30 May 2008

The Company One Keeps, Part III

Yesterday, recordings were released of the Sunday service at Senator Obama’s Trinity United Church. A visiting speaker, one Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church, Chicago, provided quite a dish of words for the enthusiastic congregation.

What is really most striking about this man’s words, and what I suppose what would get under most people’s skin, was not the oft repeated stand-up comedy bit about Senator Clinton’s supposed shock and despair at being beaten by a black man. What is really shocking is what I heard at the end of the Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Thursday evening; a transcript of which you can find here. Quoting from that website, Pfleger’s words:

“I must now to address the one who says, 'don't hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.' But you have enjoyed the benefits of what your ancestors did! And unless you are ready to give up the benefits — Throw away your 401 fund! [sic] Throw away your trust fund! Throw away all the money that been put away in the company you walked into 'cause your daddy and your granddaddy and your great grandaddy —

(screaming at the top of his lungs)

Unless you are willing to give up the benefits, then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation! 'Cause you are the beneficiary of this insurance policy!”

Regardless of Obama’s knowledge or desire for Pfleger’s endorsement, Pfleger was invited to the church that Obama has chosen to attend for the last 20 years. This was done, I can only assume, knowing that Pfleger would stoke the fires of rhetorical bombast. From ABC News: “The tape…then cuts to Moss thanking Pfleger: ‘We thank God for the message, we thank God for the messenger, we thank God for Father Michael Pfleger.’”

Anyone who has seen or heard the tape of Pfleger can attest to the enthusiasm with which his message was met. This, again, leads me to believe that this kind of message was and is commonplace for the Trinity United Church. Perhaps some folks thought that it would be less noticeable if the message were given by a white male. Far from it.

So here we have serial messages of blame and victimization, of revulsion and loathing, given by “men of the cloth” with whom Mr. Obama has chosen to associate himself with over a long period of time. Only now – as Mr. Wright reminded everyone – that these ties are a political encumbrance are they shed, or hidden, by Mr. Obama. We can, I think, trust that an elected Obama would bring these ties back into the light, or at the very least allow them to more openly influence his policy.

Yet the electorate will be told endlessly by Mr. Obama and his campaign that talk about ties between Obama and a growing host of far-Left types are really “distractions” from the “real issues.” The electorate will be asked to focus on Mr. Obama’s own words, not the words of those who have inspired him. Given the real emptiness of Mr. Obama’s sloganeering (“Yes, we can.” “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.” etc.) it would be prudent for the public to judge Mr. Obama before casting a final vote which could elevate the man to the most powerful political position in the world.

In making a judgement on Mr. Obama and given his many empty statements (those concerning Iraq and foreign leaders notwithstanding), the electorate will have to look at those people who Mr. Obama has chosen to keep close over the last two decades – the bulk of his adult life.

Mr. Pfleger insists that I, as a white person, must give up the things that I have worked for my entire life simply because I am white. What is under the surface of Mr. Pfleger’s message is an equally urgent insistence that the folks within the church – most of whom I assume are black – are eternal victims. Anyone who does not see the double-sided racism of Mr. Pfleger and to be sure the Trinity United Church’s message, is deaf to reason. Indeed, that’s just what the Trinity United Church, Mr. Pfleger and Mr. Wright want. No thought, just emotion, thus so easily led.

It is truly scary that Mr. Obama, the man who chose to be shaped by the Trinity United Church and those who push race hate within it, may be our next president.

27 May 2008

Is Iran Hiding Something?

A report, which apparently was not supposed to be released to the public, out of the UN claims that “Iran may be withholding information needed to establish whether it tried to make nuclear arms” according to Fox News. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been working to get a full disclosure from Iran for some time now. But like so many efforts, the IAEA appears to be hampered by the fact that, in the end, there aren’t any teeth in the agency.

Gregory L. Schulte, the US representative to the IAEA, claims (per the AP) that “Iran is stonewalling its inspectors, it's moving forward in developing its enrichment capability in violation of Security Council resolutions.” This scenario sounds very familiar.

The sad thing is that, much like North Korea, there is little that the “international community” can, or is willing to, do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While it would be great if there was some unity within the UN Security Council on the matter, none can or should be expected. Outside of declarations and resolutions – words – the Security Council cannot be expected to do anything about the matter. There is too much money orbiting Iran. Even the neutral Swiss have new interests in Iran.

None of this refutes Iran’s status as the lead of state-sponsored terrorism. But then again, it has been a long time since any Western country was seriously hit by a terrorist act. Memories are short, the money is there just waiting to be had…so two blind eyes are turned. For all of its positives and as much as I am a supporter of it, capitalism can be downright shameful at times.

So we can expect a nuclear Iran at some point in the future. Nothing, I suspect, will be done to prevent it. Indeed, perhaps nothing can be done at this point. But may I point out to the read the need, recently covered in print, for two important initiatives: a combined one million man Army and Marine Corps (active duty only) and an international council of truly democratic nations to act in ways that a largely despotic UN will not.

