Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Backward Judgment

Let’s do a philosophical question tonight. This idea came from one of our own (Kit), but I’m stealing it because I find it interesting. Every age seems to look back upon the prior ages and shake their heads about the horribly “immoral” things the prior generation condoned. For example, we look back on the old South and wonder how they could think slavery was moral. So here’s the question: what will they look back at us for in 200 years and wonder how we could condone it?

I’ll go first.

As strange as it may sound, I think the thing they will be most shocked by is that we allow hunting and that we kill animals to eat them. Yes, I’m serious. As populations become increasingly urban/suburban, they’ve lost touch with animals as anything but pets. We see the results of this already as people are demanding better treatment (human-like treatment actually) for farm animals and the elimination of “inhumane” hunting practices.

It strikes me that the natural progression of this will be a slow but steady push toward vegetarianism, especially once science finds a way to duplicate the taste of meat (not like those awful veggie burgers, but real meat). At that point, I think you will see people conclude that killing animals is wrong, and they will eventually look down on us for all those tasty, tasty, tasty steaks we eat.

I think they will also look down on us for racism (by all races), religious intolerance (mainly Muslims, but also Christian fundamentalism), and for being anti-science (both things like opposing gene therapy and things elevating junk science, e.g. climate change, to a religion). This last one will be seen as superstitious.

Thoughts? How do we look in hindsight to you?
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If Not For Two Men...

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.

Today April 26, 2016 marks the 452nd anniversary of day of William Shakespeare's baptism. Since there is no actual record of his birth and it was common in the 16th Century to baptize babies three days after their birth, it is commonly accepted that the actual date of Shakespeare's birth is April 23, 1564.

But April 23, 1616, the day that William Shakespeare shuffled off his mortal coil, was the day the best of all western literature almost died. To think that his plays and poetry could have been lost to history if not for two men who saw the value of his writing and saved them from oblivion. These two men were John Heminges and Henry Condell, "two of [his] friends, fellow actors and shareholders in the King’s Men theatrical company." We should all have such friends. What a loss to all of humanity, if not for these two men. To think how close the world came to never knowing the works of William Shakespeare, a playwright and poet of such profound insight to human nature who continues to prove that we humans have not changed, only the technology we use.

The following was published in the New York Post on April 20, 2016 in the run-up to the huge global commemoration of Shakespeare's death. It was written by Andrea Mays, the author of “The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio” and James L. Swanson, author of “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.” It is worth sharing. To think how close the world came to never knowing the works of William Shakespeare, a playwright of such profound insight to human nature who continues with each reading to prove that human nature has not changed.

Shakespeare Died A Nobody Then Got Famous By Accident

April 23 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. The world will celebrate him as the greatest writer in the history of the English language. But his lasting fame wasn’t inevitable. It almost did not happen.

He was born in 1564 and died in 1616 on his 52nd birthday. A celebrated writer and actor who had performed for Queen Elizabeth and King James, he wrote approximately 39 plays and composed five long poems and 154 sonnets. By the time of his death, he had retired and was considered past his prime.

By the 1620s, his plays were no longer being performed in theaters. On the day he died, no one — not even Shakespeare himself — believed that his works would last, that he was a genius or that future generations would hail his writings.

He hadn’t even published his plays — during his lifetime they were considered ephemeral amusements, not serious literature. Half of them had never been published in any form and the rest had appeared only in unauthorized, pirated versions that corrupted his original language.

Enter John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s friends, fellow actors and shareholders in the King’s Men theatrical company. In his will he left them money to buy gold memorial rings to remember him. By about 1620, they conceived a better way to honor him — one that would make them the two most unsung heroes in the history of English literature. They would do what Shakespeare had never done for himself — publish a complete, definitive collection of his plays.

Heminges and Condell had up to six types of sources available to them: Shakespeare’s original, handwritten drafts; manuscript “prompt books” copied from the drafts; fragment “sides” used by the actors and containing only the lines for their individual parts; printed quartos — cheap paperbound booklets — that published unauthorized and often wildly inaccurate versions of half the plays; after-the-fact memorial reconstructions by actors who had performed in the plays and later repeated their lines to a scribe hired by Heminges and Condell; and the editors’ own personal memories.

Today, no first-generation sources for the plays exist. None of Shakespeare’s original, handwritten manuscripts survive — not a play, act, scene, page of dialogue or even a sentence. Without Heminges and Condell, half of the plays would have been lost forever.

They got to work after the bard’s death. At the London print shop Jaggard & Son, workers set the type by hand, printed the sheets one by one and hung them on clotheslines for the ink to dry. The process was methodical and slow, done by hand. It took two years.

When at last the First Folio was finished, it was a physically impressive object. At more than 900 pages, it had size and heft. The tallest copies, right off the press, untrimmed by the printer’s plow, measured 13½ by 8¾ inches.

Published in London in 1623, “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies” revolutionized the language, psychology and culture of Western civilization. Without the First Folio, published seven years after the bard’s death, 18 iconic works — including “Macbeth,” “Measure for Measure,” “Julius Caesar,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Winter’s Tale” and “The Tempest” — would have been lost.

If the Bible is the book of God, then Shakespeare is the book of man on Earth. We use the words he invented, speak in his cadences, and think in his imagery. Whether writing about gravediggers or kings, he divined the profound commonality of man mourning life’s frailty and brevity. Not an intellectual or cloistered scholar, Shakespeare wrote to entertain the common people but spoke universal truths. We can see ourselves in his characters.

Without the First Folio, his evolution from poet to secular saint would never have happened. The story of that book is an incredible tale of faith, friendship, loyalty and chance. Few people realize how close the world came, in the aftermath of Shakespeare’s death, to losing him.

Today, it is one of the most valuable books in the world. In October 2001, one of them sold for more than $6 million. Of the 750 copies printed, two-thirds of them have perished over the last 393 years. Two hundred thirty-five survive.

The unpredictability of the future is one of Shakespeare’s great, recurring themes. He would relish the drama of his own improbable tale. Time has performed many conjuring tricks, but few so fantastic as the making of the First Folio.

Shakespeare went to his grave a mortal man destined to fade from memory. Today he is eternal.

In their introduction to the First Folio, Heminges and Condell implored us to “Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe.” As we commemorate the 400th, let us celebrate the forgotten men and the luminous book that saved the name of William Shakespeare, in the words of Macbeth, “to the last syllable of recorded time.”

In Kit's post on Friday, he added this quote from Daniel Hannan on CapX.com: "If you try to claim him for any contemporary cause, you diminish rather than elevating that cause. Shakespeare will always argue both sides of a case better than you can.".

My response: I can argue that we CAN claim Shakespeare's writing/plays for contemporary causes, because he wrote about universal truths. Even his histories have relevence and can be "conceptualized" to fit any time... I have works on productions of MacBeth in feudal Japan, on Taming Of The Shrew in the Old West, and even a productions of Julius Caesar in revolutionary Cuba. The key is actually understanding these universal truths in the text.

And so you do not think that I am some snob, I think if Shakespeare were writing today, he would be writing for television...
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Trump Wins

Last week, everyone was talking about Trump needing 1237 delegates. Some said he couldn’t get them, others said he could. I decided to look into this. My conclusion is that the race is over... Trump wins.

Here’s the thing. The media loves to create the impression of a horserace because it brings in readers. But it’s often not true. In this case, they’ve been using Cruz’s recent string of victories to claim that he has momentum which will result in a contested convention. But this is not accurate. Cruz’s strength is in the South and in caucus states and those are basically over. So where are we? Consider this.

