Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Saturday, August 31, 2002

Christian Blogs

Joshua Clayborn's Domain "Joshua Claybourn is a patriot and a gentleman." - Rich Lowry, Editor, National Review. Joshua is a senior at Indiana University and editor of Hoosier Review. Bio is here. He is also the moderator for the "Pundits" section at blogs4God. Recent posts include a link to a wonderful satire on the allegations of graft on the part of that California Governor Gray Davis.

In Between Naps Amy Welborn is a mother of four, wife to writer and editor Michael Dubruiel, and is a writer herself, having been published in Commonweal, Liguorian, First Things, and Writer's Digest - more information is available in her bio. She noticed the Dreher article, too, and reported on how one university president responded to redneck stereotyping.

Eve Tushnet "Conservatism reborn in twisted sisterhood." Eve, according to a very brief bio, is a research assistant at the Manhattan Institute, lives in Washington, DC, has written for the National Catholic Register and the Washington City Paper, and co-founded the Yale Pro-Life League. She recently wrote about an awesome historical site in Krakow, Poland, and has an affinity for obscure but silly movie one-liners - like this and this and this.

Cross-Cultural Reality Shows

CBS is planning an upcoming reality-based TV show, titled The Real Beverly Hillbillies. The show "will chronicle the lives of a rural, lower-middle class family as they move into a luxurious Beverly Hills mansion." Anne Wilson spotted a National Review Online article in which Rod Dreher labels this as a redneck-styled minstrel show. He may have a point; was there really any difference between Dukes of Hazard and Amos N' Andy except for skin color and car chases?

Now Fox is working on a reality show inspired by Green Acres. "While details are still being hammered out, the show will take a rich, upper-class family or individual -- possibly a celebrity -- and move them from a big city to a much more spartan existence, most likely in the South. Cameras will observe as the former socialites, deprived of access to their bank accounts and Beemers, attempt to get a job, buy groceries and fit in with average Americans."

Before I heard about the latter story I had been mulling over my own version of what Fox has in mind, but with a different twist. Take eight tenured leftist professors from Northern and West Coast elite universities and transplant them into a small town in north central Texas, within a two-hour drive of Dallas/Fort Worth. The show will run from mid-May to mid-July. Our intrepid professors will see how small-town folks observe Memorial Day and Independence Day. They will visit a different church each Sunday and a different home Bible study once each week. They will eat at the local diners, read the local newspaper, shop at the local stores, and sit on the front porch and chat with their neighbors. They will be invited over for dinner, watching baseball on TV, playing bridge, etc. They will accompany a group to a NASCAR event at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and while in town they'll visit the Stockyards and eat at that barbecue place where half of the wallspace is blanketed with mounted heads of game animals. I highly recommend the Polish sausage.

Rock the Casbah

Former New York congressman John LeBoutillier posts in his blog Boot's Blasts that certain influential people in Washington want to depose not only Saddam Hussein but also the Saudi royal family.

Friday, August 30, 2002

School and State: Part III

By the 1980s the Woodstock/SDS generation had taken vast command over educational policy, a situation that continues to this day. The Protestant/Catholic disagreements over education during the previous century concerned only a limited number of subjects; the current debates concern a wide array of issues, including:

Separation of Church and State. The most radical viewpoint from the Left regarding "separation" is that all private religious liberty ends where government property begins. This mindset is illustrated by efforts to ban students from such activities as wearing Jesus sweatshirts or Star of David jewelry, saying grace during lunch or snacktime, and praying near flagpoles. This level of extremism is relatively uncommon; even the ACLU recognizes this as religious discrimination. More common among liberals is opposition to such things as religious speech at graduation ceremonies, the posting of the Ten Commandments, and the use of vouchers at parochial schools. Perhaps the greater threat to religious liberty is not what schools censor but what they allow - or mandate.