23 May 2008

Thoughts on Individual Struggle and Election Cycles

A common theme in political speeches of the day is that Americans are struggling. The assumption, or implication, is that the struggle is economic. This is especially true in a time that has been labeled as a recession. And it’s not just some Americans who are struggling. Some would have the electorate believe that it is “the vast majority of Americans” who are struggling to reach some indefinable, yet somehow measurable, goal.

The implication of this supposed struggle in a presidential election year is that the federal government ought to do something to relieve individual economic suffering. This is without regard to the ubiquity of cell phones, flat panel televisions, and high-speed internet access among the “vast majority of Americans”.

Thus, the electorate is swayed to ignore individual circumstances and believe the political posture that most Americans are, in fact, struggling – or indeed suffering – economically. This is accomplished through sound bite-ridden speeches, editorialized headlines, and a 24-hour news cycle. Economic terms like recession and depression are bandied about without any firm recognition of what they mean, or what they would mean to the average person. The effect is that, without regard to actuality or individually self-created circumstance, the economic struggles of the electorate are the cause of bad governance (under President Bush) and can be cured – oddly – by a new administration in the federal executive branch.

The underlying assumption passed off is that individual struggle, economic or otherwise, are undesirable (or largely undesirable) and are to be avoided if at all possible. This is a false assumption which, if accepted as true, is damaging to individual will and liberty.

To a great extent, each one of us is defined by our individual struggles, by the circumstances and happenings within our own lives. Failure – falling down – is inevitable in life. How each of us deals with adversity and failure (as well as success) plays a huge role in how well we develop self-reliance.

Attempts to remove the circumstances of struggle from an individual do not, in the long run, make a person’s life easier or better. While certain portions of a life without struggle may feel more comfortable, the individual’s personal development is retarded – or even regressed – if struggles are simply removed for them. Thus, if a child always has failure removed from his path by his parent, the child will always remain dependant, at least to some extent, on the parent.

I’m always more than a little leery of extending examples from the micro to the macro…more than a few very poor, truly erroneous analogies are a result of trying to make that leap. But if a government removes as much economic struggling as possible from its populace, then the populace becomes economically dependent on that government. (I know. There’s nothing new in that statement.) The trick is to figure out what the government expects in return.

The obvious answer is a lifetime of employment as a “public servant”.

So remember that when some politician tells us that we are struggling – or indeed, suffering – in a way that they promise to be able to remedy, there is a price for that remedy. Two, actually. First, we must provide them with a job, for their entire working life, if possible, in return for their largesse. Second, in signing up for the deal, we lose important opportunities to develop individually. We become, more and more, wards of the state – a state which provides for life, but will not foster individual liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

22 May 2008

Congressional Technique: Sue OPEC

This seems a very odd move to me. House members voted 324 to 84 to “[allow] the Justice Department to sue OPEC members for limiting oil supplies and working together to set crude prices” according to Reuters. The law, which faces a veto, would have OPEC play by US domestic anti-trust laws. In a show of naiveté that could only come from someone who believes words on paper will solve any and all problems, Representative Steve Kagen, who sponsored the bill, said:

“This bill guarantees that oil prices will reflect supply and demand economic rules, instead of wildly speculative and perhaps illegal activities.” (emphasis mine)

There are two problems (at least) with this approach. First, it supposes that legislative action within the US will cause a drop in international oil prices. It can be deduced that, in Rep. Kagen’s view, bringing an international cartel under US law will spur change within that cartel. The law, after all, is the ultimate arbiter of fair play and is respected universally. Congressional supporters of the bill must believe that OPEC won’t see this is a direct conflict of national interests between member-states and the US. But this is precisely – and rightly – the reasoning for a presidential veto of the bill. According to the Reuters article, the White House firmly believes that the law will actually cause “retaliatory action” from OPEC members.

Somehow, I can foresee that when OPEC retaliates– thus causing gas prices to raise ever higher – the US will blame President Bush once again for not using his cozy relationship with the Saudis, in particular, to raise production rates.

Second, the bill seeks to force an international entity to do what Representatives – and many Americans – are reluctant to do themselves: participate in serious conservation. While US consumption dropped nearly 2% in the first quarter of this year, more conservation and domestic production are needed.

But it appears that asking Congress to create a bill that supports long-term US goals, does not pander to special interests, and isn’t full of pet pork is asking too much.

What should be obvious is that the US – neither its president nor its representatives – cannot control the oil producing countries of OPEC. That will not change with this silly anti-trust law. What our elected officials seem to have lost sight of is that solutions for domestic issues, like how to satisfy energy needs without knee-capping the economy, are best found at home. More domestic production, more personal conservation, and less dependence on OPEC are a start toward long-term energy policy. Creating a legal framework to blame others for high oil prices will do, I predict, nothing good. But it will make some Congressmen feel better, feel more secure, as they head into November. After that…well, I suppose that’s an issue for the next election cycle.

20 May 2008

31,072 – A Meaningful Number

Every vote should count, unless it is one in the Democrat primaries of Michigan and Florida or is one of dissent from the (crumbling) theory of man-made “global warming” or “climate change” (GWCC). Investor’s Business Daily (among others) reports as the basis of an editorial that “Arthur Robinson of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine released Monday at the Press Club in Washington a petition signed by 31,072 Americans with university degrees in science, including 9,021 with doctorates, who reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions will cause catastrophic heating of the planet.”

