29 August 2008

Ah, the Hypocrisy!

I’m dumbfounded that the following two positions can be taken simultaneously by protestors in Denver this past week. As reported by Fox News, “Though demonstrators joined under the common cause of ending the war, they also spoke out in favor of abortion rights and against torture, imperialism and the election process.”

The protestor’s point of view is that war is bad. I assume that position is taken because during wars people die. Some are intended – those would be among combatants. Others are generally unintended (though never wholly avoidable) – those would be deaths of non-combatants. Yet an abortion almost always ends up in a death, the death of a “non-combatant” if you will, meaning someone who has no choice in the matter. These are wholly avoidable.

So what accounts for this doublethink among the protestors? While I would like to believe that the news has simply congealed all of the protestors into one big lump for simplicity’s sake, and therefore converged all of the protest messages into a nebulous whole, it seems more likely that the small group was just a nebulous whole itself. Canada.com reports that one protestor guessed that the group numbered “no more than 700” early in the week. Seems reasonable to say that the protestors converged their various messages all on their own.

Which suggests a further question: are the thought patterns of the protestors so “stove-piped” that they simply do not realize their own contradictions? Or do they really believe that there are no contradictions in their various messages? Both options are dangerous, in my opinion. Thankfully, 700 is a fairly small number. We’ll see how many of these mixed-up thinkers show at the Republican convention.

25 August 2008

In Defense of the 50

In and amongst all of the grading schemes in schools today, the “mandatory 50” is one that seems to catch a lot of flack. Why, one might ask, should a student who does next to nothing deserve a 50 on his report card? Why not give him the 20 (or whatever percentage below fifty it is) he deserves?

The reason for the 50, we are told by various administrators in various districts, is so that the failing student has some hope of passing the semester. If the student were given the 20 that he earned, he would simply give up; the situation would be beyond redemption. Mathematically, that’s likely to be true. Motivationally, it leaves something to be desired…but that’s the topic of another post.

I would make a different argument. Way back when, percentages were not methodically calculated. There was a time when students received letter grades. An “A” meant, roughly, anything 90 or above; a “B”, 80-89; a “C”, 79-70; a “D” (a rare creature now), 69-60. An “F” was a failing grade. But an “F” then could actually be as high as 59%. But an “F” was an “F”. It didn’t matter if it represented a 10 or a 59. At the end of a grading period, teachers would average these letter grades together with some form of calculus, and emerge with a semester grade – represented by a letter.

So really, the “F” of today – the mandatory 50 – is not wildly generous. It is simply a numerical representation of what the old “F” used to stand for. Just as there was no “G” or “H” in the grading scale, there’s nothing lower than a 50 in many places. And that’s just fine with me. Not because a failing student might be “devastated” by a grade which more accurately reflects his work, but because an “F” is still an “F”.

Instead of worrying about giving 50s, those of us in states which dictate a passing score of 70 might ask where the “D” went. Can we really say that many students teeter between being “average” (which is what a “C” used to mean) and failing? Is there such a thing as a “below average” student (which is what a “D” used to mean) who still deserves to pass?

24 August 2008

“No Redo’s There”

In an interview on Fox News Channel, Dallas ISD board of trustees member Jerome Garza was questioned about the district’s new grading policy, one that has received a lot of negative attention in the past 10 days. Mr. Garza attempts to convince the viewer that the district’s policies regarding late work and re-tests are designed to lower the drop-out rate.

But an interesting insight is made during the closing of the interview. E.D. Hill, the interviewer, notes Mr. Garza’s K-12 education background. She states, “I know you had to do your homework. You graduated from one of the toughest boys' schools, Saint Mark's. You didn't get any slack there.”

Mr. Garza’s reply: “No, no. There were no redo's there. You had to pass it the first time or not.”

Now, I’m not saying that Dallas ISD can be turned into a constellation of St. Mark’s with the wave of a hand (or a grading policy), but it’s important to note how quickly and emphatically Mr. Garza made his reply. If one watches the video of the interview (at the link above), one will notice that his comment on St. Mark’s is made without hesitation or equivocation; it is simply the truth. St. Mark’s, “one of the toughest boys' schools” in the Dallas area, seems to have prepared Mr. Garza quite well for the real world.

