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Grading on the Progressive Curve

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

It used to be a joke.

Tom Lehrer made it about his military experience. “One of the many fine things (one has to admit) is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion … not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

Now it’s becoming reality. At least at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

A fairly recent set of directives from the august institution’s faculty senate called for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

We’re told that these goals were buried in a huge document, and the academics who approved it may not have known what they were approving, exactly.

Sounds like they’re ready for Washington, DC, where lack of reading skills can be compensated for by spin skills.

The idea that the thing to be achieved is some sort of demographic microcosm of the social macrocosm, proportioned at all levels, doesn’t hold water. Apparently, if 5 percent of the population were Lower Slobovian, the institution simply must mirror that five percent in its ranks.

Including a proportion of Slobovians getting high grades.

Whether this “proportionality” means what Katherine Timpf says it means — “good grades should be distributed equally among students of different races” — I don’t know.

But I do know the standards being scuttled here: ability, achievement, merit.

It’s obvious: trendy, “progressive-minded” academics and activists have so little sense of proportion (and so little sense of humor) that they can’t tell when their earnest efforts are themselves nothing more than jokes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Mercy as a Calling

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

The cause of immigration reform hit a huge speed bump in recent weeks, with the arrival at the border of thousands upon thousands of children from war-torn Central America.

War-torn? Yes. Gangs — micro-governments in the olden style — fed by drug money have turned the Latin American states to our south into war zones, alas not too dissimilar to the gang warfare that beset some of our great American cities.

Only worse.

No wonder the people in those countries are scared, and desperate. “Coyotes” are taking advantage of U.S. politicians’ inability to secure the border, or even cook up a coherent immigration policy, and charge large amounts of money to transport children to “safety” in the U.S.

Where they are gathered and detained.

In the midst of all the partisan bickering — a legitimate clash of ideologies, really — stands one hero: Glenn Beck. While President Obama avoids the border crisis as if avoidance solves problems, radio/TV/Internet sensation Beck is taking his trucks and buses and volunteers directly to the area Obama avoids, the detention centers and surrounding cities and churches.

He’s taking food, clothing, and comforts for the children.

Last night on The O’Reilly Factor he explained  that governments are instituted to provide justice. He laments the lack of justice on  immigration coming from Washington. But the business of the people — of caring Americans — is not primarily justice.

It’s mercy, Beck says. He’s raised millions, and he’s personally taking aid to where it’s needed.

Heroic. And very neighborly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Declare Your Independence

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Today is Independence Day, and we’re celebrating. Tonight there will be fireworks to watch. So I’ll try to be brief.

The original independence that the Continental Congress of the seceding colonies declared, was dramatic and fundamental, as I’ve tried to honor these past two days in Common Sense.

But the idea of independence, and of our liberty that it was meant to secure, extends beyond events over two centuries ago.Declaration of Independence

Today, we are riddled with at least two kinds of dependence that are worth resisting.

  1. Economic dependence. I’m not talking about foreign trade. “Independence-with-freedom”  assumes that we will always depend on each other by co-operation. But the terms of that co-operation should be mutual. The great problem with crony capitalism and the welfare state — and even to some degree with a large federal workforce — is that increasing numbers of people (whole classes) increasingly depend on taxpayers rather than their own productivity and commerce.

    This sort of dependence depends on wealth, but provides poverty.
  2. Partisan dependence. The polarization of the two political parties has become increasingly ideological — as it was at the beginning of the country, actually — and is becoming increasingly nasty. Americans seem “stuck.” Breaking apart from the parties might make for a more honest and productive debate.

One way to accomplish the latter? Work for general, non-partisan — “transpartisan” — reforms, like term limits . . . and other measures aimed at greater representation, from mandating smaller districts to establishing ranked choice voting.

Remember, in 24 states and most cities and towns, citizens also have the initiative and referendum process to act directly. Staying focused on issues is the key to working across partisan divides.

Who knows what improvements we might be able to make?

What begins by thinking independently comes to fruition in successful cooperation.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Reason for the “Treason”

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The United States of America is exceptional in at least one way: it was founded by folks who made very clear that the reasons for breaking with past allegiance and alliance — indeed, subjugation — rested, finally, on an idea: liberty.

No doubt that was just an excuse for some founders. And no doubt Americans never kept liberty foremost in their minds for long. But the emphasis at the beginning on the moral principles altered not merely the American consciousness, but the conscience of the world.

The principles led a list of complaints, and were preceded by an explanation for their necessity: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required the public statement.Declaration of Independence

The meat of the argument is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

You may write it a bit differently. (Too many, today, wouldn’t write it at all.) But whether you make minor edits for modernized style, or substantive edits for some paradigm shifts, the basic idea, that somehow government must rest on consent — not on mere accommodation to terrorizing force — remains one of the most potent ideas ever promoted.

A moral, informed consent binds government, or at least limits it: this is the notion that changed the world.

For the better.

Remember, though: the break with Great Britain was deemed, by King George III, treasonous.