A lot could be said politically about this, but the most important point is that the GWCC crowd of fevered disciples is nothing less than a mob of true believers, no matter what their further motivations the leaders might have (which I have discussed previously). Since Mr. Gore said that the science is “settled”, no amount of dissent will probably be able to crack the protective shell of true GWCC believers.

We can – and should, I think – hope and work toward a next president who has not partaken too deeply of the GWCC Kool-Aid. Alas, it seems that all three senators have bellied up to the trough. But perhaps, just maybe, these senators will lend a serious ear to the 31,072 scientists who have signed the Oregon petition. Surely their voice deserves just as much consideration as that of Mr. Gore and all of his “settled consensus” disciples.

19 May 2008

Reflections on the Year: Teaching the Classics

As the school year rolls toward its end, I have just a few reflections on the year that has been. Even if you’re not an education nerd, you might appreciate these thoughts.

Since I’ve taught younger students this year than I have in the past, I’ve noticed a wider range of student abilities and motivation levels. I suppose the students who really do not care to be in school have not, or are just beginning to, take themselves out of the picture. As a result, I’ve had the chance to implement a little voluntary “ability grouping” within my classes.

On a strictly voluntary basis and with parental permission, students have participated in what I’ve called my “supplemental syllabus”. All students have had the opportunity to participate, meaning that “ability” isn’t really the separator here, student motivation is. What may scare some students off is that once they sign up for the supplemental syllabus, they can’t opt out of it. On the good side, though, is that those on the “supplemental” route do not have to accomplish all of the regular class work. They have more challenging, and rewarding, tasks to complete.

Students who participate have been asked to read Greek tragedies (by Aeschylus and Sophocles) and a little philosophy (by Adler). They then write an essay covering thematic elements of the reading. I tend to model the essay questions after Advanced Placement English literature essay questions. Unlike most essays, though, these essays are rewritten over the course of a week or two until they pass muster. At the end of the supplemental assignment, each student has a fairly well polished essay resulting from several drafts. What’s more, each student has a much better idea of how to write and where personal writing strengths and weaknesses are.

What’s more, the students are exposed to the roots of Western literature and thought (Adler’s philosophy is deeply rooted in Aristotle’s). The themes of the tragedies introduce morals and ethics, and the assignments the students have to do ask them to reflect internally on them in meaningful ways. So I suppose that the writing improvement portion is only 50% of the syllabus. Critical thinking and making moral and ethical judgments take up the other 50%. That seems to be a good balance.

If anyone has thoughts or suggestions regarding this “supplemental”, I’m very interested to hear what you’ve got in mind.

18 May 2008

Immigration Law: Which End to Enforce?

An article in the Washington Post on Saturday discusses the recent federal crackdown on illegal immigrants in the workplace. According to the article: “Monday's [May 12th] raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site ... Half of the school system's 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding.”

All that disruption happened in a town of about 2,300 people, the article reports. The effects on the town will obviously be great and far-reaching.

There is, of course, the obligatory reference to the Bush administration and the reports that many in the town complain that the company itself was not targeted directly implies that the Bush administration is pro-CEO, anti-immigrant – or anti-illegal immigrant. If it were only that easy to slice the problem, then perhaps swift and decisive action against employers would be the way to go. What is ignored is that it doesn’t matter whether it is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that does the deporting or if illegal immigrants are forced to leave because employers refuse to face the legal implications of hiring them. Either way it goes, there will be much discomfort for all around before the issue is put to bed.

Julie Myers, who heads up ICE for Homeland Security, claims that nabbing corporations for hiring illegals is difficult and time consuming according to the Post article. Therefore, it is easier, under current law, to go after individual employees. This seems to make sense. It is also something that has a remedy – Congressional action. Congress, however, hasn’t done much more than talk about illegal immigration, and much of that blaming and accusing opposing sides. So what’s the ICE to do? It has to use the tools it currently has at its disposal.

There is a long-term upside to the tactic of mass roundups of illegals, especially those who all work for a single company, as in the case of Agriprocessors. Though the Federal government, through self-imposed limitations, cannot easily go after companies directly, it can take away large portions of a company’s workforce – if that company employs large numbers of illegals – without warning. Such action by the Feds will, doubtless, have a greater economic effect on a company than dragging the company through endless court battles. That threat may be enough for companies to reverse hiring practices.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that human being are involved. Because humans are involved, all sorts of emotions get stirred up and all sorts of “exceptions” seem plausible simply because we tend toward sympathy – as we should be, generally speaking.

While it may appear that those of us who want strict immigration enforcement are simultaneously heartless, that is far from the case. As an advocate of strict immigration enforcement, I would much rather have a full accounting of all people in the US, lawful or otherwise (which, I realize, is impossible…so as full an accounting as is humanly possible). From that point, we could impose legal means for assimilating the hard-working, law abiding illegals.

But at some point, and at an appropriate level, the process must become completely devoid of emotional decisions. Illegals who have been convicted of a felony must be deported. Illegals who are incapable of holding employment must be deported. Additionally, these must be in place regardless of family ties. A son or daughter of an illegal must not be able to stay in the country simply because “breaking up the family” is considered “inhumane”. Family members who commit felonies are obviously not benefiting from (nor beneficial to) a family situation.

