the police officer that I’m just using my right to block traffic in protest against fascism… or something.

Of course, if legislation absolving drivers of liability for accidentally hitting protesters who block the street were to pass, things could get really interesting.


Raimondo Unemployment Talk Pure Spin

Honestly, I find this sort of spin outrageous:

The state Department of Labor and Training said Thursday that unemployment dipped to 4.7 percent in January, one-tenth of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.8 percent.

The last time unemployment was below the U.S. rate was May 2005.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo says efforts to strengthen the state’s economy are paying off.

Want an image of this “strengthening” of the state’s economy?


Hooray!  Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is overcoming the U.S. average despite still being down because the number of people looking for work in the United States grew more than the number of people employed.


One Side Wants Both Public and Private Schools; the Other Wants a Monopoly

Denisha Merriweather has a powerful school choice story, as told by Alexandra DeSantis on National Review Online.  And it has made an advocate of her:

In her view, education policy ought to be a bipartisan issue, and she thinks the strength of the school-choice movement lies in its inclusive mindset. “I do feel like the public-school advocates or the teachers’ unions always want an ‘us or them’ mentality. In their minds, you can’t have both,” she explains.

“And we on the school-choice side are not saying that at all. We’re saying, ‘Let’s all be productive, and let’s all serve our children.’ That’s one thing that really sets us apart from those who are pushing for the public-school system,” Denisha continues. “Why can’t we have more choices, and all the choices? [The unions] can’t understand that we do want to keep the public schools. We just want all of these other choices, too.”

In some respects, she’s incorrect about that.  The unions, and the rest of the education establishment, have a different vision of what government schools should be — namely, the monopolistic control of all education, with only the exceptions that the very wealthy can carve out with their own money.  That’s what “both” means to them.

Where poor performance and high cost become so outrageous that a somnolent public begins to wake up to the problem, the establishment will concede very limited reforms, perhaps to the degree of setting up a private school system within government itself (that is, charter schools).  To rephrase Merriweather, it’s not that the establishment doesn’t believe that we can have both a public school sector and a healthy private school sector;  it’s that the establishment doesn’t want both to exist.


Last Impressions Podcast Episode 6: A Day Without Perspective

Governing under the influence… of progressivism, the persecuted Godfather, sexist perspectives, and opposition to empathy

Right-click title on track list to download.



Hate Crimes and Playing the Man in Politics

Noting that some significant portion of the anti-Semitic threats made in the recent past were perpetrated by a left-wing journalist, Kevin Williamson puts his finger on the impression that many conservatives (and, I would hope, clear-eyed moderates and even liberals) are getting: 

The Left, for the moment, cannot seriously compete in the theater of ideas. So rather than play the ball, it’s play the man. Socialism failed, but there is some juice to be had from convincing people who are not especially intellectually engaged and who are led by their emotions more than by their intellect — which is to say, most people — that the people pushing ideas contrary to yours are racists and anti-Semites, that they hate women and homosexuals and Muslims and foreigners, that they could not possibly be correct on the policy questions, because they are moral monsters. This is the ad hominem fallacy elevated, if not quite to a creed, then to a general conception of politics. Hence the hoaxes and lies and nonsense.

Phony hate crimes. Phony hate.

“Play the man.”  That is, rather than try to move the ball down the field, hurt the other team’s members so they can’t make any progress, either.

Of course, contact sports have, well, contact, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell how clean a play is or whether a player is going after his or her opponent or merely standing his or her ground in the face of aggression.  In policy, the important judgment for spectators is where the emphasis seems to be.  Charts and analysis coupled with a bit of roughness is very different from accusations designed to keep people from considering alternatives to one’s preferred perspective.


Different Understandings of Civic Education

State Representative Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) has submitted legislation to require Rhode Island schools to teach students about the founding documents of the United States, and I’m not sure Providence Journal reporter Linda Borg quite understands the difference between that proposal and this:

Generation Citizen goes into the classroom and provides students with a hands-on civics project. Last semester, a group of Providence students studied community-police relations and lobbied for the community safety act, meeting with the City Council and others.

