Culture & Family RSS feed for this section
gameofthrones-season8episode1-featured

An Election About Suppressed Dislike

With Bernie Sanders’s front-runner status in the Democrat primary for president, political analysts are starting to contemplate the consequence on that race and on down-ticket races.  Many of us can’t help but see the parallel to Republicans’ predicament in 2016, when they were forced to grapple with their own discomfort with candidate Donald Trump.

This topic came up at the tail end of Republican Representative Michael Chippendale’s appearance on the Matt Allen Uncut podcast.  Chippendale’s position is that he’s uncomfortable with Trump, the man, but his policies have been positive.  That phrasing makes me think of Game of Thrones.

As a fan of the books years before the show was even a rumor, I was captivated by J.R.R. Martin’s character development and underlying themes.  Those aspects are what made the HBO series such an epic mega-hit, but its being HBO, they were delivered with a lot of gratuitous moral assaults, particularly with sex scenes in the earlier seasons.

Those of us who could have done without the moral challenges could still appreciate the writing, the story-telling, the themes, and the show-craft, but the question arises: At what point does the bad outweigh the good?  That’s an individual judgment concerning not only what we allow into our own brains, but also what we promote and normalize for others.  A Christian who emphasizes personal purity could still plausibly claim that the sex scenes do not rouse lust in his heart and that the combination of compelling art and cultural awareness make the risk worthwhile, but only for mature audiences.  As the famous question goes, who am I to judge whether what that person says about his feelings is true?

Just so with President Trump.  A good, moral conservative needn’t elevate Twitter etiquette and a history of boorish behavior into a litmus test that disqualifies the president from support no matter what he accomplishes.  The challenge is to make ourselves, and our society, better and more mature so as not to be affected by the negative.

Therein lies the distinction between President Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The objection to Trump is behavioral and related to insinuations about his motives, whereas the objection to Sanders is his history of anti-Americanism and dangerous policies.  That’s a problem of substance rather than style.  At best, that’s Game of Thrones without the gratuitous sex, but with an evil, dangerous theme.

school-choice-blackboard-featured

Center’s School Choice Message Sprouts Roots

Recently, two prominent Rhode Island politicians have publicly supported our Center’s long-time policy idea – even echoing our own language – to advance educational freedom for Providence families and all parents across our state.

For years, behind the scenes, I have been advising politicians and candidates – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – on the benefits of educational scholarship accounts (ESAs).

notareflectionofthestatehouse-featured

The Independent Man Needs YOU: Consider This Call To Civic Action

Is it time for you to get involved… to save our state? If we are ever going to change the policies that are driving away families and crippling businesses, the sad truth, my friend, is that we are going to have to change the players.

Rhode Island’s political class is so beholden to so many special interest groups and agendas, that they are paralyzed when it comes to considering common-sense, pro-growth policy reforms.

notjustaprettyplacetopassthrough-featured

Q & A On TCI, The Transportation & Climate Initiative

Q. What is TCI?

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace.

sten-regionalTCImeeting-jan2020-featured

We’re Backing The TCI Gas Tax Proponents Into a Corner

It is not by accident that the proposed Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is losing support among many of the states it has targeted… to the point where some proponents are considering a Plan-B.

Last week, I traveled to Boston to meet with other organizations from east coast states who oppose TCI, a regional compact targeting 12 states and Washington DC that seeks to impose a 5 to 17 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, with the intent of forcing Rhode Island to drive less often and into more costly and less convenient electric vehicles and public transportation options.

TivertonOnTrack-logo-featured

Trying to Keep Perspective on Local Politics

In President Trump’s economic speech in Davos, he attributes the recent economic strength of the United States to policies that put “the American worker” at their center.  Agree or disagree with the president (from any of the angles at which it would be possible to do so), he raises an important point.  We tend to get caught up in our preferred solutions or our own interests, to the detriment of our causes and our communities.

Listening to episode 10 of the Tiverton on Track podcast from the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, titled “Living in (And Budgeting for) a Community,” one hears that theme sneak in repeatedly.

confidence-man-featured

The Political Class Plans To Harm Rhode Island In 2020

The more freedoms we have, the more prosperity we will enjoy. The constitutional government of our great nation was formed to preserve our freedoms. But in the Ocean State, we reduce freedoms … and we suffer the consequences.

As the 2020 General Assembly Session begins, and we are once again looking at even more of status quo (or worse) based on the policy agenda from the political class, when will Rhode Islanders say enough is enough?

Instead of focusing on the real issues harming the business climate of our state… the insiders are looking to restrict the rights of citizens by stopping the use of plastic straws and bags. Give me a break.

fightcloud-featured

Political Monday with John DePetro: RI’s Avoidance of Real Problems

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:

  • Elorza’s interest in being governor
  • Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
  • Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
  • Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism

Open post for full audio.

covingtonandphillips-lincolnmemorial-011919

The Draw of Political Violence

The Democrat Congress produced a sham impeachment of President Trump the day after the “secretive court that approves sensitive surveillance issued a rare public rebuke of the FBI on Tuesday, saying the bureau misled the Justice Department and the court when it sought permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign aide.”  Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had to shush her members to stop their shouts of glee at what they had done, thus cheering away any pretense that this was anything other than a political stunt.

