Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Next to go: snowpersons

St. Paul pall: Easter Bunny bounced from city hall

I guess this is an update to December's Merry Christmas article.

As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times:

"A small Easter display was removed from the lobby Wednesday out of concern that it would offend non-Christians.

"The display -- a cloth bunny, pastel-colored eggs and a sign with the words ''Happy Easter'' -- was put up by a city council secretary. They were not purchased with city money.

"Tyrone Terrill, the city's human rights director, asked that the decorations be removed. Terrill said no citizen had complained to him."
I'm unclear what evidence of human rights abuses Mr. Terrill found on the bunny or even why St. Paul has a human rights director. Unless they've an Abu Ghraib to hide the city can always invite human rights inspectors from the United Nations or Red Cross.

Though no one was reportedly offended by the bunny, its city hall eviction has offended plenty, including some council members -- but not all:

"The council president, Kathy Lantry, said the removal wasn't about political correctness.

"'As government, we have a different responsibility about advancing the cause of religion, which we are not going to do,' she said."

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recently co-wrote an editorial for the Washington Post, Not By Math Alone, with a warning about people like St. Paul's city council president and human rights director:

"A healthy democracy depends on the participation of citizens, and that participation is learned behavior; it doesn't just happen."

Where do you think St. Paul's patriots learned their behavior? Across the nation patriots like Lantry and Terrill are booting prayer from schools, the ten commandments from court houses, Native American tribe names from college teams, nativity scenes from lawns, "Merry Christmas" from Christmas cards, and giving children birth control without their parents' knowledge. Justice O'Connor is right--it doesn't just happen.

Ms. Lantry is in good company confusing the purpose and meaning of the First Amendment's non-establishment clause. That same company is confused about what is and isn't political correctness. Freedom of Speech is about being tolerant of speech, even speech as offensive as cloth bunnies and pastel-colored eggs. Political correctness is about silencing speech someone may find offensive. Since someone can always find something offensive there's no limit to what shouldn't be said.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Two teachers weigh in on classroom opinions

Earlier this month (March, 2006) Cherry Creek School District Geography teacher Jay Bennish (former Seaholm High School student) was caught on tape ranting against the president, capitalism, and the war on Iraq. I don't want to rehash what he said, but I do want to examine his defense for his actions:
"My job as a teacher is to challenge students to think critically about issues that are affecting our world and our society. My job as a social studies teacher is to argue alternative perspectives and viewpoints so that students are aware of those points of view. They do not necessarily reflect my own views. They are simply thrown out there to encourage critical thought"
Anyone who read or heard what he said knows Mr. Bennish's lecture was many things, but critical thought or the Socratic Method is none of them. More interesting is Mr. Bennish's idea of what his job is. Teaching geography, which is what the class proposed to be, is only what simple minded parents would expect. His real job, supported by the Cherry Creek School District superintendent is challenging students to think critically. Even if it were, I prefer Professor Thomas Sowell's approach (from OpinionJournal - Featured Article:
"In his 2000 memoir, 'A Personal Odyssey,' he relates an episode in which some students approached him after taking his graduate seminar on Marxian theory. They expressed appreciation for the course but added, 'We still don't know what your opinion is on Marxism.' He took it as an unintended compliment.

'My job was to teach them economics, not teach them what I happen to believe,' says Mr. Sowell, who adds that efforts by some today to counterbalance the prevailing liberalism in academia with more right-wing instructors is not only an exercise in futility but a disservice to students. 'Even if you succeed in propagandizing the students while they're students, it doesn't tell you much [about how they'll turn out]. I suspect that over half [of the conservatives at the Hoover Institution] were on the left in their 20s. More important, though, let's assume for the sake of argument that, whatever you're propagandizing them with on the left or right, every conclusion you teach them is correct. It's only a matter of time before all those conclusions are obsolete because entirely different issues are going to arise over the lifetimes of these students. And so, if you haven't taught them how to weigh one argument against another, you haven't taught them anything.'" (emphasis mine)
Mind you, Professor Sowell's students are a at least six years more mature and presumably more capable of critical thought than Mr. Bennish's 10th grade, but that didn't change the curriculum.

