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Pay No Attention to the Consequence Behind the Curtain

Felix Fernandes recently posted a video from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the host is debating a DNC advisor about federal transgender guidance for schools across the country.  The short clip is definitely worth watching in full:

The most glaring point of interest is the extremity of the left-wing position:  a simple statement of belief about your sex can change your sex.  The only objective consideration that the DNC advisor will entertain is the fact that a person in front of you is, at this moment, telling you that he/she is a woman/man.  Plainly put, this is an elevation of subjective feeling over any tangible reality.

Perhaps more important in the long term, though, is the guy’s response when Carlson takes the obvious step of pointing out the consequences when verifiable biology is made immaterial in the face of personal assertions.  Can I proclaim the same about my race?  Answer: No.  What happens if I apply for loans, scholarships, sports teams, et cetera, dedicated to those whose biology is different?  Answer: That’s an irrelevant question.

Carlson’s interlocutor just won’t acknowledge the validity of contrary claims — claims so irrefutable that they would have to be the basis of any logical consideration.  Instead, he breaks out the totalitarian catch phrases of the Left that bully people into submission, even having the audacity to charge Carlson with pseudoscience for asking how it all relates to biology.

To the extent that progressives are able to pull our society along in this emperor-has-no-genitals delusion, we’re signaling a willingness to gamble our entire civilization on the premise that the entire universe is a flexible social construct.  A much healthier path is simply to note that people who express such views are plainly insane.  They’ve already ruled out debate and common ground, so the wise choice is to side with reality.

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All But Admitting That RI Has Not Been In Compliance With Federal Election Law

At its Monday meeting, the Rhode Island Board of Elections directed its lawyer to propose fixes to the loophole created in 2008, which no longer required proper identification for those registering, in person, to vote … as required by 2003 federal law. Despite baseless attacks against Ken Block, it turns out that his research was accurate.

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The Advantage of the Blue States

Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin continues his series of essays learning about the United States by way of his old college buddies with a review of what one of them learned by biking across the country.  The short version:  The fly-over states are filled with nice people whom our economy is bypassing, which explains why they were willing to look past Donald Trump, the man, and see him as a challenge to the establishment.

Of more interest, to me, is this bit of parochial chauvinism in the comments to Patinkin’s article, from Douglas Maiko:

people in blue states are much wealthier than midwest red states. It comes down to blue state economic policies and great opportuites to create wealth for one self here in blue land. Red State people tend to be cynical about the american dream, watch too much fox news, obsess with cultural issues. The numbers speak for themselves, move to a Blue state if you want the american dream

Even to the extent that there’s truth to his assessment of economic balance, Maiko’s attitude exhibits the dangerous arrogance seen in successful civilizations whose people believe their condition is permanent.  The likelihood is that the coasts are thriving based on a legacy of lucky geography and historical accident.

After all, the East Coast is the oldest region in the country, and both coasts have access to the world’s waterways, which is of decreasing value.  The coasts’ living generations, in other words, started from an advantaged place that had nothing to do with “blue state economic policies.”  Rather, the natural and cultural advantages of the areas allowed advocates of those economic policies to impose them without people’s feeling it as acutely as they would in regions requiring harder work and more sacrifice.

We should fear that our advantages won’t last if we keep driving out our productive class — those who want to cash in their drive and abilities for income, forcing established players to compete.  The crisis point may take time, or it might come all at once, when some fly-over city comes up with the next big thing that makes our legacy institutions and industries unnecessary.

Perhaps they’ll maintain the generosity that Patinkin’s friend observed in their roadside diners even when the coasts become dependent on the fly-overs.  Counting on that probably wouldn’t be a wise plan, however.

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Civic Groups and Socializing Just Aren’t What They Used To Be

Although I’m not sure why it was above-the-fold, front-page news in yesterday’s Newport Daily News, Sean Flynn’s mention that the Newport County Retired Teachers Association is struggling for participation is worth noting for its broader implications:

The annual dues for the organization are only $10 a year, which about 160 retirees currently pay.

