responsibility

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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.

Bong Hits, Car Misses

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Two social developments are about to collide — for our good?

First up, the relaxing of the Drug War approach, at least against marijuana use.

The Drug War didn’t work. Increased drug use, even in prisons, suggests there was something fundamentally wrong with the strategy.

With medical marijuana legalized in 19 states, and near-complete decriminalization in Washington and Colorado, we will see what happens when the black market is cut out of the social picture. Will people become less responsible? More? Will there be little change?

The worst thing about drug use is incitement to violence; the second worst thing is decreasing personal responsibility, perhaps especially relating to automobile usage. Marijuana’s violence-promotion seems completely a factor of the black market. But, like alcohol mis-use, marijuana imbibing can impair motor functions, and lead to traffic accidents, even fatal ones. That’s quite bad.

How to control this?

Well, Washington State’s decriminalization law, I-502, had built in a THC indicator for inebriation: the “five nanogram rule.” Alas, evidence suggests it’s, well, the wrong number. Too extreme, too picky, too low, as Jacob Sullum reports at Reason.

Obviously, how to incentivize good driving and responsible drug use, and dis-incentivize reckless driving and drug abuse, will continue to be a problem.

Still, a second social development may provide a long-term alleviation of the problem: driverless cars. The successes of the Google self-driving prototypes, and the legal preparation for this, may soon provide a real and safe alternative to inebriates driving around helter skelter.

Progress comes in unexpected ways.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Reset the Net?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

I don’t know on which version the current Internet is said to be. Internet 4.0? Web 3.1? HTML something-or-other? (You may notice: I’m not a tech guy.)

But it’s changing. Streaming video and the fast development of cloud computing are revolutionizing the way we think about the “common space” beyond our computers.

Oh, and then there are all the “post-PC” devices — smart phones and tablets and the like — metamorphosing with Ovidian avidity.

Nevertheless, there’s one big element that outshines them all: government surveillance. 

Shhh. This is just between me and you, but … this is not just between you and me. The NSA and other branches of our government insist on listening in.

In the past year, since Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks began hitting the news stream, we’ve learned more and more about how intrusive our government spies not only want to be, but can be; not only can be, but are.

So, to celebrate the first anniversary of the beginning of the Snowden Era, folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in co-operation with good netizens everywhere, have proclaimed today, June 5, “Reset the Net” Day.

A day of protest? More a day of preparation. What can you do to make your Internet presence a bit more secure?

Well, according to the EFF activists, and according to Snowden himself, there are many things you can do. Encryption is one of them.

My advice? Don’t ask me about it. Consult the experts. Let’s think more carefully about life under the eyes of our overlords.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Declining Self-Pity

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Mike Rowe is used to seeing people suffer almost insufferable things on a daily basis.

But as blogger Justen Charters puts it, “eight years hosting Dirty Jobs couldn’t prepare” Rowe for his encounter with Staff Sergeant Travis Mills. The veteran of the war in Afghanistan got half his body torn off by an improvised explosive device; he is a quadruple amputee.

On his Facebook page, Rowe tells what it was like to meet Travis at a convention. “He wanted to tell me how much he and his buddies appreciated that show while on active duty. He wanted to know what it was like to work in so many ‘difficult and dangerous situations.’ . . . I’ve seen a lot of things over the years, and I’ve gotten good at pretending there’s nothing unusual when there clearly is. But I was completely unprepared for this.”

When he expressed sympathy, Travis shrugged it off. “No big deal. It’s been two years now. I’m good. Tell me something though — are you gonna do anymore Dirty Jobs?” The show has been cancelled, but Rowe managed to report that he is working on a sequel.

“Hey, that’s great! I got new legs and you got a new show! Tell me all about it!”

There are real victims in this world, and there are people who assume the mantle of victimhood when they have little to complain about. I’d say Travis Mills has a reason to complain. But he doesn’t.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Ten Trillion Dollar Decade

Monday, April 14th, 2014

It’s Tax Day tomorrow. Waiting till the last moment to file because you’ll have to write a check?

It hurts, but you must be financially better off than the federal government, which itself owes $17.5 trillion, all because Congress and the President refuse to balance budgets.

In the last ten years, according to a convenient Department of Treasury website, the federal government’s debt has not merely doubled, it has ballooned … by more than $10 trillion.

During the Reagan Administration, we were aghast at the idea of a “mere” one trillion dollar debt. I remember “No Trillion Dollar Debt” signs.

Waving signs didn’t help.

But something’s gotta give. As J. D. Tuccille writes, “you have to think that it’s going to occur to people that the United States government seems neither willing nor able to stop borrowing, and to start paying the sum down, even a little bit.”

Debts must be repaid, with interest. That goes for the last decade’s additional ten trillion tonnage of “bricks” now hanging over our heads.

Writing your check to the government isn’t made any more pleasant by pondering how paltry your payment is compared to what’s needed to make a dent in the debt. Moreover, even amid constant talk about “cuts,” federal government spending continues to increase. Thus, getting out of debt is not about writing checks to government. It’s about government writing fewer and smaller checks.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

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.

A Trumped-up “Consensus”

Friday, February 28th, 2014

“A co-founder of Greenpeace told a Senate panel on Tuesday that there is no scientific evidence to back claims that humans are the ‘dominant cause’ of climate change,” the Washington Times reported yesterday.

But what about that grand consensus — “97 percent” — of scientists saying the exact opposite?

Well, economist and legal theoretician David D. Friedman wrote, this week, that one of the most famous citations about the climate change consensus is the result of some, uh, data fudging.

Friedman chased down the origin of that infamous and oft-repeated 97 percent figure through three papers, all available online. Despite the high tone of certainty, the scientists who collated information from surveys of other scientists did not find that “over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.” At best, a huge cohort of these scientists agreed that humans merely contributed to global warming. Very different.

Friedman concluded that the main author responsible for the strong interpretation of weak findings,  John Cook, told “a deliberate lie.”

This scientist’s misrepresentation of “the result of his own research” doesn’t prove that Anthropogenic Global Warming is true or untrue, of course. But it does suggest that the “consensus” so much talked about is shaky indeed.

I began the week talking about our reliance upon experts to gather, analyze and report on information honestly and reliably.

And how horrible it is when they let us down.

The climate change we need is in the culture of academic responsibility.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.