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Cold Contempt for Common Sense

Friday, March 7th, 2014

It began when a science experiment at a Minnesota high school set off a fire alarm. One of the students, Kayona Tietz, was swimming at the time. Her clothes were in her locker.

Because the alarm was unplanned, a teacher ushered Kayona outside without letting her retrieve her clothes. All she had between her wet swimsuit and the five-below-zero weather was a towel.

Once outside, to be protected ASAP from the cold the 14-year-old could simply have sat in one of the faculty-owned cars. Everyone knew this. Nevertheless, ten minutes passed before she was allowed to do so, by which time she was suffering frostbite. A teacher felt it necessary to first acquire permission from school administrators for an exception to rules obviously inapplicable to the circumstances. Eventually, also, a teacher lent Kayona a jacket . . . but not immediately.

What happened immediately is that her classmates huddled around to keep her as warm as they could. Apparently they lacked the training to blindly follow rules intended to protect students as morally superior to, well, actually protecting their classmate.

A girl got frostbitten because school personnel were complicit in a bizarre and dramatic loss of common sense. One needn’t “review procedures” to prevent such things. One need only use common sense (and be free to use it!) The inane regulations may have originated in some bureaucrat’s cubicle. But those on the spot were responsible for their own judgment.

Or lack of it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Turnabout Is Fairer Play

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Microsoft recently announced that it was finally ditching a much-maligned “stack ranking” system.

Last summer, Vanity Fair did much to publicize how demoralizing the system was. The magazine learned that managers had for years been obliged to rank team members on a curve — such that some employees in each team had to be lowest-ranked, even if every team member excelled. Much like getting an F in math for scoring “only” 98 percent on an exam when everybody else manages 99 or 100 percent.

One consequence: Microsoft employees proved reluctant to transfer to crews where their ranking might slip no matter how consistently stellar their performance. “Better,” however galling, to clutch to a top rank on a marginal team than risk a low rank on a powerhouse team. Thus, what counted as “better” in the stack ranking clashed with what was in fact better with respect both to individual achievement and the company’s overall achievement.

Clearly, even the most successful private firms can make pretty big, pretty dumb mistakes. Yet when officers do realize how bad a policy is, they also can often make a 180-degree course change, fast.

How different when it comes to politics-stultified government (or quasi-government) outfits like FDA, USPS, Amtrak, and the growing agglomeration of health-care agencies. Year after year, decade after decade, the same blunders persist, the same red ink spills. In the political realm, political incentives set the terms. And nobody is free to simply discontinue all the glaringly bad incentives.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Owls to Spare?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Since 1990, the federal government has placed a stranglehold on the forest industry in Oregon and Washington and California in order to save a species of bird, Strix occidentalis caurina, better known as the Northern spotted owl.

The program has not been successful, experts tell us, with spotted owls declining 40 percent over the last 25 years. Meanwhile, the common striped barred owl, Strix varia, has horned in on the spotted owl territory. It’s a more aggressive bird.

What to do?owls

Why, call the barred owl an “invasive species” and shoot the interlopers, of course!

The slaughter, approved over a year ago, is now going forward, at the cost of a million dollars per year.

Though the government and reporters like to call the two species of owl “distant cousins,” they apparently interbreed, and their offspring — called “sparred owls” — look just like spotted owls. You might think that this is a problem that takes care of itself, but no. On with the slaughter!

Meanwhile, as Teresa Platts of the Property and Environment Research Center notes, vast sectors of national forest remain unlogged and unmanaged, while wildfire suppression continues . . . which leads, of course, to mega-fires. Coming soon.

The ways of animal flourishing, in the wild, are not the ways of the governments that aim to protect the wild. Both are cruel, but at least one can understand the processes of nature.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Borrow It Forward

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

The consequences of borrowing to fund welfare states have been getting more obviously destructive. In the European Union, the fates of governments with still a few years to go to pay the piper are tethered to the fates of even more wildly profligate states.

Yet the solution most EU officials propose, aside from more tax hikes, is to lend and borrow even more. Whole governments go on the welfare roll. The countries delivering the loans in turn “borrow” from their own unwilling citizens.

When will it end?