“Our young people don’t see politics and government as a path to real change,” [Generation Citizen Providence lead Tom] Kerr-Vanderslice said. “If we provide local, project-based civics education, they start to see politics as a pathway to making an impact.”

Newberry’s objective (I infer) is to educate students on the structure and boundaries of government.  Understanding our founding documents is understanding the agreement we have made with each other about what we can and can’t use the force of government to do.  Generation Citizen is teaching students how to be activists (generally left-wing activists, by the looks of it).

Those are very different lessons — in some ways opposing and in some ways complementary.  Borg’s article, however, tells the reader almost nothing about Newberry’s perspective with his legislation.  Rather, his bill is mainly a framework in which to present Kerr-Vanderslice’s perspective.

In that regard, the article presents an excellent illustration of the dangers of the progressive mentality.  What is important, under its sway, is for people to learn how to leverage government (implicitly serving the interests of people who deify it), not for them to understand people’s right to live independently from government.  The message being taught is: If you want something, go get government to force people to give it to you at the point of a gun.


The “Good Combination” of Religiously Grounded Schools

As one constitutionally disposed (so to speak) to resist the temptations of Donald Trump, I have to say that it’s great to hear sentiments like this from the President of the United States:

President Donald Trump visited a Florida Catholic school on Friday, praising the Catholic education system and touting his support for school choice programs.

“You understand how much your students benefit from full education, one that enriches both the mind and the soul. That’s a good combination,” the president told Bishop John Noonan of Orlando at St. Andrew Catholic School March 3.

Among the most compelling testimonies for school choice that I heard in Rhode Island came from a native American woman who told legislators about rebounding from childhood of abuse and a young adulthood addicted on drugs.  She emphasized that, although not Catholic herself, she valued the moral norms and religious foundation that her daughter’s Catholic school provided.

Looking at data, earlier, that suggests that public schools are keeping kids not only from dropping out, but also from transferring to schools outside of the state’s government system until senior year makes me wonder how many of those students needed what that woman thought her daughter needed.  Whether the problem is (a) the local economy — affecting both parents’ ability to afford tuition and donors’ ability to finance the education of others’ children — or (b) the government’s move into the private school market with charter schools or (c) the expanding perks that taxpayers subsidize exclusively for government-school students, if children aren’t finding the schools that are right for them, then we’re all worse off for it.


Yes, Much of Today’s Ire Is Projection

Be sure to check out Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s summary in Reason of some recent research on collective outrage:

Ultimately, the results of Rothschild and Keefer’s five studies were “consistent with recent research showing that outgroup-directed moral outrage can be elicited in response to perceived threats to the ingroup’s moral status,” write the authors. The findings also suggest that “outrage driven by moral identity concerns serves to compensate for the threat of personal or collective immorality” and the cognitive dissonance that it might elicit, and expose a “link between guilt and self-serving expressions of outrage that reflect a kind of ‘moral hypocrisy,’ or at least a non-moral form of anger with a moral facade.”

Here are the key findings, quoting from Brown:

  1. Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target.  …
  2. The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.” …
  3. Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.” …
  4. “The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality. …
  5. Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.” …

Of course, these days, all social science comes with a caveat about replication, but this particular study sure does feel familiar and explanatory of behavior we can observe every day in the political field.


Digging in on Graduation Data

Naturally, I couldn’t leave the unsatisfying ambiguity of yesterday’s post about Rhode Island graduation rates alone, so I kept playing with the available data.  It’s missing some key data points that play into the graduation rate — such as the number of students transferring into and out of public schools (whether private or out-of-state) and students who repeat grades — but the numbers do tell an interesting story.