So, why then the opposite policy for the students of Dallas ISD? I honestly can’t answer that question; I don’t know the ins and outs of the politics there. Perhaps it is because the powers that be are more focused on equality of outcome than equality of opportunity. Equal outcome can be quantitatively measured in graduation rates. The closer the number of graduates comes to the number of freshmen at intake, the greater the “success”. Equality of opportunity, in many ways, is largely qualitative. It defies metrics, it seems. And it scares educational technicians and managers (who crave numbers). But equality of opportunity and high levels of student accountability are the ways to raise standards. Pushing equality of outcome – a high school degree for all students – lowers the bar to the detriment of the student, and ultimately to the detriment of our society.

23 August 2008

Generating Excitement

After a week of waiting – some would say an annoying week of waiting – Senator Obama has chosen one of his colleagues for his running mate. Senator Biden, we are finally told, will be the man. Thankfully, that episode is over.

I’m thankful that it’s over because it seems quite obvious that the whole purpose of Sen. Obama’s “decision” timeline has been to generate excitement. News outlets have been complicit; they are in the business of generating excitement and need coat-tails to ride on. The “waiting for the text message” manufactured pseudo-drama seems custom made for 24-hour news machines.

But all of this excitement does something important; it masks critical thought and discussion about policy and positions with empty wondering about a text message and the name of a person. Sen. Obama’s campaign has skillfully and successfully burned a week of the campaign using a non-story. It was an important week to burn, as well. Not only was it the last week before the Democrat convention, where empty news space might have been filled with an analysis of Sen. Obama’s (and the Democrat’s) political platform – a particularly worrisome point when considering moderate voters who probably don’t like the reality of socialist policies – but also one that saw polls with Sen. McCain closing or even beating Sen. Obama nationally. Manufactured excitement, and the news media’s eager propagation of such, has served Sen. Obama’s purpose.

Next comes the excitement of the Democrat convention. Much swooning and such will be done, especially at the mass rally at Denver’s Invesco Field, which seats 75,000. The only downside for the Democrat nominee is that he and his party will have to actually give speeches during the convention; speeches which can be pulled apart, examined, and reflected upon.

My guess is that two things will be found in those speeches. There will probably be a number of socialist programs masked with populist language. It is, after all, all about the little guy and what the government can do to “help” him in an active, invasive manner. Nailing those down to specifics will require skill, though, as empty rhetoric will fill and spill over the empty spaces in between programs. We’ve heard this already, and endlessly. “Hope” and “unity” are, as they have been used by Sen. Obama in the context of this election, empty. They are empty words that fill the empty spaces of the candidate’s message, of which there are many.

And all of this will be camouflaged by the transitory, uncritical air of excitement. Excitement is the big tent Sen. Obama’s campaign uses shielded itself from the everyday voter’s attempt to view it critically (because, in all honesty, I don’t think that most folks think about this election and its machinations as much as I do…or those who may read this blog do, for that matter). But like the Wizard in Oz, the flashes and smoke and explosions – exciting distractions all – will sooner or later fail to convince some, or most, that what is behind the curtain is anything more than run-of-the-mill. Or worse.

20 August 2008

Demand It, and It Will Happen

One of my least favorite organizations around is “We can solve it” dot organization. I’ve written before about the thinness of their website’s recommendations for action. Most of them amount to signing petitions and getting more people to join the Global Warming / Climate Change (GW/CC) church. The organization’s new ads, however, take meaningless action to a whole new level.

The past two television spots feature demands. The one that started earlier this summer stated, “We are more than a million strong…if enough of us demand cleaner forms of energy, we can’t be ignored.” The latest ad “demand[s]” that the US “use the wind” and “use the sun”, one would assume instead of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. The commercial concludes with a demand for “100% clean electricity within 10 years.”