“Only about 20 to 25 of them are active,” Bugara said. “NCRTA is not sustainable with that low a number. It’s the same people putting on the luncheons. We don’t have that much help.”

The retired teachers meet every three months for a luncheon at a local restaurant.

Mainly, the group meets for social reasons, puts out a newsletter to keep retirees informed about their mutual interests, and gives out a couple of scholarships to students each year.  It’s tempting to speculate about some cause specific to public-school teachers, who may be more likely to move on to second careers after retiring relatively young than in the past, or something like that.  After all, retiring in one’s early 50s now leaves multiple decades to fill with activity.

But this story is too familiar to anybody who has anything to do with volunteer social organizations to be specific this group.  Are people busier than they used to be?  Do we have too many more distractions?  Are communications and transportation technologies so improved that we more-easily satisfy our need to socialize with family and people more of our choosing?  Or has something changed in our culture?

Personally, I’m not in a good place to judge.  Four children, two working adults, and a wide array of responsibilities prevent me from going to many events that I’d actually like to attend.  The answer to the mystery of reduced participation, however, seems unlikely to be that increasing numbers of people match my circumstances.

Something, somewhere seems to be slipping, and I haven’t seen a good explanation.

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Making Meaning a Real Part of Economic Discussions

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz is right to point out that we don’t put enough emphasis on an important aspect of our working lives:

A job’s meaningfulness — a sense that the work has a broader purpose — is consistently and overwhelmingly ranked by employees as one of the most important factors driving job satisfaction. It’s the linchpin of qualities that make a valuable employee: motivation, job performance and a desire to show up and stay.

About the closest one gets to this conversation comes when, as part of political debates about living wages and mandatory benefits, some religious leader adds the phrase “meaningful work” to the list of workers’ rights.

Although she didn’t go so far as to raise the prospect of government action, Elejalde-Ruiz’s article does emphasize that employers are doing something they shouldn’t when they don’t give meaning to their employees’ jobs, not unlike the presumptuous statements that RI employers are cheating themselves by not offering sick time.  Perhaps she backs away because talk of meaning begins to illustrate how little ground one can actually cover when insisting on assigning people to categories (boss versus worker) and trying to resolve perceived problems categorically.

Blanket rules won’t help employers make employees’ jobs more meaningful, just as one can’t force the employees to take a deliberate approach to seeking meaning.  These questions are bound up with individual worldview and personal interactions.

What we can do is to stop oversimplifying our lives for the sake of political tugs-of-war.  Consider how easily the notion of meaningful work can flip:  Human beings will be attracted to work that is meaningful, which means they’ll tend to work for less pay.  Conversely, employers have to pay more to attract employees when the work isn’t attractive in its own right.  Put that way, it’s simply inappropriate to make declarations about, say, low pay for teachers without also commenting on how much they’re paid in meaning, so to speak.

Indeed, an interesting study could probably be made of gender gaps in these terms.  What if the longstanding cultural expectation that men would provide for their families left them with a meaningfulness deficit?  That could certainly play into suicide rates.

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If Only Identity Politics Didn’t Prevent Truly Representative Government

It has seemed more and more to be the case that the demographic cross-tabs of surveys find two groups to have surprisingly similar views: blacks and Republicans.  I noted this some years ago, when a Friedman Foundation survey about school choice found almost exact agreement between the two groups.  Somewhere in my reading, recently, similar results emerged for transgenderism.

I didn’t find it surprising, therefore, when an article for Atlanta Black Star about a children’s author who set out to remedy the problem that “representation of kids of color in children’s books is often hard to find” also said things like this:

“I love telling our story and showing my husband as the alpha male leading the family,” [Geiszel] Godoy said. “It seems tradition has been thrown to the side recently, and I felt it was important for kids to see a mother and father together in a children’s book.”

“We need to normalize the Black family again. The mainstream media is hellbent on pushing the narrative of the broken home, but it’s not true,” Godoy said.