To win the nomination, a candidate needs 1237 votes. Here is what they have right now.
Trump 846
Cruz 544
Kasich 149
Others 189
Uncommitted 57
Based on this, it seems reasonable that anything could happen, right? Well, here are the races which are coming up and the number of delegates each gives:
Connecticut (28)
Delaware (16) (wta)
Rhode Island (19)
Pennsylvania (71) (wta)
Maryland (38) (wta)

May 3
Indiana (57) (wta)

May 10
Nebraska (36) (wta)
West Virginia (34)

May 17
Oregon (28)

May 24
Washington (44)

June 7
California (172) (wta)
New Jersey (51) (wta)
New Mexico (24)
Montana (27) (wta)
South Dakota (29) (wta)
The “wta” means “winner takes all,” and that’s important. Based on prior results, it’s pretty clear to me that Trump will win the following winner takes all states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California and New Jersey. These offer 348 delegates. Trump will win them all (though there may be an issue in Pennsylvania about the election of delegates). That brings his total to 1,194. That’s only 43 short of the amount he needs to win the nomination.

Trump will also win the following proportional states for sure:
Connecticut (28)
Rhode Island (19)
Oregon (28)
Washington (44)
New Mexico (24)
These offer a total of 143 delegates. To win the nomination, he will only need to win 31% of these. Looking at the New York results, which both fit a trend and which show his strength in more moderate states, Trump is likely to win 60% of these... or 85 votes... 42 more than he needs to win the nomination. Hence, Trump wins.

There’s more.

The following states are places where Trump could win, but I’m just not sure: West Virginia, Nebraska, Indiana and Montana. These offer another 154 delegates he could get some of. I don’t see him winning South Dakota.

And there’s more. There are another 200 delegate free agents. These are people who get to vote their conscience without regard to how any state votes. Most of these will be party insiders and won’t support him unless he’s obviously the winner. But if even 20% do support him, that’s another 40 delegates.

All of this tells me that Trump is guaranteed a win at this point. He should end up, at a minimum, at 43 over the number of delegates he needs with another 200-300 possible.

So how has he does this? Well, here’s an interesting map which shows the support of each candidate by county. Notice that outside of Cruz’s home state and a handful of caucus states, Trump pretty much sweeps the nation:
That kind of tells you what is going on.

In terms of how Trump will do in the general election, there have been some interesting moves by Team Trump lately. First, he’s hired some professional people. These people are working to create “message discipline,” and to make the campaign more polished. Trump’s family has been trying to change his image to be more “good fatherly” than “asshole rogue.” And Trump has dramatically cut his insults. At the same time, he’s taken some positions that will help him with the public, like opposing North Carolina’s anti-gay laws. Essentially, he’s now trying to come across as more moderate, more thoughtful, and more presidential. It will be interesting to see how this works.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday's Thoughts: Silicon Valley, New Album Out, and Shakespeare

Not much today. Busy w/ school work, so some little bits on TV shows out and a new album by my high school celebrity crush. Might as well enjoy things while America is still around.

Silicon Valley returns this weekend.

If you want a show that celebrates small business entrepreneurship while laughing at the pretensions of liberals, I can’t think of a better show than HBO’s Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge of Idiocracy, Beavis and Butthead, Office Space, and The Goode Family.

Here is the trailer:

If you want something darker, you can watch Marvel’s Netflix oeuvre, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which I might review this summer. Neither is exactly PG, both are hard PG-13, bordering on R, but both are good.

My High School Celebrity Crush has a new album Out

No, I’m not talking about Britney Spears or Scarelett Johansson or anyone like that. No, my high school crush was Irish musician Enya Brennan.

Yes, you read that right; Enya. That lady whose music you heard in hair salons. The woman who performed heavily synthesized Irish-esque Celtic music such as “Orinoco Flow,” “Only Time,” and Lord of the Ring’s “May it Be.” Yep! Enya was my big high school celebrity crush.

What? Why are you all looking at my like that?

Anyway, she has a new album out called Dark Sky Island and I am listening to it on Spotify, the first studio album since the Christmas-themed And Winter Came in 2008, seven years ago. Yes, you could make the case that once you’ve heard one Enya song you’ve heard them all. And that is a tad true. It doesn’t make listening to her music any less enjoyable.

It’s available at Amazon.

Shakespeare, 400 years

It is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and Daniel Hannan has a post out about him for CapX.com and it's worth a read. Here is my favorite snippet:

"If you try to claim him for any contemporary cause, you diminish rather than elevating that cause. Shakespeare will always argue both sides of a case better than you can."

Indeed. LINK
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Open Thread - Earth Day Update

UPDATE: It's Earth Day today, so love the Earth or else Bill Nye and other pseudo-scientists want you to go to jail and silenced. If only we could change the discussion to:
"Hey, everyone, let's work together to develop an inexpensive, non-toxic, plentiful, infinite source of energy. Like, what about that gravitational wave energy I've read so much about lately? How's about it, huh?"

Yeah, that will never happen...

Anyway, back to it...

So it's been a busy week, but here are the highlights (or low lights depending on your perspective) -

1. The results of the New York State Primary are in and there are no real surprises there. Clinton won handily with 58% to Sanders' 42%. It just proves that you can't campaign in New York on an anti-Wall Street/anti-banking platform when most of the state's budget is funded by the Wall Street/Banking industry.

And on the Republican side, it was a rout with Trump taking 60.4%, Kasich 25.1%, and Cruz bringing up the rear at 14.5%. I am not surprised that Cruz didn't do well, but interestly, Trump did the worst in Manhattan.

On a related note, there were many hiccups with the voter rolls. To the great surprise of many in Brooklyn, at least 54,000 voters were stuck off the rolls right before the vote for no discernable reason. According to a NY Daily News article "Mayor de Blasio issued a statement charging that entire buildings and city blocks of voters were among the 126,000 voters purged from the Brooklyn books since last fall" and no one from the New York Board of Elections can explain why. Yeah, but someone is looking into it and will get back to us. Of course, it won't be the DOJ because this isn't Mississippi.

2. Today is San Jacinto Day in Texas. On this day in 1836 Gen. Sam Houston and the Texicans outsmarted and finally defeated Gen. Santa Ana and the Mexican Army to independance from Mexico and the Republic of Texas was born. Yay, Texas!

And on a related note, there's this from the Washington Post...Texans are talkin' secession...again. Not to worry though. Texans have never stopped talking secession. However if Trump is elected, all bets are off.

3. Okay, I just don't have a #3. I am still trying to process how Trump is about to win the Republican nomination.

The floor is now open.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Islamic Terrorism Can't Win

I think it’s always good to step back and take some perspective. So let’s talk about Islamic terrorism, and why they can’t succeed.

The goal of terrorists is to kill enough people to scare an indigenous population into agreeing to some political change – or a religious change in this instance. But terrorists never succeed. Seriously, consider the history of Irish terrorism, groups like the KKK and the Weather Underground and other 60’s radicals, and so on. They were all able to inflict death and destruction and a good deal of terror, yet, none of them achieved anything. Why?