Sex education. Social conservatives regard premarital sex, especially that between teens, is injurious to developing intimate, secure relationships. (Author Jacob Aranza likens teen sex to "practicing divorce.") The common view among those who teach or set policy regarding sex education is that all consensual sexual activity is liberating (with the exception of, in most cases, sex between adults and minors; a few academics see no inherent problems with that.) Conservatives seek to warn children of the pitfalls of premarital sexuality; the sex ed establishment seeks to defend the Sexual Revolution against all its enemies - traditional sexual ethics, unplanned pregnancy, and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Evolution. This debate started long before the late Carl Sagan learned how to say "billions and billions." There are several positions one can take: teach evolution as fact, teach creationism as fact, teach evolution and creationism as fact (hypothetically, some life forms could have been created while others evolved), teach evolution as science and creationism as religion, teach evolution and creationism alongside each other as theory, teach evolution and creationism alongside each other as bad science (perhaps neither can be proven scientifically), and the proper alternative: offering separate courses from each competing viewpoint.

Affective Education. One of the the earliest post-Woodstock school controversies. The 1970s saw the early introduction of school curricula involving the use of guided imagery (also known as "visualization;" involves using the imagination to manipulate reality) and meditation (the mystic variety that involves emptying the mind to reach "enlightenment"). These activities strongly parallel New Age practices. One brand of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, was taught in some public schools until the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1979 that this was a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Affective education raises other concerns. Guided imagery is sometimes employed to enhance decision making skills, under the crackpot idea that subjective fantasy can ascertain objective knowledge. In many self-esteem classes instructors ask probing questions about students' feelings and beliefs. (Even the IRS doesn't audit our beliefs.) "Values clarification" (moral relativity) is a common ingredient to affective education; this involves students being instructed to assess ethical situations in ethically neutral terms. More information on affective education can be found here. Watchman Fellowship has extensive material on New Age.

Self-esteem. This is actually a subset of affective education. There is a natural human tendency to equate one's worth with one's talents and achievements. One with proper self-esteem says, "I am not good in everything I'd like to be good in, and sometimes I'm disappointed by it, but I never lose sight of my worth as a human being." The fake self-esteem that many educators push seeks to protect students from the disappointments of failure by shielding them from achievement. Grade inflation is the top gun of the self-esteem movement. Assignments are made easier so students won't "feel bad about themselves." Some educators want to abolish valedictorians and salutatorians. Some view honors curricula and magnet schools as "elitist." To quote C. S. Lewis' "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," "'If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me. They've no business to be different. It's undemocratic.'"

Diversity and Tolerance. True diversity means simply that no two individuals or societies are the same. Sometimes being different does not mean being better or worse. Other times it does; some persons or cultures address certain issues more ethically or more practically than others. No humans, and certainly none of the societies they build, perfectly desire or perfectly understand either morality or efficiency. Conflict is inevitable, and it is often fought unfairly. All persons and societies have wronged and have been wronged by each other. Civilization is possible because of tolerance, the ability of people who don't agree on everything to cordially pursue those interests over which they do agree.

To understand the leftist slant on diversity and tolerance, one must understand class warfare doctrine: that entire classes victimize other entire classes, and that each class is inherently victimizer or victim but not both. Politically correct diversity and tolerance seek greater representation and acceptance, respectively, of the victim classes. More women and "minority" teachers are hired and more women and "minority" authors are read. History and social studies classes focus more on the Third World. Students are familiarized with educators' portrayals of certain groups and are urged to feel amicably about people from those groups. Sometimes the "victimizer" classes are simply ignored; other times educators treat them with outright exclusion and intolerance, and broaden the definition of tolerance to include ideological conformity with the self-appointed saviors of the "victim" classes. Western civilization is often downplayed and denigrated. Those teaching tolerance toward gays are usually hostile, implicitly or explicitly, toward the idea that people don't have to like homosexuality to like homosexuals. The idea that entire classes bear collective guilt for the sins of some of its members influences the treatment of race and ethnicity relations.