Our culture’s problems aren’t difficult to identify, and one of modern political life’s greatest frustrations is how much identity politics and the welfare state’s method of buying off constituencies keeps us from implementing policy that would reflect the beliefs of large majorities, even of minorities.

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The Numbers Indicate We Spend Too Much Time Talking Hate Crime in RI

David Bernstein takes to Instapundit with the FBI’s findings that hate crimes increased by 5% in 2016, noting:

The increase isn’t good news, but between what certainly looks like an increase in hate crimes hoaxes and the greater attention paid by the media to real hate crimes, which encourages reporting, there may not be any real increase at all.

Digging into the data, I find hate crimes actually went down in Rhode Island:

2015 2016
Total 19 13
Aggravated assault 3
Simple assault 6 4
Robbery 1
Destruction/damage vandalism 10 7
Crimes against society 1

Following Bernstein, I’d suggest that this hardly illustrates a Trump-campaign boost in hate crimes, even though the president had an unexpectedly strong showing in Rhode Island.

More important, though, the minuscule size of these numbers — fewer than 20 incidents per year — has implications for the amount of time that Rhode Islanders should spend pondering public policy related to this issue.  Little wonder progressive Democrat Mayor of Providence Jorge Elorza has found very little by way of hate crime, even though his administration has essentially solicited reporting with its “little used” hotline.

In a contest of harm to Rhode Islanders, especially disadvantaged minorities, hate crimes don’t even compare with our state’s unhealthy tax and regulatory policies.

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“Fake But True” Tars the Innocent

For The Washington Examiner, Byron York reviews the case of a hoax racial incident at the Air Force Academy that inspired the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, to make a destined-to-go-viral statement in opposition to racism.  York goes on:

… The cadet candidate who reported the racial slurs has admitted that he was behind the whole thing. It was all a hoax. The young man, who is black, has left the academy.

Anyone who follows such incidents, certainly anyone in the news business, should have known that there was a substantial chance the Air Force Academy vandalism was a fake. Too many such incidents have turned out to be hoaxes not to raise suspicions about new ones, pending the results of an investigation.

There was the young black man in Kansas who admitted writing racist graffiti on his car. There was the black man in Michigan charged in three racist graffiti incidents at Eastern Michigan University. There was the young Muslim woman in New York who admitted making up a story about being attacked by white Trump supporters. The black Bowling Green State University student who said white Trump supporters threw rocks at her. The University of Louisiana student who said a white man wearing a Trump hat tried to pull off her hijab.

Then there was the wave of stories about threats to Jewish community centers — stories that received widespread news coverage in the context of the new Trump presidency. Most of the threats were made by a teenager in Israel, with the others made by a former journalist who was somehow trying to get back at a former girlfriend.

Upon the revelation of the Air Force Academy incident was a hoax, those who had lauded Lt. Gen. Silveria applied the “fake but true” salve, as did the man himself.  Surely, we can all agree that racism is worth denouncing, even in the abstract.  One gets the sense, though, that a practice of denouncing individuals who don’t actually exist too easily translates into denouncements of those within a group who might resemble the fictional perps in some superficial particular.

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A Spectrum for Converting Secular Society

Conservative writer Rod Dreher has set in motion a rolling question among American Christians with his articulation of the Benedict Option, whereby Christian families make some effort to insulate themselves from a society that seems increasingly hostile to their beliefs.  The archetype is an Oklahoma village near a monastery in which some households seek to live off the land and go without modern appurtenances like television and the Internet.

Mary Rezac, of the Catholic News Agency (CNS), expands the possibilities, looking at other ways Catholics, in particular, work to reinforce their religious communion.  Personally, the approach that Rezac places under “Ecclesial Movements” resonates most strongly with me.  Holly Peterson, the director of communications for a group called Communion and Liberation, says her group “desires to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering.”

Sister Mary of the Visitation, a member of another such group, phrases her concerns in terms of its effect on people choosing the Benedict Option:

… she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

Naturally, that possibility has negative effects in both directions.  That is, both the Christians and people in the secular world see each other as “others.”  We’re called to convert the world, and shutting ourselves off from it is, at the least, a self-limiting approach.