I'm no fan of Marxism. Nor am I a fan of classroom indoctrination masquerading behind the pretenses of academic freedom or free speech--I care little who the teacher may be. Mr. Bennish is being paid to teach a curriculum. If he wants to exercise his free speech rights he has plenty of opportunity outside the classroom. Perhaps he'll start a blog?

Why U.S. Business Is Winning

Why U.S. Business Is Winning:

Finally, some good news about American Business. Michigan's manufacturing economy gives manufacturing-issues more shelf space in a crowded midwestern brains and it's easy to believe the rest of the country's industries are similarly challenged. Not so, points out Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post op-ed linked above.
"Whence this American superiority? The first answer is that competition is fiercer. The United States has relatively few trade and regulatory barriers for firms to hide behind, so bad companies either shape up quickly or go bust. In retailing, for example, firms such as Wal-Mart and Target have been able to spread their super-efficient logistics systems all across the country -- at least until lately, when a perverse anti-Wal-Mart campaign has sprung up. In Europe and Japan, by contrast, a web of zoning laws entangles efficient retailers, sheltering unproductive companies that overcharge consumers."
Read his piece and feel better that all is not doom and gloom for America business. In fact, we're doing better than you think.

A Poverty of the Mind - New York Times

A Poverty of the Mind - New York Times Many of the NY Times' best op-eds aren't available to the public without a cost. But this one is available to anyone without expense and I recommend you give it a read. The article starts out with a fairly aggressive agenda:
"SEVERAL recent studies have garnered wide attention for reconfirming the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream. But they also highlighted another crisis: the failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem, and their inability to come up with any effective strategy to deal with it."
For three pages it proceeds to rip apart several urban legends about black men and dismisses the benefit of any further statistical studies:
"..for decades we have been overwhelmed with statistics on black youths, and running more statistical regressions is beginning to approach the point of diminishing returns to knowledge."
One interesting part was a partial dismantling of the supposed problem of young black men succeeding educationally being accused of "acting white":
"The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book."
This is an interesting read that I'll likely bookmark for future references.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Michigan Way - TECHNOLOGY - Michigan Residents Could See Computer Deals

I wonder if Michigan residents got a deal on looms, tools, dies, and presses when manufacturing was revolutionizing the state's economy. I wonder if
Kurt Weiss, communications director for the state Department of Information Technology, might have said of that revolution, "In the next five years, 85 percent of all new jobs will require manufacturing skills."

Governor Granholm's MiPC program were started in the late 19th century (MiTool?) we'd have arranged for discounted sheet metal and presses for families to take home. But we didn't. Perhaps back then adults were prepared through education (public or private) to learn, or were lucky enough (?) to live at a time when physical labor and Ford's $5/day could afford a family a decent standard of living.

Michigan's middle and high schools have also been providing shop classes (a humbling experience for me) since at least the 70s that I know of. Vocational education centers provide this training as well. I'm unaware of any that arrange financing or discounts for lifts and presses for the home.

Michigan schools have already been investing heavily in computer equipment, internet access, instructors, and curriculum and I'm uncertain state controlled economies are the right approach, which is what tinkering with costs is, though I am certain it is
The Michigan Way: entitlements the state can't afford it requires businesses to provide. The punitive Single Business Tax is one example. Raising the minimum wage is another.