Above all, the border must be secured and penalties for entering the country illegally must be harsh and immediate.

Two things will stop the sort of action taken against Agriprocessors by ICE from taking place again. It is an election year, so these kinds of necessary and painful solutions will be pushed further down the road by our wonderful elected officials. Second, emotion will cause many of the loudest voices (some of which are those same elected officials) to condemn ICE, the Bush administration, Republicans, and border and immigration enforcement folks (like myself) for being heartless, xenophobic thugs.

What this situation calls for is much less emotion. Indeed, emotion has caused the illegal immigration problem to go on this long. We are a country of laws – or we ought to be. Laws do not, in themselves, have emotion. Enforcing laws require us to think and reason, not feel. If we allow our laws, or the enforcement thereof, to be driven through emotion, then illegal immigration is only one of many potentially damning problems our country will face in the coming decades.

16 May 2008

Republicans Need a Platform, Not a Slogan

There’s been quite a bit of media discussion in the last week or so about the Republican message, or lack thereof. The results of recent special Congressional elections, all of which Democrats have won, lends support to the idea that Republicans have lost their way. Indeed, House Republicans have even tried to buy into the whole “change” mantra with their “The Change You Deserve” slogan. It all makes one wonder where the Republicans are going to go next.

What follows is nothing new or original.

Republicans need desperately to get back to a fundamentally conservative platform. It doesn’t have to be wholly developed – leaving room for dissent is key to building a broad base of support – but it should include the following planks:

1. Simplification of the tax code and reduce taxes on those who create jobs
2. Protection of individual liberty against government and special interest group intrusion
3. Reform Social Security with an option for privatization
4. End earmarks (which for Republicans will be a special challenge)
5. Support energy conservation – not dogmatic climate change policies
6. Work toward less dependence on foreign sources of energy
7. End government control of compulsory education
8. Vigorous prosecution of Islamic terrorism (Islamofascism)
9. Buttress the Constitution against the idea that it “lives and breathes”

Nine is probably enough for the moment, though this is obviously not a full list by any means. And, as it was mentioned on Special Report last night, Republicans can show the electorate that they are serious about the platform by introducing legislation covering some or all of their platform now. Even though Democrats control Congress and none of the Republican legislation will pass, it would send the message that Republicans are serious about “change”, and that change being what conservatives are supposed, I think, to believe in.

While there’s no need for Republicans to embrace uber-conservatism, there is a deep need for a party that stands for something other than its own position in power. At the moment, compassionate conservatism has proved to smell a lot like semi-liberalism. With a stated conservative platform and a demonstrated desire to act on it – especially on tough, “third rail” issues – Republicans could regain confidence in itself and from the electorate. If it doesn’t, then I fear for November.

15 May 2008

Sowell's "Complex" Series

I generally don't simply post links to other articles, but a recent series of articles deserves an exception. Thomas Sowell has written - from an economist's point of view - a series of articles about politically, emotionally charged topics which are deemed "too complex" for the average (read: non-politician) to understand fully. Mr. Sowell does a fine job of trouncing the notion while he explains the economics behind these not-so-complex issues.

Too "Complex"?: Part I
Too "Complex"?: Part II
Too "Complex"?: Part III
- all by Thomas Sowell

13 May 2008

Response to Comment

The following is a direct response to a comment made by an anonymous reader on a previous posting, Carter on Hamas: Blame the US and Israel, which was originally posted on American Thinker.


Perhaps I made my point poorly, or rather used incorrect terms while bringing it to light. We’re all subject to mistakes in meaning. So let me try to explain a little more clearly. I’ll also try to respond to your points as I’m able.

What I should have written, perhaps, is that Mr. Carter ignores the difference in kind between acts of violence as committed by Hamas and by Israel. That difference in kind is directly related to one group – Hamas – taking the position that the other group – Israel – must be destroyed. There doesn’t seem to be any shades of gray in that position, a Hamas charter position. On the other hand, Israel has been talked into compromise deals time and time again by third parties. To my knowledge, Israel has come to the realization that at some point there will be a Palestinian state. Indeed, Israel unilaterally pulled out of Palestinian areas (which it was criticized for, oddly enough…it is invariably Israel which is denounced broadly in the press and in the UN for acts of violence against Palestinians).

By ignoring this fundamental difference between the two groups, Mr. Carter shows his bias, or at the very least, his appalling moral relativism. I do not find Mr. Carter’s denouncement of, in your words, “violence and oppression and injustice” comforting in the slightest, particularly when he holds court with purveyors of injustice and oppression within their own regimes. North Korea in particular comes to mind as well as Hamas. The injustice and oppression of Palestinians in Gaza comes not from Israel, but rather from Hamas itself. By holding court with such parties, Mr. Carter lends legitimacy to them and aids then with their ever-evolving propaganda.