Social conservatives are outraged as such phenomena become more prevalent in public schools (and colleges, for that matter). They want their children to be aware of their own individuality, think objectively, relate to members of the opposite sex without treating them like toys, learn tact and forgiveness, and (for many) grow closer to God - and they feel that the schools are robbing their children of these things.

The very institution of public education is being questioned for the first time (on a large scale, anyway) since Horace Mann began this experiment in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Once the sole province of libertarians, the demand for the abolition of the public education monopoly has become widespread among conservatives. The educrats, most of whom are movers and shakers of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are fighting tooth and nail to retain their power and the money that comes from it.

The legality of home schooling has been challenged for two or three decades; in some cases educrats argue that only licensed teachers can homeschool; other times they claim that home schools are legally not schools and that all homeschooled children are essentially truants.

The most prominent "school choice" battle these days concerns vouchers. People are longing for immediate relief, and vouchers appear to provide that relief, but these "educational food stamps" are merely a kinder, gentler version of government intrusion on what must be a purely market decision. Vouchers are welfare payments, and government will put strings on such payments (although it often neglects to do so with regard to foreign aid).

The free market is not an impersonal force; it is simply the sum total of all the choices to buy and sell made by a society's individuals. It defines the individual's means to determine how he or she will and will not interact with other individuals - economically, culturally, and otherwise. The free market is the cornerstone of harmonious coexistence between diverse individuals and diverse groups; people are content when they are not forced from engaging in peaceable interactions they desire and forced into dealings they find objectionable. Public education empowers government to arbitrate the trade of information and culture within the schools; it is the enemy of individual liberty and social harmony.

Personal Note: For the sake of space (as if I hadn't taken up enough already), many controversies of public education were left unaddressed. The most important issue, I feel, is its impact on belief systems. To serve everybody, a school must teach those ideas the parent wants taught - the way the parent wants them taught - and must remain silent on those ideas parents find disagreeable. Parts II and III illustrate how this goal is impossible; public educators will either focus deeply on a select grouping of ideas that not everybody wants taught, or they will grant token attention to everybody's ideas. Either way, the system cannot be everything to everybody.

Being born in 1960 and graduating in 1978, one year into popular music's DARK AGES, the educational trends described in this post (except for the matter-of-fact treatment of evolution) were not a part of my school experience. What disappointed me were issues related to academic quality, not anything resembling indoctrination.

For starters, I find it short-sighted that educrats treat teaching about the business world - what different companies and different jobs do - as the task of a trip to the guidance counselor during the 12th grade and not as a part of ongoing education (which I would start as early as junior high). Why should people wait until they're seniors (or college freshmen) to start thinking about their careers?

It always seemed to me that the teaching of American history is way too redundant; no matter what grade I was in, those classes taught the same basic stuff without going into any great depth. The PC crowd thinks we need less Western Civ, ignoring the fact that most of us know little about it. The average American, for instance, knows more about the history of the United Federation of Planets than about the history of Europe.

My other pet peeve is that schools often choose literary reading material that is counterproductive toward inspiring students to like reading. Sure, there's room for challenging reads like Beowulf or 1984 and a few tragedies here and there, but don't go overboard on that stuff. Every reading assignment doesn't have to be a mental strain (Canterbury Tales in the old English), a journey into depression (Catcher in the Rye), or a burdensome bore (The Great Gatsby). I had to read the latter two in high school; it's no wonder I didn't discover my love for reading until my early 20s.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

School and State: Part II

So what happens when people fail to adapt to the presence of public education?

During its early years, the public school system was run by devout Protestants in a Protestant-majority nation. Virtually no Christians of that day compartmentalized academic from moral education - neither do I, but I don't think that means that the same people necessarily have to teach both. The educrats of the mid-1800s could have instituted elective courses for each of the religions, taught by persons not on the public payroll (i.e. unpaid volunteers or church staffers). Or they could have adopted the modern-day practice of allowing privately-led clubs, including religious clubs, to meet on campus after official hours. This would have kept religious involvement under private leadership and private subsidy, and would have opened the door to all forms of religious instruction on campus, thus giving parents a wide selection from which to choose. Instead, everybody in the public schools got a generic Protestant education.