Lots of demands there. A very demanding agenda, indeed. But I have to ask if an organization like “We can solve it” can do anything but demand? A glance through the website again – I haven’t visited since I wrote my last piece in May of this year – reveals that not much has changed. The calls for action are limited and amount to petition signing, letter writing, and such. The solutions section seems to have a deep need for government molding of not just energy policy but of energy practice. “Solvers”, according to their own advocacy, believe that their demanding will make their demands come to pass. Governments will bow. Massive wind farms and solar panels will sprout from the very earth. None of these things will have any down-side. We will live in an energetic harmony. If only the demands would be heard.

The people who live on my block represent approximately the same percentage (.5%) of the town that I live in. If we demanded free wireless HD television and internet for the city, what do you suppose might happen? Would my town suddenly become a wireless bliss of communications consumers? Somehow, I doubt it.

In the end, that the real demand by the “Solvers” is for government to green-up the energy sector, to do it now, and to do it in a way that doesn’t impact anyone or anything (except for, perhaps, those mean, nasty oil and coal companies, to say nothing of their nuclear buddies). Just demand and wait to receive. Thankfully, we know how demands tend to work out, especially when outlandish demands are voiced by approximately one half of one percent of the population. Somehow, I think Mr. Gore could have put his $300 million to better use.

18 August 2008

Australia and Medals

Originally posted at American Thinker.

A look at the medal count (as of Monday morning, 18 August) shows a predictable one-two at the top. China, with its 1.3 billion people, has garnered 65 medals including 37 gold medals. That’s one medal for every 20 million people. The US, with not even a quarter of China’s population, has won 66 medals. That’s one medal for every 4.6 million people. That is pretty impressive. But even more impressive is Australia. With a population of approximately 20 million, Australia has won 33 medals, with an even spread across gold, silver, and bronze. That’s one medal for every 606,060 people.

One might wonder how Australia produces so many world caliber athletes. From my time there, I am of the opinion that Australia’s success can be tacked to the country’s love for sport. The country supports three different rugby – or footie – leagues. Cricket soccer leagues flourish. There’s even a professional ice hockey league!

But it’s not the nation’s support of professional leagues that makes them an international powerhouse in sport. From my time living there, I can say (though only though anecdotal evidence) that Australians are one of the most athletically enthusiastic people on earth. There are leagues everywhere; games, especially on the weekends, are ubiquitous. Pitches seem to sprout here and there in all cities and towns. And the leagues are not just for the athletically adept, necessarily. They appear to be for everyone. And even if one doesn’t want to participate in the speed of footie, there’s always lawn bowls, greens for which occupy clubs all over the country.

I must admit that I never had the courage to venture onto an Australian pitch for a game. My fear of seeming like the dumb American prevented me (though I’m sure that even if I had made a fool out of myself, the Aussies would have made great jokes about it with me, not at me).

Australia’s is a culture of sport. Everyone can have a “fair go” of it; all one has to do is step up. Perhaps if the US could incorporate more of this attitude into its culture, we would be more successful not just as a country, but also as individuals. Sometimes it seems that the US (and our government) has relegated the “fair go” doctrine to the sidelines in favor of guaranteed equality of outcome. But in truth, not everyone can win, not everyone can succeed. Better to give equal opportunity for those who desire it to step up to the plate, to use a more American metaphor. If and when they fail, they can dust themselves off, get up, and go to the plate again. This idea seems to have served the Aussies well in sport. It could serve the US well in many aspects in which the expectation of equality of outcome limits success.

16 August 2008

Dallas ISD and Grading Standards

Much has already been said and written about the Dallas Independent School District’s new grading scheme. If the documents (one here) available on the internet are accurate, the policy looks to pursue dumbing down of student expectations and ramping up teacher reporting requirements.

Some writers have bemoaned the retesting mandate, where the student may retake a test and get the higher of the two scores as his grade. But this assumes no creativity on the part of the teacher. The policy never says that the test must be the same test. Retests should be significantly more difficult than the original; they must never simply be a rehash of the same test, especially a multiple choice or matching test. This can be done easily in all subjects. Simply require the student to write a short paper detailing all of the information they should have mastered for the test. These tests are easy to grade as well, requiring only a cursory reading to determine if the student has really mastered – or at least memorized – the material. And the hard fact is that most students who actually decide to travel down this road won’t.