And to denounce violence wholesale is naïve at best, deadly at worst. Violence must, at times, be visited on those who clearly threaten one’s vital interests. The harder and faster it can be done – in direct need to accomplish necessary objectives – the better. To suggest, as you do, that Carter is right in “denounce[ing] violence…whatever its source” is to not understand that at times military action is necessary. It is the responsibility of the state to decide where, when, and how violence through military action is exercised. On the other hand, state sponsored and advocated international pacifism is an invitation for others to take violent action against the state.

The oxymoron at the end of your comment, that Mr. Carter “fight[s] for peace”, is sadly a common phrase used in reference to those who actually discuss, negotiate, or bargain for peace. Suggesting that Mr. Carter fights is a misuse of language purposely to make Mr. Carter seem more of the warrior. Mr. Carter no more fights for peace in the Middle East than I fight for reconciliation in Iraq – though we are both former military officers.

Finally, please don’t single out Mr. Bush or any other president in recent memory for attempting a last-minute peace plan for the Middle East – or any peace plan, for that matter. They all try it. Some try it more often than others. Mr. Carter managed to have success, and that has been a good thing for Israel and Egypt. As far as present-day negotiations go, it is right that there is clear differentiation between a somewhat legitimate peace partner (Fatah) and an outright terrorist organization which happens to hold the reins in a small, isolated state (Hamas).

Thanks for your comment.

12 May 2008

More Waiting to Learn

While doing some research, I found much the same story reported in Massachusetts as I did in a report on Dallas area high school graduates. According to the Boston Globe:

Thousands of Massachusetts public high school graduates arrive at college unprepared for even the most basic math and English classes, forcing them to take remedial courses that discourage many from staying in school.

"This is a statewide problem," said Linda M. Noonan, managing director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a nonprofit group that supports tougher educational standards to create a better workforce. "There's something systemic that we're not doing to get these kids ready to do college-level work."

It seems to me that so many stories covering students’ inability to perform fundamental math, reading, and writing would beg for some change to the system. Alas, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. What follows is simply platitudes from authority.

"We're hopeful high schools will regard this very seriously," said Paul Reville, chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who will take over as the state's education secretary in July. "This tells us that higher standards are necessary. We're not fully preparing students for non-remediated college work."
I’m very curious what higher standards would mean to a test-addicted, metrics-driven education bureaucracy. Perhaps there is a need for pre-remediation during a student’s senior year of high school? Maybe “universal community college remediation” is required so that there is an equal playing field for all students regardless of previous effort along the 13-year road to high school graduation.

Or perhaps there is a need, a deep need, to force parents and students, administrators and teachers (roughly in that order) to recognize and accept that formative learning requires rote memorization of fundamentals, continual practice of those fundamentals, and an expectation that all students – regardless of race, class, etc. – must be held accountable for such information.

Ironically, US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was quoted on WebWire on the 9th of May as saying, “Massachusetts is a champion of accountability and has some of the nation’s highest standards.” If the result of such “high standards” is surpassingly high rates of remediation for those who choose to continue to college, then there is a problem with those supposedly high standards.

If students are allowed to wait to master these fundamental operations of math and English, until after high school, then one may ask what the point of compulsory public education is. Fixing the problem of underperforming – indeed undereducated – students seems to have very little to do with some bureaucracy pushing higher standards. However, empty words pushing those elusive high standards seem to be all that are up for offer to pull compulsory education out of its tail-spin.

11 May 2008

Gore Tells How "We Can Solve It"

Originally posted on the American Thinker website.
In my effort to soak a penny or two out of Al Gore's "we can save the planet" Global Warming/Climate Change publicity machine, I clicked on a banner ad at a website I frequently visit. My rationale, however flimsy, being that as long as I had the chance, I might steer a tiny portion of Mr. Gore's $300 million campaign to a website I believe in...and which, incidentally, rationally attacks GW/CC dogma on a regular basis. Not exactly the brainiest thing I could do on a Saturday morning, but not a total waste of two minutes.

While on Mr. Gore's website, I decided to click on the menu option "Take Action". To my conservationist side, it seemed reasonable to see just what Mr. Gore would have me - the environmentally concerned citizen - do to stem the tide. Oh, what a disappointment.

Listed from top to bottom, left to right, are the following "action" items (taken verbatim, with minor punctuation changes, from the "wecansolveit" website; my response in italics):

1. Sign the petition to protect polar bears by May 15.
What does this have to do with GW/CC? It is an attempt to use polar bears, as a threatened species, to regulate industry.

2. Sign the petition for a global treaty on climate change.
Because Kyoto worked out so well. Are we supposed to believe that countries will live up to another version thereof? And what of India and China? Will they still be labeled "developing" economies and thus exempt? The US was right not to sign up to Kyoto.

Notice that these first two action items require nothing more than clicking the mouse and typing.

3. Spread the Word - Encourage your friends to join the movement by sharing videos, downloads, and other materials.
Take action by increasing the number of members on Mr. Gore's website? How does this help the environment?

4. Advocate for Change - Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, meet with an elected official, or call a community leader today.
What does Mr. Gore want us to advocate? Carbon caps and trading? Carbon "indulgences"? And again, this requires nothing more than mouse-clicking, typing, or dialing a phone...none of which reduce a person's "carbon footprint".