Silly or superficial as it may sound, my own conversion experience relied heavily, at first, on pop/rock stars who were at least open to faith, such as George Harrison and Cat Stevens.  I’m therefore aware of how important it is for the world to provide a gradual spectrum.

Of course, deliberately choosing to be on the periphery of that spectrum can be a self-excusing limitation, leaving one vulnerable to diversion.  The key, it would seem, is to strive to be reflective about where one is currently, deliberate in one’s choices, and ever focused on the direction of growth.

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From Mercy Killings in Hard Cases to Death on Demand

Fortunately, this hasn’t been much of a topic of conversation in Rhode Island (yet):  Wesley Smith describes how…

Once a society generally accepts killing as an appropriate response to suffering, there are few limits to the kind of “suffering” that will qualify for extermination.

The Netherlands shows the danger.  Permitted in a decriminalized form since 1972–and formally legalized in 2002–euthanasia deaths are skyrocketing.

Because it hasn’t been of immediate relevance at the level of news to which I devote most of my attention, I haven’t completely worked through my thoughts on assisted suicide.  As tends to happen with emotional matters that are closely tied to ideological or religious beliefs, people typically focus on the extreme cases that align with their first reactions.  On one end is the person facing an imminent and horrible death who wants to take his own life.  On the other end is a doctor having family members hold down a woman who wakes up and resists being killed.

So, one axis in a multidimensional spectrum could address such circumstances of each case, including degree of suffering, permanence of the condition, and imminence of natural death.  Another axis would be the degree of assistance, ranging from none at all through offering advice through the provision of supplies all the way to execution with dubious consent.  There may be other axes to consider.

According to my beliefs, nothing on this field is moral, but that does not necessarily mean everything must be criminalized and vigorously enforced.  In that regard, I find yet more reason to regret how integral we’ve allowed government to become.  To the extent that libertarians can cite an expansion of individual liberty, it seems always to be in these areas of personal destruction, which is to say when libertarians find common cause with progressives.

If government weren’t involving itself in the question of children’s lemonade stands, we mightn’t feel as compelled to write a policy on the tougher moral disagreements.  Similarly, if the fine details of employers’ insurance benefits weren’t up for national policymakers, so too might states and localities be able to draw different lines on other issues.

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Electoral Politics and the Lament of the Well-Informed Observer

Although his focus is Fall River, Marc Monroe Dion’s lament of the well-informed observer in the Fall River Herald rings true much more broadly, certainly throughout this one-party region of festering apathy:

And Wednesday morning, when another dud of a Fall River election was over, there wasn’t anything left to do but pick up the crumpled napkins.

I say “dud” because hardly anyone votes, and I say “hardly anyone” because I write the history blog for this paper, and am often immersed in old newspaper stories from the days when a 60 or 70 percent turnout was the norm.

People who work in newsrooms live very close to the political process, so we overestimate the public’s level of interest, and we do that no matter how many 30 percent turnouts crop up in our stories. Politics in Fall River is like soccer in the rest the country. It’s going to get popular NEXT year.

As I’ve written again and again, what people seem most to want from government is the ability not to pay attention.  Back when those old newspaper articles that Dion references were written, life was more difficult and entertainment more scarce.  Moreover, government did less and was therefore easier to get one’s head around.

What the busy schedules of modern life haven’t pushed aside, the progressive big-government mudslide of the last century has swept away.  Not only has government been made to seem like the existential battle of partisan tribes, but it’s so pervasive and intricate that the average person feels unqualified to assert his or her own interests, at least in contravention of insiders’ priorities.  Add to those dynamics the promise that central planning can relieve us of the need to pay attention.

We’ve gotten to the point, however, that people just want to be left out of the pressure and vitriol, free to live their lives.  The way back from that feeling isn’t obvious, unless we can promote the principle that government has no right to do things beyond the ken of the people.

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