This chart shows the classes of 2007 and 2016 at several points in their travel:

  • Enrollment as of October of their freshman year
  • The same number minus those who drop out freshman, sophomore, or junior years
  • Enrollment as of October of their senior year
  • The same number minus those who drop out senior year
  • Graduating class

The first observation to jump off the chart is the starting decrease of 15%.  Counting kindergarten, there are 13 grades, which means each grade is approximately 7.7%, so the freshman-year enrollment has lost very nearly two full grade levels worth of students.  (At the same time, as I’ve noted in Tiverton, far from going down accordingly, budgets have continued to climb.)

As we move into the more subtle observations, one positive note is that our government schools are doing a better job of keeping students from dropping out during the first three years of high school.  As a percentage of their starting freshman class, pre-senior dropouts have fallen from 10.4% to 9.6%.

That helps to explain why enrollment in senior year has barely dropped at all over the decade (less than 1%), but a more significant point may be related to my previous arguments that the government has been targeting the private-school market to keep up its own student numbers.  One mechanism for doing so has been charter schools, but other policies push toward the same end.  For example, students in public schools can attend college-level courses and take the SATs on the taxpayer’s dime, but private school or home-schooled students cannot.  In 2007, more than 13% of the drop from freshman year to senior year could not be explained by dropouts; in 2016, that percentage was less than 1%.  In other words, the net effect of students’ transferring into and out of government schools during the first three years of high school is now almost nothing.

Next, although government schools are doing a better job of keeping students in school up to their senior year, that gain is lost (and then some) during the final year before graduation.  In 2007, 4.8% of the starting senior class dropped out; in 2016, the number was 6.1%.  Consequently, the percentage of students enrolled for freshman year who drop out before graduation has increased, from 14.1% to 15.0%.  (Of course, that’s based on a dramatically shrinking starting point, so the number of dropouts over the four years of high school has actually gone down.)

The size of the graduating class, therefore, has shrunk, by 7.4%, from 2007 to 2016.  The number of students graduating was 4.2% smaller than the number enrolled as seniors at the start of the 2006-2007 school year, whereas the 2016 the graduating class had shed 10.5% of the students who’d begun senior year.

Overall, the impression one gets is that the government is increasingly emphasizing not only keeping kids in school, but keeping them in government schools.  When that drive hits a crisis point for some students — as they have to get over the hurdles to graduate — a greater percentage are dropping out or pursuing alternatives among strangers for their final year of secondary school.

In that environment, it’s not unreasonable to wonder how many students are simply being pushed along and handed diplomas in order to drive the official graduation rates up, especially given the establishment’s visceral aversion to objective standards for a diploma.


First, They Give You Money; Then, They Take Your Freedom

Buried in legislation that would begin treating “sugary drinks” in Rhode Island as something akin to cigarettes or alcoholic beverages is one of the best arguments for turning down the government when it wants to give us things.  H5787 and S0452 — led by Central Falls Democrat Representative Shelby Maldonado and Pawtucket/North Providence Democrat Senator Donna Nesselbush — would create new, burdensome licensing requirements for businesses seeking to sell the evil elixirs and impose an inflation-adjusted tax on them, enforcing the law not just with fines and licensing consequences, but with a criminal charge.

Central to the rationale for the law is this language:

Medicare and Medicaid spending would be eight and one-half percent (8.5%) and eleven and eight tenths percent (11.8%) lower, respectively, in the absence of obesity-related spending.

There you go: The price of letting government pay for things, like health care, is that government then gets to tell you how to live.  This will get worse if we don’t make such politicians pay a political price of their own.


Scheming to Go After Congressmen… No Need in RI

Those subsisting on a diet of local news in the Northeast might believe it’s crazy to think the “resistance” isn’t grassroots and that Obama is behind much of the organizing should expand their reading horizons. Here’s Debra Heine, writing on PJMedia:

Leaked audio from a recent “Indivisible” group meeting sheds light on how the anti-Trump activists manufacture hostile environments at Republican town halls.