What is more troubling to me is the requirement for teachers to make parental contact before giving a student a zero in the grade book. Just giving a zero, the policy states, “is not a best practice”; this means that there is some research somewhere that confirms this. At least theoretically. No direct reference is made in the policy to any peer-reviewed research. Regardless, writers have made the point that a teacher who has 150 students and who made five homework assignments per grading period would have to make and document 75 parent contacts if just 10% of his students did not turn in various assignments. Add on top of that students who did not complete in-class work. Add on top of that students who miss tests. Add on top of all of these the fact that many of the student who fall into the “zero” column do not have stable home environments, meaning that teachers have to search even harder for a phone number that results in a ringing sound at the other end. The parental contact rule, therefore, actually punishes the teacher. There are, of course, creative ways around this policy as well, but the spirit of this policy is clear: teachers must call parents and should not give zeros.

Lastly, a policy that seems to have slipped by most writers is the keystone of the DISD grading house of cards.
“Teachers with a three and six weeks failure rate of >20% in any subject area will be required to develop and submit an intervention support plan for struggling students that will be monitored by the principal.”
The same goes for reported failure rates for schools in a given subject. So if a teacher has a group of kids who just decides to blow off a project one grading period, the teacher is put under the microscope, not the student. And while the policy does not state it, it may be rightly assumed that teacher contract renewal will hinge on getting that percentage below 20%, not in how well they teach. Numbers, you see, take less time and are easy to judge; subjective evaluations of actual teacher performance in the classroom takes time, and effort, and real judgment.

That to me is what is most lacking in the DISD grading scheme: judgment. It focuses on numbers – zeros and 20% – and not on the people who produce them. Generally speaking, teachers make exceptions for students who work hard and need a boost once in a great while. Late assignments are accepted, alternate assignments are given, and students learn (or at least are given the opportunity, again and again). These things go undocumented and are not policy specifically because making them part of a district’s policy would officially lower the bar for the students.

My fear is that teachers who are beset with students who expect nearly nothing of themselves and who search for the magic “less than 20%” will simply bow to the pressure. Homework will become nonexistent, the same test will be given repeatedly (in class, no doubt), and a name on a paper will be scored as a 50…or whatever it takes to pass the kid. And it won’t just be “bad” teachers who may do this. Good teachers who feel abandoned (sacrificed?) by their administration may well go down the same road. Why fight it?

The curriculum goal of Dallas ISD, as stated on its website, is “to educate and graduate students ready for college.” The reader can judge for himself or herself if the DISD grading policy that I’ve touched on here supports that goal.

13 August 2008

NYT Editorial on Education in Texas

It took me a bit of time to recover my writing faculties after reading an outrageous editorial in the New York Times concerning a report produced for the Texas Youth Commission. Published on August 8th, the editorial “Writing Off Disabled Children” begins with an astounding statement:

“Many of America’s juvenile jails would be empty if the public schools obeyed federal law and provided disabled children with the special instruction that they need.”
Simple! Brilliant! But that suspect statement doesn’t even come close to a true representation of the facts.

The first question that may leap into the reader’s mind is, “What is the Texas Youth Commission?” One might think that it is a child advocacy group, or a state commission whose task it is to oversee extracurricular youth activities throughout the state. But it is neither of these things. The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is Texas’ juvenile corrections agency, a pertinent point, though one would have barely a hint of it based on the editorial.

The NYT piece goes on to cite a report prepared for the Texas Youth Commission, putting much focus to the report’s conclusion that 39% of young people in the Commission’s care are “eligible for special education services.” The article also makes startling comparisons to the sheer number of emotionally disturbed and special education students in the “Texas system” as opposed to “a typical high school”. Of course, the NYT never mentions that the TYC does not operate typical high schools, only that the TYC’s students are “in custody”. This gross oversight makes the comparison quite shocking (which is its purpose) and wildly misleading.