A somber moment of answering the call of history to preserve the nation?  Ha!  Anybody who has watched this travesty play out over three years has known since the last election that this was coming.  This is not evidence of the competence of the speaker, as some want to see it.  Had she failed to answer the three-year-old calls of her rabid base for this moment, it would have been a political disaster.  And having failed to use her power responsibly, it is now a moral failure.

A bad situation for her and dangerous times for all of us.

Also yesterday, the Providence Journal gave this headline to an AP article, “MMA fighter says victory over Trump supporter was for the ‘entire world’”:

Kamaru Usman sent a bloodied, bleary Colby Covington spiraling to the ground for the second time. Usman then leaped on him and went to work on Covington’s badly injured face, battering his dazed opponent with hammer fists until the referee mercifully intervened.

Although he had to wait until the final minute, Usman settled his very personal feud with his sharply divisive challenger in perhaps the most satisfying way possible.

“This one is not just for me,” Usman said. “This is for the whole entire world right now.”

The article goes on to explain that antipathy toward Covington is much more about him, personally, than about the President of the United States.  That puts a spotlight on the irresponsible decision of the press to play up a political angle.  They are encouraging violence.

It is unfortunate, in that context, that the last name of the “Trump supporter” is the same as the high school whose Trump-supporting students became the target of a national two minutes of hate, last year.  The coincidence of these names gives the impression of a divine author who is making His connections almost too obvious.  Shame on us if we can’t figure out the lesson.

noTCItaxchristmas-featured

New Gas Tax: The Governor’s Unwelcome Holiday “Gift” to be Announced This Week

If the Raimondo administration gets its way and bypasses the General Assembly to sign on to a new regional carbon-tax scheme, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), Rhode Island motorists will find a plan to increase gasoline taxes in their stockings this year.

The TCI gas tax is a cap-and-trade tax on gasoline proposed by environmental extremists who purposely want gasoline to become so expensive — estimated at an extra 24 cents per gallon — that you will be financially forced to walk or bike to work and around town. We’re expecting an important announcement this week on the new tax…stay tuned.

nearsea-circlewindow

The Advantage of a Generalist

James Holmes plumbs the zombie apocalypse, as described in World War Z by Max Brooks, for strategic lessons, concluding thus:

Resourceful folk fashion new weapons and tactics while unimaginative foes plod along, doing the same thing time after time—which makes a hopeful note to close on. When facing new circumstances, get to know the circumstances and stay loose. Recognize that the nimbler contender is apt to be the victor—and broad-mindedness is the key to staying nimble. I daresay Epstein and Clausewitz would agree.

Being something of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type, myself, this paragraph near the beginning of the essay caught my attention:

Maintains [David] Epstein, specialists encounter trouble when tackling the problems characteristic of a “wicked” world. Wicked problems are intricate. They involve variables that combine and recombine in offbeat ways. They defy the boundaries of a single field and often vex specialists. By contrast, generalists hunt for “distant” analogies to challenges. Analogies seldom reveal answers, but they help inquisitors discover the right questions to ask. Asking penetrating questions constitutes the first step toward a solution, toward wisdom.

Exactly right.  We err if we look to analogies for answers, but by our nature we understand situations by comparison, through metaphors — stories.  The closer the metaphor we apply to a situation, the more correct (even if unexpected) conclusions we can find.  Having a broad range of experience allows us to cast more broadly for metaphors.

For example, a social problem will have nothing to do with building a house, but metaphorically, they may have some things in common: the need for a strong foundation on which sturdy framing supports the useful and aesthetically pleasing components.  If your social institutions and artistic productions are crumbling, the metaphor might direct your attention to problems with the cultural foundation that is failing to support it all.  If your popular art is cracked and allowing evil ideas in, they can rot the institutional framing.

Metaphors can be pretty abstract.  We still use the metaphor of particles to understand physics, but we know that the building blocks of material reality don’t act very much like particles.   They can act like waves, they can occupy the same physical space, and so on.  Perhaps a different abstract metaphor — seeing “particles” as identities with certain qualities might help us resolve some of the remaining puzzles.

This is why innovators in particular fields are often newcomers who aren’t bogged down in standard ways of thinking, but bring metaphors from their earlier lives.

stateofthestate-katzaugust-120619

A Far-Reaching Conversation on State of the State

State of the State co-host Richard August invited me on for a full hour of the show to cover a broad range of topics, from Tiverton’s recall election to broad political philosophy.

12-9-19 A Different View of Matters from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

rhodeisland-SE-featured

Rhode Island’s Very Own Green New Deal

How much more money can Rhode Island’s political class take from your pocket using green energy as an excuse?