The audio, obtained by radio station KPEL out of Lafayette, La., features the Indivisible activists plotting to create the false impression that Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s support for President Trump is unpopular with his constituents. …

If Indivisible — which recently partnered up with Obama’s “Organizing for Action” — is trying to model itself off of the TEA Party — they’re doing it wrong.

Of course, things are skewed in Rhode Island.  Here, a bakers dozen of Indivisible activists get a private meeting with Democrat Congressman Jim Langevin’s chief of staff and partly spend their time thanking the congressman.


Labor Unions, Less About Workers and More About Government

The American Interest offers what might be termed a labor thought for today if it hadn’t been sitting in my bookmarks for a week:

It’s significant that ground zero for public sector union reform is the upper-Midwest, once the capital of organized labor. Democrats try to cast such reforms as a betrayal of workers, but in a post-industrial age when half of union members are public employees whose demands for fatter benefits packages come at direct expense of the taxpayers, many voters don’t see it that way. As James Sherk noted in our pages last year, “A movement formed to defend blue-collar laborers now fights primarily to help white-collar workers expand government.”

That point cannot be sufficiently emphasized:  labor unions, overall, are now dominated by the public-sector subsegment, which has a very different model.

In the private sector, the union negotiates with management for the share of profits from sales to customers that goes to the workers.  In the public sector, the union helps elect management with whom it can conspire to take more money from taxpayers, who must either leave the area or pay up once the unions achieve political dominance, as they have in Rhode Island.  That is, in the public sector, it’s a process more resembling theft than negotiation.

Of course, one should note that the strength of unions in the private sector, such as it is, often comes with their ability to manipulate the law to force clients — mainly governments — to use union labor or to box competitors out of big markets — like government projects.  In that regard, even more of organized labor should properly be seen as existing in the public sector.


Superficial Judgement Tends to Go with Intolerance

“Silicon Valley liberal” Sam Altman took the time to talk to those strange creatures called “Trump supporters” and wrote up his findings for Business Insider.  These two quotations particularly resonated with me:

“I’m so tired of hearing about white privilege. I’m white but way less privileged than a black person from your world. I have no hope my life will ever get any better.” …

“The amount of violent attacks and economic attacks perpetrated by the left are troublesome. My wife and I recently moved to the Bay Area. I was expecting a place which was a welcoming meritocracy of ideas. Instead, I found a place where everyone constantly watches everyone else for any thoughtcrime.”

The first quotation is a long-standing complaint I’ve made to liberals.  For all of the profundity they’re keen to attribute to the line, “What happens to a dream deferred?,” they’re willing to defer a whole lot of them if the dreamers don’t fit one of the profiles about which they feel guilty.

The second quotation may not point to a new phenomenon, but it’s increasingly relevant.  Watching progressives be active, whether locally or at the national level, their self-righteousness and willingness to excuse bad behavior are a lesson in how such things as the Salem witch trials happen.

The combination of the two quotes, though, is hardly surprising.  History has shown that the sorts of people who’ll judge others based on superficial qualities like skin color will also tend to be intolerant, sometimes to the point of violence.


Governor Pitches Free College to More Kids Who Can’t Do Math or Read at Grade Level

Last week, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and Democrat Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed visited Rogers High School in Newport to promote the governor’s plan to buy votes by giving families taxpayer dollars for two years of public college:

“When I talk to people around the state like your parents, they tell me that they are kept up at night thinking about your future,” Governor Raimondo told the students. “I want you and Rhode Islanders like you to get the jobs companies are creating here. The number one barrier to a college degree is cost. Our Free College proposal is affordable and an investment we need to make in your future. I am so thankful for Senate President Paiva Weed’s leadership and partnership. Working with her, I’m confident that all of you will have a shot at a good job here in Rhode Island.”

The women didn’t mention that 96% of students at Rogers High School are not proficient in math, and only 21% are proficient in reading.  A more honest message would be:

In cooperation with your teachers’ union, we have ensured that most of you are not receiving the education that you deserve.  You’ll be excited to hear that rather than fix the problems that we’ve created for selfish reasons, we’re going to take tens of millions of dollars from your parents and neighbors and cut two to four years out of your adult life in order to try to get you to where you ought to be right now.