To paraphrase Russell Trojan, "Success is inconvenient." And like success, education is inconvenient. You must do the work yourself. You must take the test yourself. We don't take seriously nor do we care for things as well that are given us than things we purchase with own efforts and time.
The Michigan Way, according to our politicians, is to try and make success convenient with as little work or damage to our self esteem as possible. According to a news letter from Michigan Senator Gilda Jacobs (D-District 14 - Huntington Woods) the high school curriculum bill is stuck in committee:
"The big issue, still, is Algebra II. One school of thought sees the subject as an informal prerequisite to the future workforce. The cognitive challenges of Algebra II teach the logical processing tools necessary to function in a high-tech job. Others feel that the subject is too hard for some students, who will grow discouraged and drop/flunk out of school."
I guess we wouldn't want that to happen. Better to preserve children's self esteem today than prepare them for tomorrow. If we avoid hurting students' feelings Nolan Finley, writer for the Detroit News warns:
"If we let weak politicians derail the tougher curriculum, we'll seal Michigan's fate as the state that produces the world's best floor sweepers and hamburger flippers."
I don't think that's a direction we should be heading, but too many of our politicians believe it's The Michigan Way.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

To All the Girls I've Rejected - New York Times

To All the Girls I've Rejected - New York Times:
"Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive."
Apparently, due process and civil rights aren't a problem at the author's university. The op-ed piece above starts out making a sympathetic appeal for a woman traumatized by having to turn away a female applicant to her university. Not because she wasn't qualified. She was more than qualified -- great grades, 300+ hours community service, extracurricular activities, the whole shebang. The reason she was denied admission to the college of her choice is because of her genitalia.

That saddest part of this story isn't the young woman's rejection, it's the author's oblivion to her own and her university's discriminatory admissions policy. Yes, I feel sorry for this young applicant in the same way I feel sorry for Jennifer Gratz and her rejection to the University of Michigan. But the author is simply unsympathetic.

Luckily, this won't be an issue in Michigan after the Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) passes. The initiative isn't a black and white issue, at least as far as skin color is concerned. It's a discrimination/no-discrimination issue. With the MCRI in place this young woman won't be rejected due her extra X chromosome. If she worked harder, volunteered more, took tougher classes, and scored higher than a male student she would be admitted and the male student would have to attend another college -- which is what should happen.

I wonder what U of M's critical mass is for males and females? I wonder if Justice O'Connor would have been as sympathetic to the university if Jennifer Gratz was rejected in favor of a white male with lower test scores? Would she have instead said:
"We expect that 25 years from now, the use of [sexual] preferences [favoring men] will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."
I don't think so either.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Connerly letter catches Granholm hypocrisy


Granholm's correlation of diversity to Michigan's need for engineers and improved education is nonsequitur and demonstrates a patronizing and condescending attitude towards minorities. Diversity doesn't provide more engineers or educate students any more than it widens freeways or builds public transportation.

Most parents desire their children to move out of the house and stand alone. Only liberals want to keep minorities from leaving the nest, which suggests minorities are less like children than they are a pet cause. Being treated as a house pet, as democrats are disposed to treat minorities, is the true insult. Liberals take their pet causes out for walks on the editorial pages of our newspapers, provide for them with preferences, and parade them at the Oscars. Unsurprisingly, best-in-show winners Reverands Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton,
Joseph Lowery and others are unlikely ever to leave the house because the food is good, they get plenty of attention, and they're just too darn cute in ribbons.

This relationship between liberals and minorities is necessarily un-equal. One group can not "care for" and "protect" another group they don't feel somehow superior to, or believe can't fend for themselves.

Thomas Sowell visits this topic briefly in the first chapter of his book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals:
"The general orientation of white liberals has been one of 'What can we do for them?' What blacks can do for themselves has not only been of lesser interest, much of what blacks have in fact already done for themselves has been overshadowed by liberal attempts to get them special dispensations--whether affirmative action, reparations for slavery, or other race-based benefits--even when the net effect of these dispensations has been much less than the effects of blacks' own self-advancement.

"... this protest-and-government-action model has become the liberals' preferred, if not universal, model for future black advancement."
If there wasn't a reason to pass the civil rights initiative before there most certainly is now.

Vote for me: I'll suck less than the other guy

Michigan voters will be electing someone to live in the Governor's mansion this fall, and it already looks like a two-contender race, Dick DeVos challenging the current resident of the governor's mansion, Jennifer Granholm. Except for the perks that go with the office there's precious few gubernatorial responsibilities to exercise since Michigan's real governor hasn't lost a race since 1914 when Henry Ford made Michigan the manufacturing capital of world.