5. My Community - Get involved in local events and groups that are helping to solve the climate crisis.
This sounds like it is getting closer to actual action, actual conservation. But going one page deeper, and the list of activities smells very familiar: spread the word, host an "event", and be an advocate for change. Nothing to see here...please move on.

6. Minimize Your Own Impact.
And finally, here it is! Some ways that I can use less, ways to conserve.

Conservation must be a dirty word to Mr. Gore's devotees. Number 6 on the list. Perhaps Mr. Gore feels that we can't conserve until we sign petitions, yell about it, convince our friends, write a letter or make a phone call, and then yell about it some more. Welcome to the "big government" approach to conservation.

10 May 2008

Waiting To Learn Until After Graduation

I just got another gem of an article from my wife. According to a local Dallas news channel (WFAA), “over the last three years, an average of 75 percent of the [Dallas Independent School District] students enrolled in classes [at Dallas area community colleges] took at least one developmental education course.” That’s more than a little high. That’s astounding. But it makes me think that perhaps one of two things should have happened. First, the bulk of those students should have spent more time reading, writing, and practicing math while they were in high school. Second, if students are unwilling to master those skills, then perhaps they deserve to be in remedial courses…and paying for them.

While I fully admit that there are bad teachers out there – teachers who are simply occupying space and time - the majority of teachers would love to have motivated, engaged students in their classes. Even if those same students struggled and worked and needed lots of tutorials, many if not most teachers would be up to the task.

The reality is that many students just don’t think an education is worth the time, the effort, or the dedication. It’s not cool. It’s not “fun”. It’s “boring”. It’s something that will happen to them at some miraculous point. This is evident in a quote from the above referenced article. A former DISD student, regarding the need for remedial education, says, “I get so frustrated. Don't know why I wasn't taught those skills before coming here and having to be at this point in my life and start all over.” Note the passive sense of the quote. Like so many, this student does not understand the active nature of real learning…or rather discovered it now that it costs money.

My guess is that those skills – reading comprehension, vocabulary, proper grammar and diction – were taught at some point. The problem is that these lessons probably weren’t deemed very important at the time they were taught. Also, the lessons probably weren’t reinforced outside of the classroom, either through homework or normal, daily use.

Yet when asked how many students plan on going to college, most answer affirmatively without hesitation.

There is a bizarre disconnect, a wickedly self-injurious Orwellian doublethink in the student who professes a desire to become a doctor or lawyer, yet who cannot bring himself to remain conscious for the entirety of a 90-minute class.

The rest of the WFAA article discusses TAKS (state testing) skills, teaching to the test, et cetera. The superintendant of Dallas schools says, “We don’t need to blame people. We need to fix [the situation].” I would disagree with his first statement. People do need to be blamed. It may be said that teachers, administrators, students, and parents can all share some of the blame. There may be some truth in that. But too many students are encouraged to think of college as mandatory and an entitlement. Too many parents allow their children to slide through high school, or kick and scream when their student doesn’t succeed. It is disastrous and costly to allow both students and parents to believe that real education begins after graduating from high school.

Carter on Hamas: Blame the US and Israel

Originally posted on the American Thinker website.

Our former president Jimmy Carter placed himself back in the news this week by authoring an article in the Guardian. Mr. Carter claims, "The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished."

The implication is that Israel and those who support Israel are the punishers of a beleaguered Palestinian people. This is the premise that Mr. Carter works from: whatever entity is on the other side of the table from Israel is necessarily being oppressed.

Carter continues: "This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers."

To which my response is: so what? Just because an election elevated a recognized terrorist organization to elected power of a state (or semi-state) does not in any way legitimize that terrorist organization.

Indeed, that the US stopped foreign aid to the Palestinians after the election was and is the correct thing to do. The restoration of such aid, made clear in this State Department document, depends on Hamas "renounce[ing], among other things, its commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel and the use of terrorist violence."

But once again, that's too much for Mr. Carter to ask of the poor, besieged, Hamas led Palestinians.

Mr. Carter also bemoans that "Israeli bombs and missiles periodically strike the area," and claims that these attacks "[cause] high casualties among both militants and innocent women and children." This, of course, totally ignores any and all attacks on Israel by Hamas. It also totally ignores the Hamas charter position that the Israeli state must be destroyed.

What Mr. Carter fails to mention at all is that Palestinians are supposedly supported by many Arab countries; countries which, incidentally, fought against Israel time and time again. Gaza does not border the sea and Israel only. A quick peek at Google Maps shows a short (15 mile?) border with Egypt and a major crossing at Rafah. If Arab countries are keen to help the Palestinians, aid should be pouring through that border. To my knowledge, though, the border between Gaza and Egypt only opens sporadically and supposedly only to allow aid in and wounded out. The problem is that weapons invariably find their way into the mix. With that in mind, one has to believe that Egypt doesn't really want Hamas players freely crossing the border -- the predictable result being more Sinai bombings.

In the end, Mr. Carter's cries against Israel and the US as oppressors of Hamas and Gaza rings hollow. If we are to take Mr. Carter at his word, then any and all elected governments deserve recognition, aid, and assistance. We are not to mind the contradiction that the very government Mr. Carter would have us support, Hamas, seeks the destruction of a sovereign state, Israel. We are also to believe that the US and Israel are solely responsible for the conditions within Gaza and the suffering of the Hamas-led people there.