The Ocean State has already signed on to the Transport and Climate Initiative, a cabal of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states designed to foster a radical change (for the worse) to our economic well-being through costly green energy policies.

Indeed, this very well could be Rhode Island own version of the “Green New Deal,” driving costs higher and higher.

oldmaninthemountain-newhampshire-featured

Geologists as the Orwellian Vanguard

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the unironic slogans of the totalitarian government are: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”  The modern totalitarians of the progressive American Left who have ramped up their efforts in the past decade have added “discrimination is tolerance.”

Witness this statement from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) explaining why the organization, along with the Geological Society of America (GSA), banned Brigham Young University (BYU) from advertising jobs for which their members might be qualified:

“AGU has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community throughout its history because we believe—and repeatedly see—that diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science,” Billy Williams, the union’s vice president of ethics, diversity, and inclusion, wrote in a statement. “Since the job posting from BYU referenced its Honor Code as a requirement of employment, which conflicts with our policy, we removed the job posting from our website.”

This isn’t just a faint echo of Orwell’s constructs; it’s the actual thing.  To restate, the VP of “ethics, diversity, and inclusion” is saying that his organization must shun a well-regarded university because “diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science.”  That is, they must discriminate against adherents of a religion because the Honor Code that it inspires conflicts with the progressive fundamentalism of the geological organizations.

Science, according to this way of thinking, is advanced by restricting participation based on ideological rules that have nothing to do with the narrow field of study or practice of investigation.  In the view of these organizations, no geologist who belongs to either the union or the society and who has beliefs that would fit with those of BYU should be permitted to find a work environment in which they’d be comfortable.  Indeed, the message is clearly sent that they should keep their beliefs to themselves if they know what is good for them.

That a statement like the one quoted above could be passed off with a straight face and without bringing upon its author a wave of ridicule is terrifying.

ineverylifethecentrallightreflectsnearandfar-featured

After Risk Turns to Tragedy in Worcester

As he so often does, Michael Morse brings out the human detail in the heart of a terrible incident.  In this case, the incident is the death of Worcester fire lieutenant Jason Menard in the early hours of Wednesday.  Writes Michael:

I’m certain that until the very last seconds he thought he would pull it off and be on his way to Disney when the shift was over. …

I hope Lieutenant Menard’s family understands this, and that he had every intention of coming home.

But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

The reference is to the Menard family’s planned vacation, which was to start at the end of his shift just a few hours later, and it speaks to the looming uncertainty that surrounds the lives of those who undertake dangerous jobs.

The heart-wrenching, humanizing details abound.  A cafe at which Menard and his wife would eat breakfast together once they’d gotten their three children to school put out a memorial mimosa, accompanied by his picture and the Fireman’s Prayer.

The words of that poem are especially poignant in this case, given that they appear to have been written after a fire during which rescuers were not able to save some children.  Menard’s crew reportedly went out on its own dangerous limb in response to information that two people, including a baby, were trapped there.

As Michael writes, Menard died in the line of duty “simply doing what his training allowed him to do.”  That includes making split-second decisions about the amount of risk justified in unpredictable circumstances.  A professional calculates risks based not on the moment alone, but on the likelihood that the same decision made over and over again by different people will turn out well.  But sometimes risk turns into tragedy and, as the prayer’s author wrote of his own uncertainties, “according to Your Will I have to lose my life.”

When that happens, with or without the details so richly available around Jason Menard, the rest of us should pause and reflect for a moment in gratitude, because the fallen partake in the unknowable rescues whose incalculable number we cannot know.

starfist-featured

A Need for Space and Friction in Social Media Gravity

What if, all of a sudden, the force of gravity doubled throughout the universe?  This, according to social scientist Jonathan Haidt, is analogous to what society has experienced with the rapid effect of social media on human nature.

The implications for political science are particularly immediate:

… in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation.

The palliative effect of time and distance apply on a smaller scale, too.  Even in a relatively small community, when people were having their feuds either face-to-face or in the necessarily well-paced medium of letters to the editor, they could not spread as broadly or as powerfully.  Now the group think and the side-picking spreads at the speed of the Internet, and as I’ve recently written, there is no escaping it.

While he captures something in social media and offers some suggestions for adding a little distance and friction to its processes, Haidt doesn’t go far enough in assigning responsibility to changes in society with which social media interacts.  A need for space and friction is also why our system limits the activities that we pursue through government, with its powers to tax, regulate, and police.

As government becomes an increasingly efficient way to impose our wills on each other, not only does it become easier to accomplish that goal, but the stakes go up for winning the fight.  The attractiveness of leveraging the tools of social warfare goes up even as the opportunity to defend against them goes down.

This is much like campaign finance reform.  We can make changes around the edges, but the only way to really “get the money out of politics” is to reduce the value of winning.  The same is true of social media.   The nasties have escaped the bag, so the better approach would be to become the type of society in which their bad effects will do less harm.