Indeed, a list of percentages on the TYC website about their student population (euphemistically speaking) confirms how different the commission’s schools are. It lists a number of relevant statistics - 83% have IQs below the mean score of 100, 79% have parents who never married or who divorced or separated, and 72% come from chaotic environments, just to name a few. These are added to the fact that the TYC serves children who are serving time for various offenses, what the NYT piece calls “in custody”. The same TYC website states that “49% [of JYC “students”] were in juvenile court on two or more felony-level offenses before being committed to TYC”. No matter which way you turn it, the TYC does not run its schools with “typical” kids.

There are some additional considerations about the TYC schools that the NYT might have taken into consideration. While per the report TYC kids tend to have less high-level, one-on-one intervention time scheduled into their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or mandated through the ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) process , there is no consideration that perhaps TYC students may be given a high level of individual oversight simply because of their setting. But as the NYT editorial largely ignores the fact that TYC students are incarcerated, there appears to be no need to investigate any other special conditions related to education in the TYC system. As a result, the NYT makes flawed statistical comparisons from a statistics driven report. This, in my opinion, is a simplistic, intellectually lazy way to cast blame without real investigation.

What is closer to the truth is that Texas as a whole is not “writing off disabled children” whatsoever. In most cases, disabled children, including those tagged as emotionally disturbed, get more services by far than the average student. And I don’t begrudge any student the resources they reasonably require for success. (In fact, I provide resources to them on a daily basis.)

For the NYT to claim that incarcerated children, nearly half of whom are incarcerated on more than one felony offense, are failing because of a lack of educational support is stark madness. That the NYT attempts through their editorial to cast all Texas schools as spectacular failures in special education is dishonest and worthy of contempt.

12 August 2008

Remembering Memorization

While attending a very good teacher workshop this summer, I heard a rather dubious, yet quite common, claim on memorization. The teacher leading the workshop, an extremely experienced teacher to be sure, claimed that memorization just didn’t matter as much today as it has in the past. With all of the media and storage techniques readily available today, we need to make sure that kids know where to find information and not necessarily have immediate recall of information themselves.

After all, the internet is only a computer connection away. Why remember what we can “find out”? And employers don’t want people who simply “remember” things, but rather they want people who innovate, who create, who make things more aesthetically pleasing. Memorization is a banal task best left to books and electrons.

I disagree whole-heartedly. Memorization is the foundation of knowledge and learning.

If I go to the doctor for a knee problem, the doctor doesn’t fire up his computer and do a search for “knee problem”. His study of medicine, anatomy, and physiology (among myriad other subjects) tells him where my knee is and, upon examination, what the problem may be. The day my doctor reads on Wikipedia how to diagnose a problem is the day we should all stop going to the doctor.

I’m not saying that memorization is the only, nor even the best, way to learn. Neither is true. But it does have its place, and a central one at that. Memorizing addition and multiplication tables is key to math, in my opinion. Every child should be able to, with very little recall time, to answer what two single digits multiplied together equals. Yet this memorization skill has been undermined by the ubiquitous use of the calculator for even the simplest mathematical tasks.

Memorization has its place. It is not a glamorous one, to be sure. It is a boring, sometimes painful task. But undergirding higher orders of thought – analyzing, synthesizing, etc. – are numerous instances of instantaneous recall of information. Without this ability to recall information on our own, we would be endlessly “finding out” what we need to know. This point was made abundantly clear when, in the same workshop, participating teachers recited favorite bits of poetry from memory. More than a few of them claimed, “I memorized that in 4th grade, and I’ve never forgotten it.” A powerful thing, memorization.

08 August 2008

Random Thoughts on a Strange Friday

A little late in the day, but a few thoughts on what has turned out to be a rather odd day.

Former Senator John Edwards has fallen (somewhat) to the National Inquirer. I find it a little odd that the tabloid has done more to “uncover” Mr. Edwards’ dalliance than any other news outlet. And just how much more embarrassing for Mr. Edwards to have to answer charges from the same folks who give us headlines on space aliens and the living Elvis?