Manufacturing is Michigan's monster political party. It's a party so large it cares little for who wins the title of Governor of the State of Michigan, which of the other lesser parties they come from, or how many or what type of representatives sit in the legislature. Manufacturing's ambivalence towards state politics is justified. Even when the monster party showed its vulnerabilities during the 70s oil crisis, and again to foreign competition in the 80s and 90s our politicians accomplished little towards replacing its greatest benefactor.

The monster is resilient even to its own electorate, its shareholders. The only thing that may tame one monster is another monster. Both of these points are subjects for another article, but it's worth noting some of the monster-tamers names are Toyota, Sarbanes-Oxley, and perhaps Kirk Kerkorian.

If the monster is the pilot of Michigan's aircraft then our gubernor is its stewardess. As our economy loses altitude and threatens to leave a skid mark the size of Lake Michigan she's serving drinks, passing out peanuts, and telling us to ignore the oxygen masks in front of us, gently reassuring us it's normal for ears to pop a little with the nose pitched 30 degrees down. Such are the actions of highway spending, designating cool cities, and pretending bio-tech will employ our state's tens of thousands of already-or-soon-to-be unemployed auto workers accustomed to first class health care, pensions, jobs banks, and leather-trimmed reclining bucket seats with extra legroom and free beverages.

What should our gubernor be doing instead? Prepare a cushion. A really big one. Don't bother pretending it's a trampoline for economic growth. It's the biggest piece of foam rubber known to humankind prepared in advance of a Katrina-sized disaster that's been making landfall for over 20 years.

Michigan needs to stop spending on new infrastructure and encourage people to live and work where infrastructure already exists--cities. It matters little whether you're a fan of big cities like Detroit or not, but that's where our infrastructure is. That's were we're best equipped to economically handle high densities of residents and businesses -- and this crisis will require our state make every stretched dollar count. This means we stop subsidizing suburban sprawl. If you want to live away from civilization then do it on your own dime, not everyone else's. This means we should stop widening congested highways and build public transportation. We know how to do it. We just haven't wanted to do it, nor has Lansing shown the leadership to compel us.

Next we have to stop pretending to know which is Michigan's next big industry. First, we don't know and second, we don't want one. Sure they're nice to have during the boom times but there's no one to pay the tab when the party's over. What we do know is small business employees more people than big business, and with more smaller businesses Michigan's economy becomes more diversified. Furthermore, it is more likely the best idea for Michigan's economic future will be hatched by an entrepreneur than a politician.

Michigan must also to make itself more attractive to business and investment than ever before. We're already moving towards eliminating the SBT but it must be cheaper to start new businesses here than anywhere else. It has to be more rewarding to do business here than anywhere else. Easier transportation for employees and customers, safer streets, inexpensive utilities and internet, plentiful parking, more parks, and a better educated workforce.

Speaking of better education, we have a lot of education to do. Even with the latest education bill in Lansing requiring more math, science, and English credits to graduate the payoff is at least eight years away and we have plenty of unemployed people needing new skills today and will have more tomorrow that need attention now. This is where the state should cut both its funding and the handcuffs that go with it to its public universities and funnel more post-secondary education spending on community colleges and adult education programs where more of each education dollar pays for teachers and professors teaching students rather than taking sabbaticals and filling out grant applications for self-promoting research. Without the handcuffs our public universities would be free to take more out-of-state students paying higher tuitions and still take all the sabbaticals they want.

We must also make Michigan attractive to families. Specifically, families with children. Children are good for the economy. They need stuff. Lots of stuff. As they get older the stuff they need becomes more expensive until eventually someone else's kid you helped send to public school is buying your home at a profit rather than your home sitting for months in a market with a glut of other homes competing for the same shrinking pool of potential buyers.