As the Alliance for the Separation of School and State's FAQ page remarks, "Some groups escaped (e.g., Christian Reformed, Seventh Day Adventist, and Catholics); others were small and took their lumps (e.g., Jews, atheists, and Jehovah's Witnesses)." At least in the beginning, the Catholics assumed that if de facto Protestant schools deserved public funds, de jure Catholic schools did as well. Many such requests were denied; fortunately, the Catholic church gave up on the idea and funded their schools privately. Peace between Protestants and Catholics would have proceeded much more slowly (if at all) if the latter had continued a quest for a separate-but-equal Catholic public school system.

The early educrats failed to comprehend a concept described by contributor Adam Young. He wrote of the need to "protect religion and the economy, respectively, from manipulation by the state and its interests." (See also Matthew 6:24) In the US of A, such manipulation manifested itself not so much as misrepresentation but as underrepresentation. The State will always emphasize social stability more than any other issue; everything it offers to us and expects from us (such as funding for the stuff it offers) is done in the name of that cause. In the schools, that meant more time devoted to secular subjects and less time devoted to religion. By the mid-1900s the treatment of Christianity had become so lukewarm that the schools effectively - albeit unintentionally - portrayed the faith as a quaint, innocuous little tradition.

Two manifestations of the "innocuous little tradition" were beginning-of-the-day prayers and Bible reading, from which students could usually opt out. This was not the same as the comprehensive religious teaching of the previous century. This was token treatment of religion, which is worth no more than token treatment of God's name. Prayer and Bible reading are fine in and of themselves, but when instructors lead children in such activities without any expectation of participation and without any effort to explain the greater depth of what is being said and read and why, children tend to perceive this message: this is just a ritual. Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) ruled that teacher-led prayer and Bible reading, respectively, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which, through Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, applies to the states as well as Congress.

The ramifications of these rulings (the latter involving, among others, a certain atheist) were widely misinterpreted by people on all sides of the issue. Opponents perceived this as "taking God out of the schools." These cases should have been presented as shifting religious authority from the schools to churches and private individuals. These parties should have been involved in schools in the ways I had suggested in the second paragraph of this post; instead, they pawned off their responsibility to an entity that didn't treat religion with the same depth and seriousness that they did. On the other hand, many like Madalyn Murray believed that all religious activity, whether led by teachers or students, should be stricken from the schools.

It's no wonder that the '60s generation saw traditional religion as ineffectual fuddy-duddiness - because the ankle-deep religious routine they saw in school every day (and in most churches, for that matter) gave them precisely that impression. The first wave of the "spiritual crisis" (see Tuesday's book review) challenged all things traditional. The second wave of the 1970s saw more of the same - as well as a backlash from those of conservative and libertarian mindsets. But the influence of the mad scientists and thugs of the counterculture was more pervasive. They had successfully conquered, among other things, public education.

The Latest Study With Less-Than-Surprising Findings

Two thirds of the world is rife with corruption.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

School and State: Part I

Should a government, barred from controlling the flow of information through the press to the public at large, be granted the authority to control the flow of information through the schools to the nation's children? Ponder these considerations:

  • No single entity, not even a school board or legislative committee, can possibly know every variety of education that is demanded. Capitalism succeeds because an individual business needs to be familiar only with its market niche, and because the quest to find unmet niches means that eventually the entire spectrum of demand will be filled.
  • No author of instructional material and no school policy maker is 100% correct about all the facts of any given subject. Under competition, different schools will be wrong about different facts; in a monopoly, all schools will be wrong about the same facts.
  • Revenues are coerced through taxation, attendance is coerced through compulsory education laws, and few citizens have the means to seek private-sector schooling alternatives; therefore, economic pressures to improve efficiency and to provide the customer greater product variety is virtually nonexistent. Private firms must sell what the customers want and be able to make a profit or else they die.
  • Government education naturally attracts those who wish to use the power of the state to control which ideas students are exposed to and which ones they are shielded from.