Russia and the republic of Georgia started slugging it out today over a break-away province. It seems that no one is quite sure what to call the Russian aerial raids and tank columns going into Georgia. Are they invaders, or (as the Russians put it) additional peace keepers, or something in between. One thing is probably true (as stated on tonight’s Special Report): if the fighting sticks to the immediate border area between the two countries, most of the world won’t notice. Why?

The Olympics began today. Funny how all of these things happen on the same day. Any chance that the previous two are tied to the Olympics? Only in this way: some of the parties involved hope that the Olympics will take all daylight, night-light, and highlights away from them and the happenings around them. Nothing like un-politicized sport to absorb people’s attention.

And lastly, why all the hubbub about the opening ceremony? While I realize that I may be in the extreme minority, it seems like a huge waste of time, money, and effort. The games are supposed to be about athletes and national honor – or at least that’s how I see it. Why all the pomp? Why not just have a parade of athletes and then start the games? But when there’s money to be made…

06 August 2008

Medellin Executed

In October of last year, I wrote about a man named Jose Medellin (though I misspelled his name previously). Mr. Medellin, a Mexican national, was convicted of taking part in the gang rape and murder of two teenagers in 1993. His conviction and death sentence was recently reviewed by the US Supreme Court on the grounds that Mr. Medellin was denied access to the Mexican consulate after his arrest. The Court refused to stay his sentence, despite President Bush’s request that the states review cases for 50 Mexicans on death row, including Mr. Medellin.

Yesterday, Mr. Medellin was executed, as well he should have been. He is not alone in deserving this fate. According to Fox News:

“One of Medellin's fellow gang members, Derrick O'Brien, was executed two years ago. Another, Peter Cantu, described as the ringleader of the group, is on death row. He does not have a death date.

“Two others, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court barred executions for those who were 17 at the time of their crimes. The sixth person convicted, Medellin's brother, Vernancio, was 14 at the time and is serving a 40-year prison term.”

Yet some would have these men, theoretically, walking away from their actions. Lawyer Sandra Babcock is quoted as saying, “it's important to recall this is a case not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas. It's also about ordinary Americans who count on the protection of the consulate when they travel abroad to strange lands. It's about the reputation of the United States as a nation that adheres to the rule of law.” I heartily disagree.

What consular protection should there be for gang rape and murder charges? If an American goes to, say, Singapore, should the US consulate protect him or her against charges of chewing gum, let alone against charges of gang rape and murder? Hardly. Those who claim that Americans abroad will be hurt by Medellin’s execution are living in a cloistered fantasy land. Indeed, strengthening American’s belief and trust in laws at home will arguably make them more mindful of local laws while abroad.

I have great contempt for all of this hand-wringing and legal gymnastics, all to “save” a convicted rapist and murderer. Surely our country would be in self-created jeopardy if we were to put Mr. Medellin’s civil liberties above those of the two girls whom he brutalized and murdered.

05 August 2008

The Political Value of Crises

It seems that there is always, always a crisis on our hands. The economy has been in “crisis” mode for a long time. There is an oil price “crisis”, an energy dependence “crisis”, a mortgage “crisis”, and the dollar is in “crisis”. So many crises, so little time.

Actually, there are so many crises because there is too much time. And I’m not just talking about the unquenchable thirst of the 24-hour news cycle. The presidential election has been going on since…December 2006! During that month, two candidates announced they were in the running (Kucinich and Edwards). More than a full year passed before the first primary was held. More than a year and a half has passed, and we’re still not at the conventions. And yet these candidates have been running, and running, and running.

Such a long campaign requires endless energy, and not only on the part of the candidates. Issues have to have legs – serious legs. The more alarming the “crisis”, the further it can carry the pseudo-debate. The crises include: Iraq (in various guises and from various angles), Afghanistan, oil prices and energy dependence, mortgage foreclosure, global warming / climate change, and (somewhat) immigration.

We are in a state of perpetual crisis, or so we are lead to believe.

But crises are only of political value when something can be made from them, when they deliver a product to someone. In an election year, the beneficiaries of crises are easy to detect: those who hope to gain or maintain office through manipulation of real or imagined crises. I realize that the previous statement is a bit circular. Let me provide an example.