To all this, I simply shake my head in disbelief. If only Mr. Carter would slip finally, quietly into retirement.

09 May 2008

Catching Them Coming and Going

Immigration officials are enforcing border security not only by checking people coming into the country, but also those leaving the country. Random checkpoints set up near the border check any suspicious vehicle for illegals. Illegals who are found are arrested, documented (for legal purposes, not visa purposes), and deported.

This is excellent news. And, of course, “immigration activists” decry the measure.

From the LA Times:
"The policies of the Bush administration are designed to make life so difficult for immigrants in the U.S. illegally that they're forced to leave. . . . Now they're arresting people who they are actually driving out of the country. . . . Unbelievable," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a Washington-based immigration reform group.

[A person who saw illegals being arrested near the border said], "They were almost home. If they're already leaving the country, what's the problem?"
Here’s the problem: these two pro-illegal immigrant views assume that these folks are going back to Mexico – presumably – to stay. That is a poor assumption. It doesn’t account for those going back on holiday, for a family event (be it good or bad), or any number of reasons besides repatriation.

Catching and deporting those who are only returning home for a visit is a positive step toward border control. I hope that efforts are stepped up all along the border as high schools let out and summer vacations begin.

08 May 2008

When the Media Says the Media Didn’t Do Its Job

An opinion piece in USA Today’s online edition asks a pertinent question: what took the media so long to dig into the Obama / Wright story? The simple answer is, I think, the desire of many non-conservative types for “anybody but Bush” – or Clinton for that matter – in the White House.

How long it will be before there’s in-depth analysis of Mr. Obama’s other associations are deeply investigated? Will the “mainstream media” take an interest in Mr. Ayers? Will Mr. Obama’s apparent links to KindHearts be thoroughly investigated? Or are all of these ties, these suspect associations, just “distractions” as the Obama camp would have everyone believe.

That Mr. Obama calls investigating his personal associations “distractions” should give voters pause. As I’ve said before, the company one keeps says a lot about character, beliefs, and tendencies.

05 May 2008

Ingenuity and Rigor in the Classroom

While reading an interesting article in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, I found a reference to education in the US and where it stands out. The article, “The Future of American Power”, discusses how the US might best move forward as other powers rise throughout the world. (Quotes from page 5 of the article.)

The author, Fareed Zakaria, summarizes the argument against US preeminence in education by characterizing it as “[a] country that once adhered to a Puritan ethic of delayed gratification…has become one that revels in instant pleasures; Americans are losing interest in the basics -- math, manufacturing, hard work, savings -- and becoming a society that specializes in consumption and leisure.” It is an argument that many, myself included, would not find much issue with. Indeed, many of the attitude problems of today’s American students stem from a sense of entitlement and an aversion to hard work without immediate benefit.

Or perhaps I’m just overly critical of the younger generation.

Regardless, Mr. Zakaria goes on to make great points about American secondary education. One is that, given the right circumstances, US kids tend to score very competitively when compared to other students across the globe. The issue, Mr. Zakaria says, is a “problem of inequality”. That will have to be fixed – though I find the thought that government or schools can “fix” the root causes of low achievement trends in poor districts ridiculous. (It’s a dead horse I’ve beaten before here, here, and here.)

One other thing that secondary education tends to do well concerns creativity and ingenuity. Mr. Zarakia: “The U.S. system may be too lax when it comes to rigor and memorization, but it is very good at developing the critical faculties of the mind. It is surely this quality that goes some way in explaining why the United States produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers.” He goes on to say that “While the United States marvels at Asia's test-taking skills, Asian governments come to the United States to figure out how to get their children to think.”

I think there is a definite tie between American ingenuity and stressing creativity and critical thinking in education. There is also an undeniable trend toward more standardized testing and linking student progress to those test results. The temptation becomes, then, to "teach the test" in order to "prove" student progress. But this misses the mark.

The trick is to figure out how to balance ingenuity and creativity with the thoroughness necessary to master fundamentals. That’s not something that can be “universalized”, to use a tired and worn term. That balance must be achieved, or approximated, in each classroom and in each school by those in the trenches.

Post Script: Yesterday, Real Clear Politics featured an article in Newsweek by the same title and author on its website. However, it is not the same article from Foreign Affairs, but rather an “excerpt” and an “adaptation” of Zarakia’s FA article. The tone and syntax is a good bit different in the Newsweek article, so much so that I can understand how some reader comments on the Newsweek site blasted the article as “anti-American”. One must ask the question, why the “adaptation” for the Newsweek piece? Seeing as it is the cover story, one would think that Mr. Zarakia’s unaltered writing would be preferable.

04 May 2008

Headlines without Sense

This morning, my lovely wife alerted me to the next catastrophic effect of “global warming”: shark attacks. The headline from The Guardian said it all. “Surge in fatal shark attacks blamed on global warming.”

Well, maybe not.

“Global warming” is mentioned once in the story. The term has the modifier “could be” in front of it. That doesn’t amount to blame in my mind.