Michigan has a tough road ahead no matter who the next gubernor may be. During the campaign season, don't be placated by lip service to jobs and the economy. Listen for the real ideas with real action steps, and that will be your real leader.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why attack the argument when you can attack the person?

Leonard Pitts Jr., sometime contributor to the Detroit Free Press, wrote this past weekend about his frustration with people using the Bible to support their resistance against embracing homosexuality. In his own words, "I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists." I especially like the "intellectual constipation" part. Earlier in the article he states, "You're entitled to think what you think, no matter how stupid it might be." I love his writing. After all, that's what this blog is all about, everyone taking their turn being an idiot.

His article is an open letter to someone he only names at the end but we don't know exists, on behalf of Desiree, who we don't know exists, regarding an unnamed school's morning announcement we don't know actually happened. Let's assume everything is true, and that Mr. Pitts decided rather than contacting the adult from the story directly it was a better idea to soapbox his support for homosexuals on the pages of the Free Press.

Many bible-thumper's argument against homosexuality may be ill-formed, or even mis-informed. Pitts' column document's this particular crime against political correctness as:
"The coup de grace, though, was you invoking Sodom and Gomorrah and telling students homosexuality was 'wrong according to the Bible' because God ordered humanity to multiply, which gay couples cannot do."
As nonsensical as that argument may be, its nonesensicalness (I made that word up) wasn't the point of the column. Instead of pointing out lots of couple's can't have children for various medical reasons and that the bible doesn't condemn their relationships it instead attacks the speaker using two logical fallacies, guilt by association and ad hominem attacks.

After using Desiree's accusation of bigotry to color the adult's reputation (ad hominem) it attacks a whole class of "bible literalists" as hypocrites by pointing out several of the bible's rules we presume even fundamentalists can't follow all the time, like women not talking in church, only asking their husbands questions outside of church, working on Sundays, and my favorite: that men should marry the virgins they rape.

Isn't that last one a shotgun wedding?

Sometimes we use words whose meaning we've forgotten, like bigot, because everyone else uses them. That's why I make words up--they mean whatever I need them to mean. Like combining the words hypocrite and hypochondriac to make hypocritiac, hypocriphobic, or paranocrite to mean a person disposed to chronically complaining about hypocrites.

Anyway, I looked up the word bigot because it's used so much lately to describe people who won't embrace homosexuality and everything else Hollywood shoves in front of us I had to be sure:
big·ot n. One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
So a person who is intolerant of those who differ are, well, bigots. I like the way Mark Steyn puts it in his WSJ article, It's the demography stupid:
"... Lady Kennedy was arguing that our tolerance of our own tolerance is making us intolerant of other people's intolerance, which is intolerable. And, unlikely as it sounds, this has now become the highest, most rarefied form of multiculturalism. So you're nice to gays and the Inuit? Big deal. Anyone can be tolerant of fellows like that, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti masochists."
Pitts' column wraps up with an unanswered challenge that would fool only people spending too much time watching the Sopranos or Sex and the City. After complaining too many Christians are Johnny-one-notes the columns asks:
Meantime, people are ignorant in Appalachia, strung out in Miami, starving in Niger, sex slaves in India, mass murdered in Darfur. Where is the Christian outrage about that?
Where's the Christian outrage? Apparently the only time Mr. Pitts confronts Christians is when he's protesting their protests against homosexuality. All the missions to these places and more don't generate much press without Sean Penn, Barbara Streisand, and Angelina Jolie. The missionaries that have dedicated and lost their lives to educate, rehabilitate, feed, free, and protect without press releases or celebrities for thousands of years don't count because Mr. Pitts isn't aware of them. Mr. Pitts must also be unfamiliar with Matthew 6:2-5:
Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward.
Lastly, I'm curious why the fixation on Christians? Are they the only hold-outs against homosexuality? And are the ignorant, strung out, starving, enslaved, and murdered only their responsibility? If so we should let them know, but I'm confident people from many religions help all these people, too. Of course, only Scientologists can dispatch Tom Cruise and John Travolta to where help is needed most.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is allowed to write whatever he wants to write no matter how stupid it may be, but why pick on Appalachia?