Maybe never, if the precedent being pondered by the innovative government of Portugal is implemented and gains traction.

A court there has ruled that it’s unconstitutional for Portugal to save money by cutting the salaries of government employees. (Perfectly all right to hike taxes, though.) So the government is thinking of end-running the decision by paying workers part of their salaries in treasury bills instead of the usual funny money.

The logic is stunning. Obviously, we can pay everything we owe just by issuing IOUs! Not since Rumpelstiltskin wove straw into more straw has anybody fashioned something this magical.

Nobody need ever go bankrupt again so long as we all keep issuing IOUs to vendors and creditors. All the bad consequences of bad practices will maybe just disappear through this expedient! Incredible!!!

Maybe I’ll call up my credit-card company to explain how this works. Once I figure it out myself, that is.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: Bernanke, the Most Dangerous Man

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

David Stockman has always sported a rather strict and gloomy view of the world. But even if you have not agreed with him in the past, the world may have caught up with him. Could it be that his vision of the near future is more likely than ever?

A Pointed Reminder

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

“In schools,” the Washington Post headline warned, “a pointed finger or a toy gun can spell trouble.” The front-page feature detailed a far too extensive and growing list of zero tolerance, zero commonsense punishments meted out to children as young as five at various “educational” institutions.

A ten-year old boy in Alexandria, Virginia, showed kids on the bus his new toy gun, which sported a bright orange tip to let even the most dense person know its essential toyness. Police arrested him the next day.

His mother points out that her son did not threaten anyone. Or pretend to. Nevertheless, he has been “fingerprinted and photographed,” writes the Post. “He now has a probation officer, lawyers and another court date.”

In my Virginia county, Prince William, an eight-year-old boy contorted his hand and fingers into an apparently loaded pistol and through insidious manipulation of his mouth and lips may have imitated the sound of firing hot lead at a classmate, while said classmate was, in an evil orgy of violence, simultaneously pretending to be shooting arrows from an invisible bow.

The finger-slinger was suspended for “threatening to harm self or others.” He did neither, of course, but his offense is equivalent to having waved a loaded gun. (No word on the whereabouts of the silent-but-deadly pantomime archer.)

A five-year-old girl was interrogated by three school staff members, summarily found guilty of issuing a “terroristic threat,” and suspended for ten days for allegedly attempting to murder her friend and then commit suicide. She offered to unload her weapon all over her friend and herself. The weapon? A Hello Kitty gun, which fires bubbles.

The Post suggests the schools are jumpy after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But this zero tolerance insanity didn’t begin last December.

My grandson was suspended from his public school more than a year ago. He was six and playfully shot his finger at several fellow students.

Educators, who long ago abandoned the distinction between play and reality, must have been shocked at the lack of fatalities.

Does the crusade against crime really require public institutions to reject, utterly, common sense?

Shouting “No!” . . . I’m Paul Jacob.

Shooting from the Hip

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Wearing his I’m-Not-Partisan-No-Not-Me hat, President Obama has again declared war on partisanship, telling congressional Republicans to “peel off the partisan war paint.”

To be partisan in a bad way is not merely to belong to a political party and more or less support its program. It is to cling to party at the expense of Doing the Right Thing.

Unless, that is, it’s about opposing the program of a president determined to be partisan at the expense of Doing the Right Thing.

I often disagree with both parties. But let’s say that a representative of one party is marginally more reluctant to destroy our wealth and freedom than a representative of another party. Then I prefer the slightly more responsible stance of the former — and wish it were tougher and more consistent — even when the latter engages in name-calling and abuse of the former.

Demanding “perspective,” President Obama declares that he and the Congress should “not put ourselves through some sort of self-inflicted crisis every six months.” And I wholeheartedly agree. These crises happen because their spending programs always go up and up and up, even when a few “cuts” get made.

But the president doesn’t stop there. He explains they must “allow ourselves time to focus on things like preventing the tragedy in Newtown from happening again, focus on issues like energy and immigration reform. . . .”

Um, sir, please do not suggest that an unimpeded path to fiscal ruin is the only way to prevent fiscal ruin, or can somehow enable policymakers to prevent crazy gunmen from killing people. Please.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.