Well, the reason is that terrorists are horrible at getting people to internalize the fear they cause. They can scare the hell out of people directly affected, but they are much more likely to generate outrage or anger in the rest of the population. To understand this, let’s think in terms of a formula:
Before someone will give in to the threat of terror, the terrorist must induce enough fear (=)to overcome a person’s natural instinct to resist change plus(+) their egotistical need to fight back rather than agreeing to something being imposed on them.
Do you know how hard it is to overcome our natural resistance to change? Have you seen how many people want to stop drinking, stop overeating, or start working out and yet can’t? None of those people can change their own behaviors. Even when their doctors tell them to stop or they will die or worse... even after their own bodies warn them with heart attacks and COPD, they still can’t change. So what chance does a terrorist have trying to impose an unwanted change when most people can't even change themselves when they want to?

And what about the first part of the equation? How do you get people to feel the fear? This is really a problem because everyone knows they won’t be victims of terrorism. Yes, we feel “horror” at the things terrorists do to other people and some of us feel insecure that we might be caught in something like this, but who really thinks they will be killed or maimed in a terrorist attack? It's always going to be the other guy. And there is good reason to believe this. First, it's a mental thing... it's a way we cope with fear. This is why you feel more comfortable with another person when you're in a dangerous situation, because our mind assumes they'll get it before we do.

More to the point, the odds tell us we will never be victims. In March, Islamic terrorists set off a bomb that killed 34 people in Belgium. In November, they killed 130 in Paris. Both events outraged the world and made Islamic terrorists proud. But let’s get real. We’re talking about 134 people over five months... 27 a month. Between Europe and the United States, there are about a billion people. That works out to 1 person in every 37 million. That’s the equivalent of killing person from New York City ever other day. That’s hardly menacing, and people understand this instinctively. So unless terrorists can get the death rate high enough that people actually fear for their own lives, they will keep making headlines but will never be more than a nuisance.

How high do they need to get it?

Well, during World War II, over a 267 day period, the Luftwaffe destroyed a million homes in London and killed an estimated 40,000 people (0.4% of the population). Rather than giving up, this seemed to make the people of London more resolute. Later in the war, German bombing of Russian cities killed an estimated 500,000 people. American and British bombing killed an estimated 350,000 German civilians (0.4% of the population). And yet, none of these populations even considered giving up. In fact, after the war, the Allies discovered that this only made the Germans support the war more strongly. To get similar numbers, Islamic terrorists need to start killing millions of Americans today, and even then remember that the Germans, the Russians and the Brits didn’t give up.

So how many do they need to kill to win what they want? Consider this. On November 18, 1956, at a speech at the Polish embassy, brainless thug Nikita Khrushchev famously told the West, “We will bury you!” He had the nuclear weapons to make good on this threat too. Indeed, he could have wiped out every city in the West and killed around 90% of the population... and yet, the West never gave him anything.

Do you see the problem here?

It gets worse too, because Islamic terrorists want changes that are far more radical than those the Nazis or Communists or Americans wanted. Londoners probably wouldn’t have noticed much change if the Nazis had won. Heck, if the Germans had surrendered, they would have had peace and prosperity and protection from the Soviets... yet, they resisted. Now think about what the Islamists are asking. They want a change in people’s faith to a religion that we view as primitive and murderous. They expect women to accept enslavement, gays to accept stoning, our leisure culture to give up beer, cursing, porn, etc. In short, they want to change our entire way of life down to minute detail. And you think sticking to a diet is hard? Good luck, suckers.

This is why it's impossible for them to succeed.

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New York Primary Today!

The wait is over. The New York Primary is today and, hopefully, the endless Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton television ads will end for awhile. New York's primary is a proportional, closed primary which means the delegates will be divided...well, proportionatly. However, those of us who are not registered in any established party will not be able to vote.

The closed primary issue has become a real problem in the last few weeks for me. New York has some of the most stringent voter registration laws in the country. In order to vote in this primary, new voters only had to register by March 25. However to change party affiliation or, in my case to declare a party, currently registered voters would have to have made that change or declare by October 6, 2015. All I can say is that if this were Mississippi or Alabama, the DOJ would have looked into this years ago.

Ironically, two of Trump's children have found themselves in the same predicament as me - unable to vote in the most important primary in my lifetime. I expect the closed primary issue and other voter registration laws in New York to become a big issue after this primary. Fortunately, the outcome will be proportional, so no one will take all of the delegates.

Here is where we are according to the latest polls:

New York Republican Primary
New York - 95 (P) delegates
Trump: 54%
Cruz: 25%
Kasich: 20% (Really??)

Delegate Count as of April 18:
Trump: 755
Cruz: 545
Rubio: 171
Kasich: 143
Uncom: 9
Carson: 8
Bush: 4

*1237 to clinch nomination

New York Democratic Primary
New York - 291 (P)
Clinton: 56%
Sanders: 41%

Delegate Count as of April 18:
Clinton: 1776 (Del/Super Del combined)
Sanders: 1118 (Del/Super Del combined)

*2383 to clinch nomination

On a related topic, issues within the Republican party are brewing with the primaries. Of course, Trump's camp seem to be caught completely unaware that there are some states who for decades have elected their delegates through the caucus process. And amazingly, Cruz has taken these delegates in the last five caucuses. Trump has stated openly that if he has the most votes regardless of the 1237 minimum, he should get the nomination or else there may just be riots at the Columbus convention.

Question: Do you think the party is obligated to nominate the candidate that comes the closest to 1237 or must the candidate have to have won the minimum of 1237 delegates to claim the nomination?

I will keep you posted on our results in New York. But while we wait breathlessly for the results, please feel free to vent.

Oh, by the way, I watched a very interesting movie this weekend - "Look Who's Back". It's German satire that came out in 2015 and really worth the watch especially in this election cycle. It is available on Netflix and really worth it. However it will scare the bejeezus out of you. LINK to Trailer
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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Moron More On Common Core...

I spoke about Common Core the other day, pointing out what was right and what was wrong with the program. I also explained why all of the attacks on Common Core from the talk radio right are garbage. But what about the complaints from the left? I think you’ll find this enlightening...

The left raises various complaints about Common Core, all of which come down to the issue of accountability. Put simply, they hate testing because it measures children and lets us know if a child is succeeding or not. Indeed, whether they disguise this impulse as socialism, self-esteem-ism, class-ism, or just whining about fairness, they just don’t like one kid being better than another. What’s more, their allies in education, i.e. incompetent unionized teachers, worry that accountability means they will need to answer to angry parents who wonder why their child isn’t learning anything.

That brings us to an article written by a New York state teacher criticizing Common Core. Here is the attack with my points beneath:
"The 2016 Common Core English Language Arts test was unacceptably long."
Note that the criticism she chooses to lead with is the standard leftist criticism: you’re asking too much of these kids!!! Why does this matter to the left? Well, while she couches this as an issue of overwhelming kids, what the left really worries about is that when you ask more of kids, smarter kids will step up to the challenge and will learn more than the dumb kids. This means separation and inequality... which they hate. But let us put aside her motive and take her whining at face value. Hence, let us ask: Is this test really too long?

This test had ten “reading passages” (suspiciously, she doesn’t tell us how long they are) which led to 31 multiple-choice questions, seven short answer questions and two “extended response” answers (short essays). Is that too much to ask? Well hold on. Does it really matter if it’s too much? If a test is too easy, then it really tells us little except that everyone can meet the lowest common denominator. That doesn’t help us know how well kids are really doing, does it? Wouldn’t a truly worthwhile test set the bar at the highest common denominator and let the kids’ scores fall naturally at the level of their current abilities so we can access each child? Yes, it would. So her criticism is disturbing.