Monday, March 13, 2006

I'm not a real liberal, but I play one on TV

There was a lot of ink this weekend for readers of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press dedicated to the state senate's passing of a higher minimum wage, proposed to be $7.40 by July 2008. Republican legislators felt this was the politically savvy thing to do to avoid a petition indexing the minimum wage to the consumer price index. Fearing such an amendment might bring Detroit voters to the fall polls like children after ice cream trucks, they felt it better to keep kids off the street and bring ice cream to their doorsteps. I agree with this weekend's editorials suggesting that if Michigan citizens wanted liberal-smelling laws they would have elected genuine liberals instead of conservatives acting like liberals. This is wrong-headed thinking. It is not better to do something idiotic for fear that someone else may do something idiotic. It would have been better for them to take a principled stance, but that requires leadership which the state of Michigan seems to have little of as it slides into the economic backwaters. Already a business-unfriendly state, perhaps they thought one more onerous and burdensome insult to small business would make little difference to the pile of onerous burdens already heaped on small businesses (like the Single Business Tax).
"We decided one big pile was better than two little piles and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down."
-- Arlo Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant"
As far as a constitutional amendment is concerned, some in Michigan don't know what a constitution is for. This is understandable for anyone who hasn't
read the document. Not unlike our federal constitution, Michigan's enumerates the rights of citizens and the mechanisms, responsibilities, and limits of state government. Nowhere does the constitution interfere or proscribe the relationship between employers and employees. It's not the job of a constitution. Responsibility for employment law is given to the legislature in Article IV, § 49, where it's given the right to regulate hours and conditions of employment, presumably including fixing of wages. The benefit laws have over constitutional amendments is laws can be more easily changed than constitutions. If an amendment is a tattoo on the body Michigan, a law is purposely one made from henna so that its shortsightedness might be more easily removed.

Fixing minimum wage to the CPI as a constitutional amendment will be like getting a tattoo when your in college. It sounds like a great idea to impress your friends and annoy your parents when your 19, but you'll be wearing long sleeve shirts the rest of your life to hide the evidence of your drinking binge with the wrong crowd.

Lansing needs some adult supervision before all the chaperones leave for other, more responsible states.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Somewhere in America...

Somewhere in America a husband came home from work on time, played with his kids, thanked his wife for a great dinner, and read a bedtime story to his youngest before tucking them in and saying prayers.

Somewhere in America a couple reconciled their differences, recommitted to their marriage, and avoided a divorce that would have torn their family apart and robbed their children of the advantages of having both parents home.

Here's the real surprising news flash; somewhere in America an 11-year old boy collected his dirty clothes and carried them to the laundry room without being reminded.

What started all this? A December 23 Detroit Free Press story about a janitor that found a purse in the airport and returned it to a passenger before she departed for Asia. Why was such a thing reported at all? The purse had $10,000 in it. It's amazing that not committing a crime is newsworthy.
When my son was perhaps eight-years old he found a $10 bill outside a friend's house. That's a lot of money for a third grader. He was hoping to keep it but I suggested if he'd lost $10 he'd want whomever found it to attempt to reunite him with his small fortune. The $10, it turns out, belonged to his friend's older sister. No small potatoes to her, either. This little episode has newsworthy written all over it, and here are some of the angles:
  • a young boy told his father he found money
  • a young boy was actually spending time with his father
  • a father listened to his son
  • a father taught his son an important lesson
  • a son listened to his father
  • a young babysitter learned how pockets, wallets, and purses are used.
Of course, the local media wasn't alerted so the public missed a chance to celebrate his heroism. Regardless, my son often makes me proud so a single event isn't newsworthy, but by the Free Press' standards not stealing makes the weekend paper.
Everywhere in America people are doing the right thing -- and not because the law requires it, but because good people do good things.