Knowing these facts, one should ask two questions: what is the solution to this problem, and how must people adapt while it still exists?

The answer to the first question is that education must some day be completely privatized. This is not a simple task; many steps need to be taken, and I don't pretend to know them all. I will comment on one popular fixes that the Alliance for the Separation of School and State argues against vehemently, in addition to tax credits and charter schools: vouchers (a list of related articles from various sources can be found here). The point of privatization is to get the government out of education completely; addicting private educators to public funds only extends the government's reach into scholastic information control. Anyone who doubts that government will attach irrational requirements to schools accepting vouchers should take a look at the food stamp program. You can buy all the chips, ice cream, soft drinks, and candy you want with them, but you cannot buy Gatorade; food stamps are designed for the purchase of agricultural food products only, whether they are nutritious or not. If the USDA is not immune to implementing such boneheaded policy, neither is the Department of Education.

Adapting to the existence of public schools means one thing: minimizing the harm that they can do. This is accomplished in part through political lobbying for just education laws. The Feds must be stripped of jurisdiction over schools per the Tenth Amendment. For the sake of decentralizing control over information content, state regulation should be limited to schools' administrative issues. Compulsory education laws must be abolished; don't' worry, the only people who will take advantage of this will be those who want to be able to provide alternate education choices without harassment from government officials who can't tell the difference between homeschooling and truancy. Mandatory standardized testing must be abolished; besides having dubious merit, this impinges on school boards' and individual teachers' flexibility in drafting curricula. Parents must have the right to immediate access to curriculum guidelines, and must be free to pull their children out of entire courses, reading assignments, or special projects as they wish. Public school officials must recognize that students' First Amendment rights to speech, religious expression, and peaceable assembly do not end when they enter government property; any who interfere with those rights must be fired and prosecuted. Public teachers and administrators must not be allowed to use their official duties as a vehicle for proselytizing for any ideology, religious, political, or otherwise; this does not preclude their on-campus-but-off-duty First Amendment rights and does not prevent them from preaching the basic elements of civic morality (don't lie, cheat, steal, assault, or usurp authority) or teaching objectively about various philosophies.

Keeping public schools in check also demands that the private sector provides alternate sources of education. Homeschooling, private schools, and privately-led school clubs are only part of that equation. Children spend a lot of time at school but not all of it. They take part in a vast marketplace of ideas - movies, television, radio, Internet, books, church, the crowd at the local burger hangout, and so on. Those who wish to compete with the educrats should consider all media, not just its most glamorous forms.

Parts II and III will appear Thursday and Friday.

39 Years Ago Today

One of the greatest speeches in American history.

Update: The original link is now dead, and has been replaced with a link to another site with the transcript.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Book Review: Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe

Throughout American history, from the early colonial period to present, changes in cultural attitudes follow a set cyclical pattern. A Civic generation meets a "secular crisis," typically some sort of immediate threat to national survival, and upon success goes on to build lots of physical institutions. An Adaptive generation follows; it admires the Civics and, with strong conformist tendencies, seeks mainly to keep everything running smoothly. This emphasis on external institutions tends to accompany a neglect of the deeper issues of meaning and purpose as they relate to religion, politics, etc. The incoming Idealist generation becomes aware of this. They are full of questions, many of which their elders don't know how to answer ("Don't ask questions, just believe"), so they seek to work them out on their own. Some are inspired geniuses, some are reckless mad scientists, some are totalitarian thugs.