Still, I can agree that this is a lot to ask of elementary kids for one test. Only, it wasn’t “one test.” This test was done in three parts over three days. Suddenly, this doesn’t seem like much at all, does it? But wait...
Time: "After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, [my child] emerged from the classroom in a daze... She fell into my arms and burst into tears... my heart was breaking... She [then] asked if she could read for a while in my room to calm down."
Let’s take this one apart. First, notice that emotion is key: if a child cries, then something must be wrong. That’s not a valid argument. What’s more, she’s misled you on what happened. The “testing” may have been done over 18 hours, but it was not “18 hours of testing.” It was 18 hours of school with testing on those days. These kids still got recess, still got lunch, and if my own daughter’s testing is any indication, still got breaks for other classes. Indeed, her school did a little in the morning and then sent them to art or PE or music, before having them return to testing in the afternoon. In between, they had lunch, three recesses and other periods where their teacher read to them or they did something fun. The suggestion that these poor kids were bent over a desk for 18 solid hours is flat out false.

And let me ask this: if they hadn’t been testing, wouldn’t they have been doing math or reading for those 18 hours instead? How is that different? Indeed, if this was so Dickensian that it broke her poor daughter, why did she ask to go read to relax? Odd.

Also, doesn’t this kind of blow apart the first point about this test being “too long”? If it really was 18 hours, then the kids are only doing less than two multiple choice questions per hour, one short answer every three hours and one long answer every nine hours. That doesn’t sound too overwhelming, does it?

By the way, she also claims that it’s no longer a “standardize test” if there is no time limit. This is an odd complaint since (1) the left hates standardized tests and even she admits she prefers tests without time limits (just not this time – when it suits her to change her “principled” mind), and (2) there is a time limit... six hours for each portion.
Time: "this appears to violate the NY law passed in 2014 that limits state testing time to one percent of total instructional time."
So this is a union work place/legal issue. I see.
Content: "The reading passages were excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books)... many students could not connect the text-to-self (sic) nor could they tap into prior knowledge to facilitate comprehension... the questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension... there was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts."
Ooh, sounds like a genuine criticism! But is it?

She complains that the test used “excerpts and articles from authentic texts (magazines and books)” rather than stuff specifically written for the test. So what? Isn’t the purpose of reading to teach kids to be able to read and understand anything written? She apparently doesn’t think so. Indeed, note another of her complaints: that the kids “could not connect the text-to-self.” What she means is that these reading passages where not tailored to be things that interest the kids. But reading isn’t about just reading the things you already like. Reading is about expanding your mind and knowledge base and being able to learn things you don’t already know. Whether or not the reading passages interest the kids should be entirely irrelevant to the kids’ ability to succeed on this test.

Indeed, think about this. If we only taught kids to do things that interest them, then how many would learn math? a foreign language? science? grammar? history? Not to mention, how can a standardized test pick topics that interest all of the kids? Are we going to pick history to excite the little boy in the back, babysitter detective stories to excite the girl in the front, or stories about dogs to excite the kid by the door? It is impossible to pick only topics that excite everyone taking the test and someone who wasn't beholden to group-think would would know this. And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t matter because reading is about comprehension regardless of the topic. Her criticism is idiotic.

Ditto on her criticism that the kids couldn’t draw on their own experience to understand the passages. That’s why kids are taught vocabulary and how to extract meaning from context.

Next, she whines about the focus on “structure.” Think about this one. The test took articles from newspapers and passages from books and asked students a series of questions that required them to understand the structure of the writing. Structure, in this case, means things like spotting the subject of the sentence or paragraph, spotting lists of items, and connecting subjects to actions (e.g. “which of the following did X say smelled like a rose”). These are the exact kinds of basic skills you need to know to be able to read something and understand it. Do you see the problem with her complaining about this? Indeed, does anyone see the irony in her complaint about the test focusing on structure and details over “overall comprehension”? If not, then ask yourself: if kids can’t understand the structure and details, how can they have an “overall comprehension” of the text?

She also whined that the questions were confusing because they asked the kids how the paragraphs related to each other. She actually called this a “high school” level question. Really? Do you really think kids need to wait until their mid-teens to be able to explain how two paragraphs in a text relate? Does she really think kids see books as collections of random paragraphs? Is it just magic that pre-high schoolers can understand the plot of Harry Potter or can they actually put together what is happening by connecting paragraphs as they read along? And wasn’t she just whining that they should have tested “overall comprehension”? How do you get overall comprehension if you can’t relate all the paragraphs to each other?
Content II: "... there was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting."
Here we go: politicization. Boo hoo hoo, Common Core doesn’t “speak” to ghetto kids. Let me ask, are you really saying that black kids can’t read if it isn’t something written by Jay-Z? Yo’ bitch, tha’ shit be whack.

This is a great example of what is wrong with leftist thinking on education. While the things they say sound like genuine criticisms on the surface, they are ultimately nonsense when you break them down, or they come to “we don’t want anyone to succeed beyond the herd.” It’s also more proof that Common Core is a conservative idea.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Friday's thoughts: Next few weeks

The next few weeks expect my presence here to be a tad sparse as I am entering the end of my school's term and therefore exams and essays galore. So, here are some links to other articles and columns to hold you over.

Cathy Young's "You Can't Whitewash the Alt-Right's Bigotry": A brilliant dissection of the what the alt-right is, how it got started, and why it's bad. The best sum-up line of hers I can find: "This is a movement that counters the toxic culture of the left with a toxic brew of its own: a mix of old bigotries and new identity and victimhood politics adapted for the straight white male."

Charles C.W. Cooke's "‘He Can Change’: The New York Post Endorses Carol’s Boyfriend": A funny parody of the New York Post's endorsement of Donald Trump where they endorse Carol's decision to stay with her boyfriend. The first paragraph: "Carol’s boyfriend is a mercurial figure — a potentially nice guy, but unreliable, dangerous, and married to someone else. Exactly who he is can be hard to make out amid his capriciousness, his lying, and his occasional descents into violence." It gets better from there.

Jonah Goldberg's "TV, Abortion, and the Contradictions of Liberalism": Jonah on a recent Big Bang Theory episode where Bernadette and Howard exclaim how they "made a person" pointing out that TV can be quite conservative at times and "And so it is with abortion. With the exception of Maude (an awful left-wing 1970s TV show) and some “edgy” HBO series, there have been no major sitcoms in which a character has had an abortion."

Arthur C. Brooks' "Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All": A good read from the author of excellent book The Conservative Heart talks about the importance of reaching across partisan lines. Arthur Brooks is also president of AEI, the American Enterprise Institute, a fairly important conservative think tank that is the home of Jonah Goldberg, Ramesh Ponnuru, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the Factual Feminist, Christina Hoff Sommers. An excerpt: "You can’t single-handedly change the country, but you can change yourself. By declaring your independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, you can strike a small blow for greater national unity."
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Open Thread - Inky the Octopus Edition

I don't know about you, but I needed a good old fashioned life affirming story to cleanse my mind palate. Right on cue came a story making the rounds in social media from New Zealand about Inky the Octopus and his Great Escape!

Now, Inky is/was no ordinary New Zealand octopus. According to his keepers at the National Aquarium in New Zealand, Inky was very clever and curious. Unfortunately one of the keepers left his tank slightly open and Inky made a dash for it. One theory "is that Inky slid across the aquarium floor – a journey of three or four metres – and then, sensing freedom was at hand, into a drainpipe that lead directly to the sea." Who knew that octopuses (octopus...octopi?) can squeeze through spaces as narrow as a coin!