The story spends much more time suggesting that rising populations equate to more people seeking recreation in the ocean and that the ocean is a dangerous place – there are sharks and other creatures in there. Thus, injuries occur.

A more appropriate headline, it seems, would be “Rising population leads to close encounters between people, sharks.” But that would leave the buzz of “global warming” out of the story. Obviously I know nothing about selling news.

03 May 2008

Gas Prices Are Here to Stay

One dogged question for President Bush, presidential candidates, and congress seems to be, “What are you doing/going to do about the price of gas?” There are two assumptions here, one that politicians can do a great deal about gas prices, and two that the price of gas is, in fact, too high.

The biggest ideas from politicians come in the form of dubious band-aids. Recently, Senators McCain and Clinton want a gas tax “vacation” this summer. Of course, those tax dollars go toward building and maintaining infrastructure. And obviously all vacations must end at some point. What would the reaction be in early September to a reinstatement of the federal gas tax? Not a good scenario for either candidate. In reality, the gas tax “vacation” is just a ploy to buy votes.

That gas costs in the high $3 range and diesel is above $4 per gallon in the US is no shock to anyone who has traveled to other Western, non-oil producing states. During my time in Australia, before the recent gas spike, I was paying about $4.50 (US dollars) per gallon. Perhaps the recent spike has a lot to do with the dollar’s decline – it is roughly at parity with both the Australian and Canadian dollar (currency site). But then again, I’m no economist.

It seems to me, in my inexpert opinion, that there are a few ways that the US could, in the long term, reduce oil dependency. None of the following are original ideas.

Conservation is key. By this I mean intelligent conservation, not dogmatic, blind environmentalism. Individuals should look at what they need as opposed to what is a luxury. A proper question that I’ve answered in the last year is, “Do we need two cars, or will one do?” At some point, the answer to that question may change. But if the answer changes – if we do need to buy a second car – I have to ask myself if I need that Ford Mustang or if I ought to buy a car that uses much less gas. Sure, the Mustang is the more fun option…but that doesn’t make it the correct answer. These kinds of “need/want” questions aren’t just about cars; they’re about all of the “stuff” that surrounds us. All of it takes energy to manufacture, move, and consume; a consideration that deserves more attention.

Capacity also needs to be looked at. America’s oil production, refining capabilities, and reserve capacity should be enhanced. This means building new refineries and drilling in new places. Perhaps companies could build a corporate reserve at today’s price, assuming that oil prices will, as a general rule, continue to rise. I don’t imagine that these things will affect the price of gas or diesel much, but doing these things will buy us time down the road.

Lastly, private industry should enhance efforts to come up with “what’s next” after petroleum. Government should support those projects which strongly suggest positive outcomes – and, if possible, should be devoid of political tinkering. This is a long-term project. No one should expect a silver bullet within the next fifteen or twenty years. But with the help of individual conservation and increased domestic capability, Americans can hope for something beyond ever-rising gas prices.

Disapproval of Bush and Congress

Much has been made of President Bush’s disapproval rating during his second term. On Friday, Bush’s disapproval rating was news enough to be the lead story in the early morning hours on CNN.com. According to Real Clear Politics, his disapproval rating has hovered in the 60 percent range for a long, long time. His approval rating has hung right around 30 percent. This is without considering the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll.

Congress, on the other hand, has “outperformed” Mr. Bush in the disapproval race. Congressional disapproval ratings vary more than the presidents. The disapproval percentage tends to be between 60 and the low 70s, but the occasion dip to the mid-70s is not unheard of.

This makes CNN’s lead story about Mr. Bush breaking the 70 percent mark a little suspect. Granted, the CNN article compares Mr. Bush’s disapproval rating to that of other presidents. But according to the RCP poll tracking site (liked above), the Democrat-controlled Congress first made that dip back in June of 2007 – less than a year after taking power. Isn’t that worth consideration?

02 May 2008

Mental Crutches

This past week across the state of Texas, students took a set of tests called the TAKS. All students must pass four TAKS tests in their junior year in order to graduate. Retests during a student’s senior year are not uncommon. The four tests cover English, social studies, science, and math. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the math and science tests are the most difficult for students.

All students are allowed and encouraged to use school-provided calculators on the math and science tests.

For many students, the calculators are a must. This is not true only for creating graphs of mathematical functions but also for relatively simple actions, like multiplying two three-digit numbers. More than a few students have told me that such multiplication takes too much time. Not to belittle students in any shape or form, but that’s shorthand for the student having little confidence in his or her ability to perform the action properly without an electronic aid. Indeed, it is a sign that the student relies on the calculator to perform the action for them.

This lack of confidence spills over, then, to more complicated actions like graphing functions. I’ve never learned to use a graphing calculator – nor do I ever want to. In my opinion, learning how to push certain buttons on a specific calculator to achieve a graph is akin to learning functions on any other specialized machine; it is only good as long as I have that machine to work with. It is not knowledge, really. It’s memorization of a computer procedure.

Sad, then, that addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division may theoretically go down the same low road. If they are not practiced without mental crutches consistently, the skills atrophy. That we have high school students experiencing such atrophy is a comment on the educational process, the proper use of technology, and true educational rigor.