Speaker Pelosi has stated that her goal is to save the planet from destruction due to our dependence on oil. She has to date given no specific solutions for this crisis, which is shocking, seeing as the planet may be destroyed without a solution. Reasonable thought indicates that her refusal (and the refusal of her Senatorial cohort, Sen. Reid) to allow any debate or vote on off-shore drilling is really a sandbag tactic. Her hope is that the 111th Congress will coincide with a Democrat in the White House. The end goal is the power to push her agenda. The means to this end is perpetuating the oil crunch until November (and shifting all blame onto Republicans).

It seems quite clear to me as I sit and write, yet I feel a sort of fatigue. The constant roll of crisis on top of crisis can be overwhelming. However it is, in the end, somewhat more mental than actual (so I shan’t whine!). We would do well for ourselves to examine these “crises”, to look for their simple causes, to seek out reasonable short term solutions, and to plan ahead for the long term. But we must also look for those who would manipulate “crises” – indeed, manufacture them – for personal gain. Speaker Pelosi is the poster girl for the self-perpetuated and self-serving crisis.

03 August 2008

Considering Identity

After finishing Natan Sharansky’s Defending Identity, I am reminded just how powerful and important identity is to not only the individual, but also the community – and ultimately the nation-state.

Mr. Sharansky’s main point, which he backs up with personal experiences that few can (or would want to) match, is that freedom and identity are necessarily intertwined. Freedom needs identity – something meaningful to live for beyond the self as well as something to connect past, present, and future for the individual. For a nation-state to practice freedom, the populace needs to have and be allowed to express individual identity while respecting the logical limits of individual liberty. A democracy which tries to extinguish identity is essentially denying its own reason for existence. Identities which try to extinguish freedom are authoritarian or totalitarian.

In a modern, domestic context, the book explains why I am so put off by Senator Obama’s claim in Germany that he was speaking as a “citizen of the world”. The nebulous identity of “world citizen” has no meaning, no defendable history, nothing tangible behind it. As I’ve written before, Sen. Obama’s choice to elevate “world citizenship” above US citizenship debases those of us who take great pride in the fact that we are Americans (not to mention other state and local identifications).

As we consider the upcoming election, Mr. Sharansky’s book is instructive in that, as we hear cries on “unity” and “world citizenship”, it reminds us that our identities cannot be imposed from on high or nebulous. They must be examined, explored, and expressed. Any government that attempts to impose or extinguish identity does so at the peril of its people. Mr. Sharansky would also argue that a government who does this ultimately puts itself in danger.

01 August 2008

Socialism: The Only Reason I Need

Despite all of Candidate Obama’s talk about supposed scare tactics which will at some point in the future, he assures us, will be used, none of them matters a bit to me. They probably don’t matter to many other people, either. I don’t care what his name is let alone what his middle name is. I don’t care what color he is; like many others, I’ve taken MLK’s “I have a dream” message to heart. I don’t even care that he’s a Democrat; I will vote for whom I feel is the best candidate for the job, no matter what party they claim.

What I do care about when it comes to Candidate Obama is the undeniable fact that he is a socialist. Without question, he would redistribute money in any way he sees fit. Congress may be a rubber stamp or may have a voice. But I have no doubt, based on Candidate Obama’s statements, that he would institute as many socialist programs as he could push through.

If there had previously been any doubt about Candidate Obama’s redistribution ambitions, today should end that debate. Channeling Hillary Clinton, Sen. Obama today announced that he wants to pay families $1000 and singles $500 to help deal with energy costs (politico.com). And just where would he get that money? American oil companies, who announced huge gross profits this week, would foot the bill. Sen. Obama would take profits from them and redistribute the monies to the electorate. And this redistribution would last for five years.

This move, if enacted, would amount to government control of corporate profits. It would send a signal to oil companies that, really, they ought not work so hard. They ought to limit their profits so that they do not become a target of the almighty federal government. Of course, any profit may be worth taking as long as it can be justified as “necessary” by…whomever happens to be in a decision making position in the federal government. It might be Congress, it might be the president. It might even be a “profit czar” – a corporate watchdog of sorts.