All I can say is "Go, Inky!"

The thread is now open...

Oh, and just a reminder that your tax return is do on Monday, April 18.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Free Speech Or Crime?

Today’s post is a philosophical question about a recent crime. The case involves a teenage girl who encouraged her depressed boyfriend to kill himself until he finally did it. The question is: should this be a crime?

Here are the details. The girl’s name is Michelle Carter. For weeks, she apparently encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself. She knew at the time that he had struggled with depression and had previously attempted suicide. At the end, she actually spoke to him as he sat in a garage inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from his truck. He apparently changed his mind and left the garage, only for her to tell him to go back and “get back in” his truck. He did and died.

She was then charged with manslaughter and the case was appealed. At the appeal, the judges asked the attorneys: “when did this cross the line – when did these words cross the line [to manslaughter]?”

That is my question to you too. Was this manslaughter/murder (lets ignore the distinction) or was this just cruelty but not a crime? Can words ever reach that point that they become a crime?

My initial instinct tells me her words should not be considered a crime. Why? Because ultimately it was the choice of this young man to kill himself and he had the power within himself to simply tell her to f-off; she did not force him. But then I wonder about the issue of depression. It’s become pretty clear that depression is akin to alcohol in the sense that it makes people susceptible to doing very stupid things... it lifts the normal restraints on behavior. When you think of it that way, it’s a bit like giving drugs to someone who is addicted. Yes, the addict has the power to say no, but we all know that power is a bit of a fiction because their addiction will defeat their will power in almost every instance. So should knowing someone is depressed and suicidal, and then pushing them to kill themselves be a crime? I’m actually leaning toward saying that it should be because I suspect the victim is pretty helpless to protect themselves in this situation.

So where would I draw the line?

Well, I think there needs to be knowledge of the depression and the strength of the depression. It can’t just be someone who is a little down now and then; it needs to be someone who is truly susceptible to taking action based on your words. Secondly, I think there needs to be some fiduciary relationship where the normal distrust of society does not apply. In other words, we all know not to rely on the words of strangers, but that limit breaks down once you are dealing with someone in a fiduciary relationship, i.e. a relationship of trust – like a doctor, a lawyer, a guardian, a parent, or a spouse.

Interestingly, if you meet these elements, then I personally would not care if you encouraged it only a couple times or if you dogged the person over the issue as this woman did. The fact that you pushed the person at all should be a crime.

But what about a situation where a group of kids “bully” another kid until that kid kills themselves? In this case, I don’t see the fiduciary relationship, so while those children are cruel and deserve a tremendous amount of scorn and punishment, I would not call that murder because there is no relationship of trust there which they are exploiting. Or am I wrong in that? You tell me... should the advocacy of suicide always be a crime just by itself?

All that said, there is one more point to make. While a situation like this raises an interesting philosophical question of when mere verbal encouragement can be considered causation, it also shows us how pathetic the little whiners at colleges are these days. They cry like broken children over things they find unpleasant, but they know nothing of true cruelty, like that displayed by this Carter girl. They are whining over trivia, and for that, they deserve contempt.

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Another NY Elected Official Under Investigation...

We are awash with Presidential candidates and political ads since the NY Primary is April 19. But other more important issues are coming to light in state and local politics here. With the sentencing hearings looming large for our former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former State Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver, our intrepid US Attorney Preet Bharara has turned his sights on another NY political figure to investigation - Mayor Bill De Blasio.

It's been a bad few week for De Blasio. First it was reported that a few of NYC's top cops have had to resign or turn in their badges and guns because they have been taking "gifts" like diamonds and trips to exotic lands for doing special extra work as police escorts for wealthy business owners in NYC. Then it was reported that the De Blasio administration gave a tax break and rezoned a healthcare facility for a group that wanted to buy a building that they swore (not on paper, of course) that they would keep the facility. As I understand it, the property was valued at a low price, so that the group could buy it. But instead of keeping it as a healthcare facility as verbally promised, they flipped it for a $72million profit to a company that is turning it into condos.

Oh, but that's not really the bad part. Many of the people involved are in these various and sundry events have all been big money donors to one of de Blasio special campaign funds that he shut down - Campaign For One New York - before he knew any of this was going on that he didn't know was going on. De Blasio insisted that the group had simply accomplished its mission. Interestingly, the over $4 million in the now closed campaign fund have not been accounted for and is explained away that it has been dispersed to other campaign funds for De Blasio's reelection bid. And because it just ties so neatly together, some of the same donors were the ones who were giving diamonds and exotic trips to our top cops.

Somehow, Mayor De Blasio coincidently take up big causes when coincidently his big money donors need valuable real estate. The last time this happened was when a donor coicidently wanted the property that housed the horse stables occupied by the horse carriage trade De Blasio has spent much time and energy trying every way he can to close them down.

Smelling something fishy, our intrepid US Attorney Preet Bharara has now opened an investigation to see exactly what is going on -with all of Mayor de Blasio's funny money. Bharara has stellar track records of taking down elected officials who steal from the taxpayers and I doubt he would take this up, if he didn't see a clear reason.

I will keep you posted and add De Blasio's name to the other 25+ NY elected official investigated, indicted, jailed, and/or released from jail since 2010.

Please feel free to comment or change the subject...
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Monday, April 11, 2016

Does This Poll Matter?

There was a poll the other day which got me wondering. The headline of the poll was that the GOP has crashed in terms of popularity. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was something like 2/3 of Americans have a negative view of the GOP. Should this worry us?

At the outset, let me say that 2/3 of Americans having a negative view of the GOP is no surprise. For one thing, the culture is vehemently anti-GOP. GOP characters are objects of derision. Pretty much all the big name singers and actors are far-left liberals; those who aren’t find themselves under vicious attack. News shows have a leftward bias. Most books are written by leftists. Even worse, when you do get a right winger in the bunch, they typically don’t let their politics intrude upon their work. All of this tends to keep GOP support around 48% even though around 60% of the public actually holds views that are identical to those the GOP generally espouses.

But the difference between the 33% in the poll and the normal 48% is 15%. What is accounting for that lost 15%? Who are they and should the GOP worry?

Logic tells me that these 15% haven’t changed their political views. I say this because a genuine shift of views would give the Democrats an overwhelming majority. Right now, 43% of the public are hard-core liberals/progressives. If 20% of GOP supporters really decided they hate the GOP and will now vote for the alternative, i.e. the Democrats, then the Democrats would have a 63% super majority. If that were true, the signs would be everywhere. GOP candidates would be retiring, switching parties or desperately trying to put out a new message. The polls would reflect a massive shift like that too. Indeed, even a minor shift would appear seismic given the 50/50 nature of our electorate. Besides, right now, political views are becoming increasingly hardened rather than shifting.

So who are they, then? If there isn’t an ideological shift, then logic tells us these must be people who cheer on the GOP in normal circumstances, but are angry about the current turmoil. The likely suspects are:

● Group One: Talk radio conservatives who have been trying to destroy the GOP since 2008 for imagined crimes to avoid facing the reality that their own views are unpalatable to the vast majority of Americans. But these people never really supported the GOP. Indeed, they proudly proclaim how they never once voted GOP in the past. Instead, they voted for the Constitution Party, the Libertarians, the Paranoid Party, etc. So they aren’t part of this number because they never were GOP supporters.