But it was very reasonable.

We have a lot of reasons, today, to resist a lot of homegrown tyranny. As in 1776, the future hangs in the balance. Fortunately, our founders did a good enough job that what we do now requires less than their “treason.” Still, just like them, our lives, our liberties, and our sacred honor are on the line.

We’ve got some work to do.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Opposites for Independence

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Could any two men be more different than John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? And yet, I doubt if the United States would exist were it not for both. Somehow, they worked together when it counted. And worked against each other, when it seemed necessary.

Yet they respected each other (in their different ways), and before the end, after a long estrangement, became close friends.Thomas Jefferson

The story is well known: on his deathbed on July 4, 1826, Adams whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives!” He was wrong. Jefferson had died earlier that day, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Adams was also wrong about Independence Day. On July 2, 1776, after the Lee Resolution for independence passed the Continental Congress, he wrote that “the second day of July” would become the day of “a great anniversary festival.” But “by 1777,” Steve Tally noted in Bland Ambition, his jovial history of the vice presidency, “people were already celebrating the Fourth of July.”

John AdamsBut give him his due: it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson write the Declaration, and it was indeed its words — especially that of its “mission statement” preamble — that resonate almost universally to this day. And gave birth to the annual festivities.

Adams, Tally tells us, was “short, round, peevish, a loudmouth, and frequently a bore.” Jefferson, on the other hand, was tall, handsome, polite, and much more popular. And a much better writer. Which is why he was given his great job, to produce the Declaration.

Great writer or no, it’s not as if the tall redhead’s initial draft was acceptable as it flowed from the pen. Adams, Franklin, and the whole congress got in on the editing job. “Jefferson liked to recall that his document survived further [extensive] editing,” Tally explains, “because of the meeting hall’s proximity to a livery stable.” Still, it’s obvious that Jefferson wasn’t the only genius in the room, and that without Adams’s tireless work, independence might not have gotten off the ground.Declaration of Independence

The later history of both men, in service to the country they helped found, is riddled with ambiguities and even horrible moral and political lapses. Adams was the kind of politician who not only opposed term limits, but opposed terms: he thought men raised to office should be kept there forever. Jefferson leaned not merely the other direction, but flirted with the notion of a revolution every generation.

I adhere to the anti-federalist slogan of their day, “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins.”

Between the two extremes of these two great men, somehow, the republic survived. And thrived. Their correspondence is a mine of great wisdom, their biographies well worth reading.

Most of all, their legacy — of July 2 and July 4, 1776, and the universal rights of man — remains worth fighting for.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Corruption Reeks

Friday, June 27th, 2014

When I write about “government corruption” I usually mean one of three things:

  1. Government personnel breaking their public trust and “working for themselves,” as in taking kick-backs and the like. You know, like Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) taking $2.3 million in bribes, and Hillary Clinton’s cattle future trades of a generation ago. This is what most people mean by corruption.
  2. Judgment and behavior modified by the practice of or access to power. In recent times, police have been engaging in SWAT team exercises, shooting innocents “by accident,” dogs on purpose — heart-rending examples of Lord Acton’s “power corrupts” maxim.
  3. Ideological corruption, whereby folks change their ideas — including abandoning principles — to fit into their new “class interest.” A balanced-budget talking, pro-term-limits politician enters office and Lo, a few years later, all he’s “learned” would be a shame to waste outside of office and every spending proposal deserves his vote.

But then there’s crazy stuff.

Environmental Protection Agency “Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway.”

That’s according to Government Executive’s article “EPA Employees Told to Stop Pooping in the Hallway.”

Seriously.

Brian Doherty, at Reason, quipped that environmental bureaucrats “are just like us! If we like to leave feces around the hallways of our offices, that is.”

It’s a disgusting whiff of . . . something very rotten in the halls of government.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Terrorized?

Friday, June 20th, 2014

This week, a major-party politician said that “we cannot let a minority of people — and that’s what it is, a minority of people — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority.”

How can simply having a viewpoint — a very American thing to possess, by the way — terrorize anyone?

But of course, this person wasn’t talking about real terrorism. This person — a Democratic Party politician of high standing — was using the T-word to smear defenders of the Second Amendment.

Yes, it was Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, and former U.S. Secretary of State (an office she has now taken “full responsibility” for holding), who trotted out those words, allegedly to encourage “a more thoughtful” debate about gun control.

Demonizing her opponents as “terrorizing” her comrades is hardly a way to produce the stated result.

Them’s fightin’ words.

I know of no one who defends the Second Amendment and opposes the gun control agenda of the Democratic Party who also supports the terroristic activities of spree murderers. Not one.

We have more complicated reasons to oppose gun control than merely focusing on such violence.

But understanding those reasons would require a “more thoughtful” attitude than besmirching opponents with the word “terror.”

And as for terrorizing, there are few words more frightening coming from an American politician than “we cannot let a minority” exercise their rights — whether to arms or . . . holding “a viewpoint.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.