The reception that these politicians get when they abuse their power like this — using school time to campaign to children — ought to be more like a Tea Party town hall than a pep rally.  It would seem that keeping students under-educated has its benefits.


UHIP & Prostitution? Big Government Is Not Competent Enough To Run Our Lives

The status quo in Rhode Island needs a reality check with regard to the now epic UHIP computer systems disaster. With reports of Rhode Islanders being driven to extreme measures to make up for the loss of social safety net, the insiders must realize that once again they have headed down the wrong path. Big government is incompetent to run our lives. While we empathize with those families being hurt by the UHIP nightmare, we recognize that we must be vigilant about the expansion of the social safety net, because dependency robs individuals of the soul fulfilling benefits of work. A major goal of UHIP is to ensure that the state provides as much social service aid to as many people as possible.

Even if the state government manages to get UHIP to work the way they want, their dependency scheme is not in the best interest of Rhode Islanders. It is one thing to upgrade informational systems. It is an entirely different issue when those upgrades are used as a strategic tool to encourage people to become dependent on government assistance, and driving up costs for taxpayers. It is not the proper role for government to discourage a productive and self-sufficient lifestyle. While we recognize that it may be beyond point-of-no-return with the UHIP project, the Center encourages legislative leaders to closely monitor and prohibit strategic use of UHIP to dramatically expand Rhode Island’s social services network.

Does anyone trust that an elite cabal of political cronies should centrally engineer our economy with a mix of big social service programs for the very poor, and big handouts to the very wealthy? This is not an isolated incident, look at the failure of the DMV computer system, or the underperformance of our out-of-date school system. Or, should we place more trust in the great people of the Ocean State to be able to unleash their suppressed capacity in a fair and free-market economy with family friendly ideas, via major tax and regulatory reductions across the board and school choice scholarships? The top down ideas, being demonstrated by the incompetence of big government in trying to run our lives, are not the answer for restoring our economy. They are a mistake; Rhode Island’s forgotten people deserve so much more.

In closing, a well-planned “shock” to the status quo is, indeed, needed for Rhode Island. I am looking for state leaders – either lawmakers or civil society leaders – who will work with me to begin this very serious and important conversation. Until we put into place the proven family friendly ideas necessary to turnaround our state, we will continue to see the negative trends continue. Your voice is powerful. This is not the time to hang back on the sidelines and hope someone else creates change. By fighting for right answers on these issues, you can make Rhode Island a place that will remain home for your family for generations to come.


Communal Responsibility and Matters of Conscience in a Small World

Communication and transportation technology are making the world much smaller, which creates challenges for churches that make different pastoral decisions in distant regions.  George Weigel writes of a woman whose bishop in England has advised a different approach to divorce and Holy Communion than the bishop in Malta, where she has a vacation home.  In Malta, the hierarchy is, let’s say, reinterpreting tradition in the way that some have suggested Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia allows.

Weigel goes on:

And as the Church is universal, so is the crisis. Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa is one of Catholicism’s more robust practitioners of the tweet. After the Malta bishops’ directive, Napier tweeted, “If Westerners in irregular situations can receive Communion, are we to tell our polygamists….that they, too, are allowed?” The archbishop of Durban was not being glib or snarky; Cardinal Napier was describing a real pastoral problem in Africa that has now been made worse.

The key point, in my view, is one that I made frequently back when same-sex marriage was the raging debate in the United States: boundaries are imposed on those who could handle more flexibility — because spiritual or material advantages — for the benefit of others.

We all must follow cultural and spiritual rules to prove that they are not arbitrary or merely impositions upon the disadvantaged.  For our privilege, we must establish those restrictions that can help others to overcome challenges, like a young man who quits drinking in order to help his troubled friend do the same.

Can matters of conscience be loosened on an individual basis?  Yes… maybe.  But especially in our high-tech society, when it comes to public acts, there is no purely individual action.