● Group Two: Ideological liberals who only support the GOP when it elects RINOs. This group is a myth. These people left the GOP in the 1980s and 1990s. The only reason people think they still exist is because talk radio needs a straw man to attack, so they invent secret RINOs. The truth is the current GOP leadership and the elected representatives (almost to a man -- Lindsey Graham is about all that is left of them) are all far to the right of Reagan, and the rank and file members who are liberal long again joined the Democrats under Clinton, to get away from W. Bush, or to support moderate-seeming Obama in 2008. These people don’t exist.

● Group Three: Ideological conservatives who wonder how the hell the GOP is looking to nominate either (1) a con artist douche bag who spouts white socialism, (2) a Nixonian-paranoid religious nut who shares Trump’s political views but isn’t vulgar when he says them, and (3) a bologna sandwich. This group is real and they love National Review. The thing is, I doubt these people would badmouth the GOP in a poll because they know that tearing down the one organ they have to fix the current mess only neuters their only hope.

● Group Four: Evangelicals who hate the party’s recent libertarian swing away from issues like gays and abortion. But these people only make up around 6% of the public, so they can’t account for the 15% loss of support. Also, I’m not sure they would attack the GOP because they still control it and it does their bidding. That said, their rank and file are pretty irrationally angry and their leaders love to play the martyred outsider role, so maybe they do account for some of it. Half of them would be 3% of the 15%.

● Group Five: Non-“talk radio conservative” Trump supporters, i.e. Trump moderates and Trump actual conservatives, who feel that the dirty tricks being played with delegates is rotten insiders trying to steal the nomination from the public. This group is not talk radio conservatives. This group is loyal Republicans who have for whatever reason decided to back Trump and are angry at the “over my dead body!” approach of the GOP.

This group is real, but unfortunately, the numbers don’t add up here. Trump’s support has risen to just about 50% of the GOP from the original 38%. That 38% was white socialists, cranks, and gen-ooine “conservatives.” Moving up to 50% tells me that 12% of his support is now coming from moderate/rational Republicans. So that’s the other part of the 15%, right? Nope. That 12% works out to less than 5% of the public. So even if ALL of them report themselves as angry at the GOP, which is highly unlikely, they and the Evangelicals together account for only an 8% shift max – 7% short of what we need.

So what is going on?

Honestly, this could be many things. It could just be a little from every group out there. It also could be statistical error, though I doubt it. What I think this really is, ultimately, is political gamesmanship.

Trump’s people think they are getting screwed. Cruz’s voters hate the fact their guy can’t get out of the 30% range except in theological country. Kasich’s people don’t understand why the rest of the GOP has gone crazy. Each of these groups fears they are losing. So it becomes natural for them to try to shake up the rest of the GOP to make them shift to their guy. The only way to do that is to answer on polls (1) that they are unhappy with the GOP, and (2) to swear they will never vote for the other candidates. But that’s just a tactic; they aren’t actually planning to abandon the GOP.

In fact, this is how someone like Hillary can have an 11% approval rating at the beginning of a primary and yet go on to get 80%+ Democratic support when the election comes. It’s not that 89% actually oppose her, it’s that 89% would rather have someone else so they claim to dislike her to help their own guy. Once their own guy is gone, they jump over to her and stop knocking her down in the polls. I see the same thing here.

So should we be worried?

In a normal election, I would say no: this is just part of the process. But this isn’t a normal election. Evangelicals are essentially fighting to defend their power, and if they lose to Trump they are finished. So they might be inclined to lose if Trump is the nominee... just as they were with cultist Romney. They won’t vote for Hillary, but they will definitely sit out for Trump and will be lukewarm for Kasich. What about moderates? They won’t support Cruz. He’s such a turn off to moderates that most of Kasich’s supporters would choose Donald Fricken Trump over Cruz. Will they turn out for Trump? I think so if he calms down, which he seems to be trying. Talk radio conservatives may turn out for Trump or Cruz, but not Kasich. But again, they are tiny in number and they have never supported the GOP, so their loss doesn’t matter. What about Trump’s rational supporters? I suspect they are inclined to vote for whoever wins the nomination unless they feel cheated. In that event, they may well sit out in protest. And what about actual conservatives? They would vote for Kasich for sure, but it’s doubtful they would vote for either Cruz or Trump; they seem to like principled losing.

So are we doomed? No. I think Kasich can best unify the GOP, which should be enough to beat a wounded, pathetic Hillary; provided that Kasich wins in a manner that doesn’t anger the Trumpster moderates and he wins over enough Trump crazies or moderates to replace a weak Evangelical turn out. I think Trump can win too if he succeeds in reining himself in, as he’s apparently trying. The key to Trump’s win will be the Trump crazies replacing the missing Evangelicals. Both Trump and Kasich also have the advantage that gays won’t turn out against either of them. That will balance the Evangelicals to a good degree. Moreover, when thinking of Evangelicals, keep in mind that they are generally only important in states that will be red states no matter what. The two exceptions are Colorado, which the GOP does not need to win the election, and Ohio. This is where Kasich’s proven record might sway the day. Hillary also can’t use Kasich to agitate her supporters as she could with Trump or Cruz. But Trump has a genuinely good shot of winning New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, which would mean blow outs.

As for Cruz, well, I think Cruz gets crushed any way you look at it.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Panama Papers

By Kit

Well, the Panama Papers have come out, called the “Panama Papers” because they are over 10 million documents detailing the international shareholders and clients of firms set up cooperation with the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, in order to help said international shareholders and clients avoid paying their own countries’ taxes. What makes this amusing is that a number of these folks are the political figures, such as Hillary Clinton, as well as heads of state and government presumably responsible for writing, implementing, and enforcing those tax laws, such as Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunlaugssun, who was forced to resign because of the scandal by the people of Iceland, among whom over half believe in invisible elves.

Other world leaders include include the Presidents of Ukraine, the President of Argentina, and, most surprisingly, the King of Saudi Arabia (huge shocker!). Several of Putin’s inner circle have been implicated, a fact which makes Snowden’s FSB-approved tweets on the whole matter at least a tad amusing.

A number of our world leaders, after presumably checking their own accounts to make sure they didn’t have money in Panama, or at least in Mossack Fonseca, have expressed their fury with all the sincerity of Capt. Renault’s outrage over the presence of gambling in Rick’s casino. France’s Francois Hollande has called for a sweeping investigation into the offshore accounts while UK’s George Osbourne called tax evasion “immoral.” Claude Rains was a magnificent actor who never won an Oscar despite being nominated four separate times, so it is nice to see his most iconic role receiving so many homages over 70 years later.

So far, few Americans have been directly implicated in the Panama Papers, save the Clintons, and even then it is both far lighter than other world leaders and not really a surprise given that it’s the Clintons. This in itself, is no proof of exceptional honesty among America’s wealthy as our super-rich tend to put their money in the English-speaking Cayman Islands and Bahamas instead of the Spanish-speaking Panama. Indeed, we recently passed a law, FACTA, which had the stated purpose of cracking down on overseas tax dodges by the 1% but hard the effect of making life a hell of bureaucratic paperwork for the 99% while only being a slight nuisance to the 1% (US citizens living abroad still have to pay income tax).

This should come as no surprise, there will always be rich and poor and the rich will usually have an easier go of things, barring the occasional revolution where society changes the names of its elites, for a number of reasons. They have the influence to tailor laws in their favor. If that fails then they have the resources to absorb the costs of laws, be it their ability to afford legion of accountants and tax attorneys who enable them to maneuver around FACTA, legions middle-class expatriates . Finally, if you pass a law that is very difficult to evade, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson did in the 1960s when he passed a 95% supertax that inspired the Beatles’ song “Taxman” written by George Harrison, they take themselves and their taxable wealth and leave, as quite a few did. So hitting the rich with high taxes and a pile of regulations is probably not the best option.