If all of this sounds too outlandish, it is not. It simply takes the right people in the right places at the right time to become a reality. (Or, from a different perspective, the wrong people, etc.)

Brushing all of the distractions aside, this is the real issue to me. The serious introduction of socialism in the US is a scary proposition for anyone who values their work, their property, and their prosperity. Anyone who wishes to preserve the right to keep what they earn should take Candidate Obama at his word: the government should take what it thinks is necessary and redistribute as it sees fit. Or not. It always seems that when a government takes and takes, it feels the need to serve less and less.

CNN's Obama Town Hall Meeting Coverage

Something just happened on CNN that I find very interesting. They were covering a Candidate Obama townhall meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida. The only portion of the telecast that I saw was Sen. Obama fielding a question concerning a perceived lack of advocacy for black concerns by Sen. Obama. The young man asking the question was a bit agitated. Sen. Obama attempted to answer the question, but was challenged by the questioner who began shouting back at Sen. Obama. (There was no way to know what the questioner was shouting. Sen. Barack asked him to stop and just listen to his response.) It seemed to me that the situation was more than a little tense.

At which point, CNN stopped the live telecast and switched to a taped speech by Sen. McCain. Then a commercial break. Then a story on the paparazzi. Nothing like sticking with a story! And CNN didn't end the live coverage because it was the top of the hour or anything. This happened at approximately 2:15 Eastern.

Call me cynical, but it is my opinion that CNN did not want to televise live what might turn out to be a not-so-bright moment for the Savior in Chief.

Pelosi’s Hoax

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (from The Hill.com):

“This call for drilling in areas that are protected is a hoax, it’s an absolute hoax on the part of the Republicans and this administration. It’s a decoy to punt your attention away from the fact that their policies have produced $4-a-gallon gasoline.”
A hoax, according to Dictionary.com, is “something intended to deceive or defraud.” Since Speaker Pelosi brought the term up, it is instructive to think about who is pulling a hoax here.

The obvious hoax is Speaker Pelosi’s brazen attempt to pull the electorate’s attention away from Congress’ own inaction on energy policy. She makes this attempt by asking us to look backward in time at Bush’s energy policy. This is an obvious distraction which does absolutely nothing to address the problem at hand. If this is the basis for Speaker Pelosi’s argument against drilling, then she’s banking on a seriously suspect trick.

One trick that Speaker Pelosi has tried to convince the electorate to adopt is to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. That this would be an ultra-short term band-aid does not seem to bother the Speaker. It is a pander for votes on the Democrat side. It is not farsighted nor tactically sound. Yet she would have the American people buy into draining their on-tap reserve.

Here’s a feat of logic: couldn’t the oil fields offshore and in ANWR be considered “reserves”? And if so, wouldn’t they be potentially much larger than our static Strategic Reserves? Why should we not responsibly tap into our natural reserves, our natural resources? Wouldn't these reserves prove more reliable than some dream about powering the whole country with wind and solar power?

And that’s the heart of the fraud here. Speaker Pelosi would have the American people sit on their hands when it comes to expanding production of their land’s own natural resources. Better, according to the Speaker’s logic, to buy oil from afar and hope and pray for some miraculous discovery to save us from fossil fuels. Or rather, to save the planet; after all, Speaker Pelosi is “trying to save the planet”. Whichever it is, any new source of oil is not to be part of the immediate or long-term solution.

Her counterpart in the Senate, Mr. Reid, is cut from the same cloth. Both Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid refuse to allow debate on the issue of offshore drilling, let alone opening ANWR. Their savior at the moment is a self-constructed time constraint. Congress will go on hiatus today – a week early, if I’m not mistaken. By doing so, they hope to “punt your attention away” from the fact that this is a “do nothing” Congress. They can’t debate, they can’t appropriate funds, and they don’t serve the electorate. They can, however, serve themselves to another term at taxpayers’ expense – and on the part of Pelosi, Reid, and their “do nothing” ilk, that’s the real hoax.