Hey, Boy Scouts of America: Isn’t the Pattern Clear?

The Boy Scouts of America — and every organization founded in traditional values, especially those that just want to be left alone to do good in the world — really needs to learn the lesson quick:

After many years of divisiveness, the Boy Scouts of America have opened their ranks to gay and transgender boys. Yet a different membership dispute persists: a long-shot campaign to let girls join the BSA so they have a chance to earn the prestigious status of Eagle Scout.

It’s right there in the name of “progressivism.” Every step you let them take is just a step toward total capitulation.  In this case, the push to accommodate girls who really believe that they’re boys was another step toward the elimination of any distinctions.  In the end, there can be no institution remaining that seeks to help boys to be boys as boys.

Nobody wants to talk about it, but every boundary knocked down to make somebody feel less awkward makes somebody else feel more awkward.  A society has to weigh the claims, yes, but it’s reckless not to acknowledge their existence.

I had two repeated sleep-away-camp experiences as a tween and young teen, Boy Scout camp and a co-ed music camp.  The feel of the two was very different, particularly in the memory, largely because the latter was dominated by the mysteries of being an adolescent spending nights in a building with girls in the next room.

Our society has room — a need, even — for both.  Frankly, looking back, I wish I’d placed greater emphasis on the Boy Scouts than on gathering coming-of-age stories to share with my friends upon returning home from the co-ed camp.

AP writer David Crary calls the girls-in-the-Boy-Scouts push a “long shot,” but this is a well worn road, at this point.  Those bent on demanding that we all believe as they believe will not stop.  Without a great cultural reawakening to maturity, the only real question is whether the organization will someday be the Boy and Girl Scouts of America or will just be destroyed.


Artifacts of Reality, and God’s Intention

Peter Woit is rightly skeptical in his Wall Street Journal review of a book called A Big Bang in a Little Room, by Zeeya Merali.  Science, after all, as Woit points out, is about what is observable, measurable, and current theories in physics are playing at the boundaries of what may be observable, even in theory:

[Theorist Alan] Guth was initially fascinated by the idea of baby universes getting produced and making up a multiverse, though he imagined these other universes would all have the same physics as ours. Ms. Merali relates that he quickly lost interest: Why care much about cosmological models producing not just our universe but other copies we can never observe? Over the past 15 years, however, [Andrei] Linde’s slightly different argument—for a multiverse of universes, each with different physics, has become very popular. Such a multiverse even provides an explanation for the lack of progress in recent decades toward a better understanding of where fundamental laws of physics come from: The laws we observe are just artifacts of where various inflaton fields happened to randomly end up after our Big Bang; in other universes, the laws are different. Ms. Merali gives a disturbing version of this, contemplating the possibility that “string theory and inflation may be conspiring against us in such a way that we may never find evidence for them, and just have to trust in them as an act of faith.”

Use of the word “artifact” brings to mind Tom Wolfe’s recent book, The Kingdom of Speech, about which I’ll get around to writing, one of these days.  Challenging previous efforts to fit speech into theories of evolution, Wolfe oversteps the argument by calling speech an “artifact” — happened upon or invented, but in no need of being made natural or inevitable.

Whether for multiverses or language, faith in this artifactness permits atheism.  Before such theories of relativism, the plain conclusion had to be that somebody created the universe and its laws, gifting mankind with its artifacts and abilities to create more.  If we just happen to be on one of limitless paths that happens to accommodate our existence, then our sense of the impossibility of the odds can be brushed aside with the infinite and purposeless attempts.

At the end of it all, the necessity of faith is unavoidable.  Belief in God versus chance is always a choice, even with relativism.  Take the notion of a multiverse containing universes that have alternative laws of physics.  I would argue that they exist, but essentially as theory, and can only be said truly to exist to the extent one can coherently follow them, sort of like relativity with an observation limit.  We make them exist, and their coherence points to a central intention, which is God.