Indeed, lower taxes generally lead to higher tax revenues than do high taxes in the long run. The reasons are simple. For one thing people are less likely to go looking for loopholes through which they can jump just to reduce the amount of taxes they are paying. Also, and more importantly, with less money leaving their pockets for the government people, rich, middle, and poor, are more likely to spend their wealth on goods and services, or investing it in businesses to make more money in the long run, producing more taxable wealth in the long run for both those who products are bought and for those who invested in successful businesses. On an individual level, these gains are marginal but on a national level, such as in a country with over 300 million individuals, they are massive.

But such national gains go back to marginal, and downright irrelevant, when your country is on a perpetual spending binge, such as when you have a massive Nordic-style welfare state. This means you must put the bulk of the taxation on the one group that has the resources to pay them (unlike the poor) but lacks the resources to put their money in offshore accounts or simply leave (unlike the reach); the Middle Class, as the Nordic countries, and many European countries, do. Despite the socialists’ promises of making the rich pay their fair share, it is always the middle class that end up paying the bulk of it.

This is also why the Panama Papers are probably a bigger scandal than they would have been had they been titled the “Cayman Islands Papers” or the “Bahamas Papers.” When the middle-class are fleeced on tax day as they are in Europe to pay for an expensive nationalized health care system and a massive welfare state they no doubt want to believe the rich are also paying for it through the nose. When it is revealed, to what should be no one’s surprise, that they are going out of their way to avoid paying those taxes it naturally inspires outrage. Especially when many of those countries are in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis far more severe than America’s.

This, of course, provides the socialists with more ammo to bolster their call of making the rich pay their fair share by implementing policies which, if they are lucky, will only lead to more offshore accounts and therefore a larger tax burden on the middle class and more calls to make the rich pay their fair share.

And so it goes.
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Open Thread Thursday

Sorry, I have nothing for today. If you have a subject you want to explore be my guest.

But just to get the conversation started, this Op/Ed was in the Washington Post on April 5 -

Don’t laugh: I have a serious reason for raising my cats gender-neutral. Seriously...

The floor is open.
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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ontario Goes Full Orwell

It has finally reached our shores...well, not our shores, but the shores of Canada. It can only be a matter time before it reaches across the border. No, not poutine, but this. The Ontario Provincial Police Department tweeted this out in February. It looks like one of those innocuous public service announcements that we all see to remind us to be better citizens, but look closely...

...at the last line:
"If it doesn't pass the T.H.I.N.K. test you may be breaking the law."

Say, what? If you think that it is a harmless PSA, well, a writer who tweeted back a quippy response that probably fell into the "N- is it necessary" or "K - is it kind" category ended up with an actually call from the Ontario Provincial Police Department ...

All I can say is...{{{Orwell...paging, Mr. Orwell...Mr. George Orwell, please come to the 21st Century to retrieve your call."}}}

Okay, I confess, I did a little research and found that this was meant to remind Ontarians not to take pictures of car accidents and post them on social media because there are people involved in those accidents. Apparently this is a thing in Ontario.

Now, I am no P.R. advertising whiz, but the Ontario Provincial Police P.R. Department could have made that a little more clear by using...oh, I don't know, the words "car accident" somewhere to avoid any confusion.
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Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Making of Trump

AC/DC asked: “Who made who?” Well, let us ask today who made Trump? There are some interesting answers to be had here. I blame three groups.

Conservatives: The number one culprit, to be honest, is conservatives, and I don’t mean the current fringe which has only absconded with the label. No, they’re just sheep. What I’m talking about is actual conservatives... you and me. Yeah us. How did we do this?

Since the 1990s at least, we conservatives have been angered by a GOP that seemed to keep nominating people who didn’t share our values. Time and again, the GOP nominated people who favored liberal ideas, saw conservatism as a quaint theory that would never work in practice, and who longed to compromise to win the applause of a leftist establishment. There weren’t actually many of these people, but there were some prominent ones and we hated them. Indeed, we did our best to drive these people out of the party in the name of purity. We even had a name for these traitors – RINOs!

This impulse for purity, however, began the problem. First, it found a bullhorn on talk radio and later on the internet. Then it became dogma. Unfortunately, what conservatives didn’t understand was that this type of thinking was exclusionary, was based on anger, and had within it a natural tendency to keep getting more intolerant all the time.

Ronald Reagan had said, show me someone who agrees with me 80% of the time and I’ll show you someone I can worth with. What we were doing was saying, “You better agree with me 100% of the time or you’re a traitor and I’ll drive you from the party.” Enter litmus tests that involved constitutional changes and political suicide packs, and candidates swearing purity and savaging their opponents as disloyal. Conservatism shrank and got really, really angry as the need to drive out the traitors from our midsts became an obsession. Indeed, people who had been conservative champions only weeks before found themselves purged by smear campaigns, witch hunts, and whispers about a lack of purity.

This did three things which created Trump. First, it turned conservatives against the GOP establishment, which opened the door to an anti-conservative-establishment candidate. Secondly, it destroyed the ranks of potential conservative candidates because no serious or experienced candidate could pass the impossible purity test. Third, it rid conservatism of its intellectual foundations, which allowed Trump to sell anger rather than ideas. This is why a man who has no conservative credentials and who promises nothing conservative, could become the champion of modern conservatives and defeat people conservatives had been pining for as recently as the last election.

Liberals: The next culprit is liberals, specifically the liberals who “run” our culture. For some time now, conservatives have fled any occupation that influences the culture. This left liberals in charge. But liberals are stupid, obnoxious hypocrites, and the kind of culture they created reflects that. Hence, over the past few decades, we’ve seen our culture driven relentlessly toward the lowest common denominator. Enter Trump, who feels perfectly normal in a world of scripted “reality” programs about cat fights, a world of yo'-mama-so-fat contests, and a world of unfettered violence, swearing, kinky sex, and blowhardism. Trump, through his reality TV show and penchant for tabloidism, became the perfect representative of modern culture. This made Trump acceptable to the public, and it was a simple matter for him to make the jump to politics.

The Establishment: Finally, we come to the last suspect: the establishment. The establishment is the people who set up the current economic order. They replaced the free market with a social contract that traded power and wealth and influence (theirs) for economic and personal security along with an ever increasing sense of comfort (ours). To a degree, this worked swimmingly after World War II for several decades. But then it started to break. Check out these charts below.

What these charts show is that right now, corporate profits as a percentage of the economic pie are at an all-time high whereas wages as a percentage of the economic pie are at an all-time low. Said differently, while average Americans have been facing a steadily falling share of the nation’s wealth (and with it, their security and comfort) since the 1970s at least, corporate profits keep soaring. The result of this is that the public feels like “something is broken.” They can’t necessarily put their finger on what, but they know that things keep getting worse for them, while they are constantly told how things keep getting better for the glitterati. This really came to a head in 2008 when our elites shot themselves in the head with their economic gambling and then robbed us to bail themselves out.

But this goes beyond economics too. We’ve been promised security and comfort, yet we see 11 million illegals taking jobs and committing crimes without punishment. And when we complain, we are dismissed as racists and the establishment demands that more workers be allowed in. The establishment tells us never to link Islamic terrorism to Islam, but sh*ts on Christianity. The establishment has responded to racial inequality by stoking the anger of all sides. They impose only environmental regulations that affect average people, protecting big business from change. They let minority voices bully majorities with the backing of law. Yet, they deny justice to average people. And they have elevated the elitist false-apology to a slap in the face... something which feels like corporate America waving their d*cks in our faces.

All of this has caused the anti-establishment mood to boom. Enter Trump, Sanders and whoever else promises to destroy the current order of things. To their supporters, it doesn’t really matter who these people are so long as they give the establishment nightmares.

This is what created Trump. The establishment broke the social contract and made it clear that our wishes, concerns, fears and needs mean nothing to them. They even seem to be rubbing it in people’s faces. Meanwhile, liberals guttered the culture to the point that a “vulgar” bully could be considered a hero. And conservatives reshaped the GOP to become a party of narrow-minded intolerants. These three things guaranteed a Trump. It just happens that Trump became Trump before some governor did it instead.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Friday's Thoughts: Wedding Cakes and Religious Liberty

I could probably care less about same-sex marriage, but it would be difficult. Neither the arguments for or against can arouse much passion in me. It amazes me, actually, how little I care about it. Yes, Obergefell ticks the heck out of me for the reasons outlined by the late Justice Scalia; that in a country where five of nine unelected judges alter the law to whatever fits their current “Reasoned judgment” (how often do you change your opinions) what can they not change? Legalize euthanasia? Ban the Death Penalty? Gun rights? The list is endless.

It was Mollie Hemingway who pointed out that a little under a hundred years ago we required a Constitutional Amendment to extend to women the right to vote. The Supreme Court did not search divine an implied woman’s right to vote from “penumbra of our constitution” nor did Supremes pull a rabbit proclaiming the from the hat of the Fourteenth Amendment, as succeeding courts have done in other cases (I’m looking at you, Roe v. Wade). We the People proposed, debated, and ultimately passed an amendment to the Constitution extending the vote to women from sea to shining sea.

Exactly as the Founding Fathers intended.

But “constitutional vandalism” (as Charles C.W. Cooke aptly termed Obergefell) is not what we are discussing at length today. Well, not exactly. Instead it is the “religious liberty” laws being proposed and passed by a series of Republican-run states, first in Indiana, and recently in the states of Georgia and Mississippi. The Georgia law was vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal amidst threats of boycotts by various companies, potentially tarnishing the state’s record as the most business friendly state, prompting a slew of bloggers, talk radio hosts, and pundits to proclaim Nathan Deal a new Judas, with many well-wishes concerning an alleged 30 pieces of silver they claim he received. The bill in Mississippi looks set to pass because it is in Mississippi.

I understand the impulse behind these laws. Mix the attitude of many on the left that any who hold a view that about 5 years ago was held, or at least espoused, by a majority of Americans, including the sitting President, is nothing less than a vile bigot equal to the evil men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church with the fascistic Cultural Revolution being promoted by some of our Future World Leaders on campuses across the country and everyone, not just the religious, have deep causes to be concerned.

But that is not just what they are doing. Instead of protecting religious freedom, the right of Christians to set up private religious schools or protect churches from pressure, they are going for a much broader “freedom of conscience,” not just churches or private schools with “morality clauses” but also bakers from having to make wedding cakes and county clerks from having to fill out marriage certificates for gay couples. In the former, one can have sympathy, and may even allot some blame on the gay rights activist who used aggressive litigation to try and make examples of certain businesses but have only succeeded in crafting martyrs. But in their aggressive counter-push many Christians are potentially playing with fire.

For one thing, there are a multitude of religious prohibitions even within Christianity. Until very recently, most Catholics and Protestants frowned upon intermarriage between the two churches and a number in both still do. There are many Christians who also frown upon marrying non-Christians. Some even say Christians are not allowed to go start a business partnered with a non-Christian. All it takes is one demagogic local official facing a tough re-election to play up “freedom of religion” and cause a cascade of problems.

And that is not the only issue here.

Ten years ago in the Great Lakes region there was a controversy when a group of Somali-American cab drivers, citing their Muslim beliefs refused to drive individuals carrying alcohol. Given how many Somali immigrants there are in cities like Detroit and St. Paul (when you’ve lived in a famine-ridden, war-torn wasteland like Somalia even the urban apocalypse of Detroit is considered a step up) and how many of them are cab drivers, this was a big issue. Many conservatives sided against the cab drivers.

What about now? Would the Muslim cab drives be entitled to protection? Now, you may say this is a public service, that this is an entirely different issue but given the right’s support for laws protecting the right of Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis to refuse to sign marriage licenses, you can surely see the problem. Given the Right’s freakout over alleged Muslim “no-go” zones in Europe, areas where you have the lovely combination urban gang activity and radical Islam, I can’t be the only one to see the dangers.

When one looks at how far they are going with this, one wonders if this is not so much about protecting religious liberties but attempting to either at worst to cause a possible rollback of Obergefell in the only way they know or to insulate them from the ruling’s impact. Neither one is particularly good. If it is the former then they are being disingenuous, if it is the latter then what they are doing could lead to a further ghettoization of conservative Christianity in America, which would be a disaster for the faith and considering that conservative Christianity still makes up a large percentage of the United States, for the country as well.

As Abraham Lincoln said, quoting the Gospel of Mark, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” One can imagine with little difficulty some individuals in southern states trying to start counter-boycotts against businesses that serve gays. They might be small but as we’ve seen, it only takes a small number to cause problems. They might decide if leftists can try to bully a pizzeria in Indiana out of business because they would not serve gay weddings we can bully “pro-gay” businesses, too. The result could easily be areas where it is more or less impossible to have a same-sex wedding ceremony. And given that it was carried out through the backdoor of “religious freedom” rather than out-and-out bans, the enmity of those who support gay rights towards the rest of the country would only increase. And vice versa. Our country is already rank with hyper-partisanship, assumptions that those with whom we disagree represent the lowest form of life. I’m not sure we need more.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution will be. Inevitably, it will involve some form of a compromise —by both sides. Gays will have to recognize that not everyone will be on-board with their lifestyle and evangelicals will have to recognize that for the time being same-sex marriage is here to stay. Both should recognize what I outlined above. This may mean allowing bakers to refuse or not allowing them. I'm not entirely sure but as Scalia said in his dissent to Lawrence, "The people, unlike judges, need not carry things to their logical conclusions."

A legislature can write up a law that stops at certain points; it can allow doctors to refuse abortions and pastors to refuse ceremonies but require county clerks to sign wedding certificates and Somali Muslim cab drivers to carry alcohol. That also requires a country where laws are designed to benefit the general good rather than stick it to some disliked group, something that debate, by allowing people to discuss and argue out issues and in turn see that the other side has decent people, can mitigate.

Now, given all the insanity of this one might assume it would cause our current Supreme Court to think twice before instituting rulings similar to Obergefell and Roe for all the reasons listed above. That letting the people openly debate and discuss an issue in the public lets them feel as if they had their say in the court of public opinion and they don’t feel they were “cheated” out of having their say. That knowing that all the laws they pass can be overturned at a whim by five judges creates a sense of resentment among the people that they will vent lash out towards their fellow Americans. That letting the people decide is, in the long-run, far less divisive (Remember: The Civil War occurred in the aftermath of the highly controversial Dred Scott ruling).

But I’m probably hoping for a bit much.
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