The inevitable ideological divides, plus a side offering of mad scientist social experimentation, creates a highly turbulent social environment in which a Reactive generation grows up. This generation resents the moral perfectionism of the Idealists, who are dissatisfied with this "lost generation" for not turning out the way they were supposed to under their social initiatives. Reactives are highly individualistic and, unlike the security-minded Adaptives, are risk-takers and self-indulgent (sometimes to reckless extremes). As conflicting camps of Idealists polarize the population and the Reactives look after themselves the best way they can, society becomes more unstable. This culminates in a new secular crisis, in which a new Civic generation serves as the footsoldiers. They take their orders from Reactive generals in whom the school of hard knocks has instilled strong survival skills. The homefront is manned by other Reactives, Idealist visionaries who are older but wiser, and Adaptive elder statesmen who are still trying to keep everything running smoothly.

The one time in which the cycle was broken was the Civil War. The secular crisis came early, with Reactives serving as the footsoldiers and Idealists who had not yet learned to temper their ideological perfectionism serving as generals and politicians. As stated in the book, the crisis came early because of the intense unbending political polarization of the Idealists. (Strauss and Howe do not identify the issue that led to secession, thus leading to war: a tax of which the import-dependent South paid 80% and whose funds went almost exclusively toward Northern interests. The only good thing to come out of the war was the end of slavery. Putting the country back together didn't come out of the war; that came with the end of Reconstruction, or some time thereafter.)

The Civil War, as the authors put it, "produced less optimism than a sense of tragedy having run its course." The post-Civil War generation, some of whom grew up within the sounds of gunshots and mortar fire, did not feel empowered to build new stuff like Civics. They became Adaptives. Other Adaptive generations sought peace and security because they want to make sure that the great works of their elder Civics keep running smoothly; this one sought peace and security because they were so traumatized by apocalypse that they never wanted to see anything like that happen ever again. (I suspect that many abuse victims, especially those with weak wills, are much like this.)

The authors do not ask this question, but I've wondered about the possibility of events causing a break in a different part of the cycle. What the coming-of-age Idealists instigate is often called an Awakening, but the term "spiritual crisis" is also accurate. If their elders thoroughly suppress the "revivals," it is conceivable that the budding Idealists could turn into rebellious, alienated Reactives.

For those who are curious, I am a Boomer Idealist who sides with the Reactives on the debate over whose generation contributed more toward wrecking civilization.

Update: NewsMax contributor Diane Alden agrees with my last statement, although I disagree with her on one point: it's not that the counterculture isn't idealistic, just that it entertains bad and/or unrealistic ideals.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Stock Scandals and the Titanic

Martha Stewart has ample reason to complain about being hauled before Congress for her suspect ImClone stock transactions - but not for the whacked-out reasons cited by Matt Drudge's unnamed source. There's two deeper reason why she is being called to Capitol Hill and investment villains of the past like Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky (if memory serves) were not. First, Congress has been all too eager to interject itself into ongoing investigations within the jurisdictions of Executive Branch regulatory and law enforcement agencies, at times resulting in de facto obstruction of justice.

Second, the inquisition was well under way by the time Martha Stewart got caught in its tide. The Democrats, to whom she donated $125,000 in soft money last year, started these proceedings in search of a new Whitewater Travel Office scandal Chinese campaign funding scandal Watergate to pin on George W. Bush. All Congressindividuals got in on the act because a) they don't want to look soft on white-collar crime, especially during an election year, and b) members of each party think that members of the other party contributed to the scandals somehow.

Legislatures should not be allowed to participate in investigations of criminal or civil liability, except as witnesses (or defendants). Separation of powers grants the authority to enforce the law to the Executive Branch, not the Legislative. Also, Congress' impartiality - and effectiveness - is highly suspect.

The official behavior regarding the RMS Titanic is quite instructive. After the accident, inquests were held in both the United States and Great Britain. (One should note that the United States has absolutely no jurisdiction over maritime disasters involving foreign registry vessels in international waters.) In America, Senate hearings were spearheaded by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan), a progressive who despised big business and viewed J. P. Morgan as the corporate Great Satan. He was looking for (rich) people to blame and regulations to render iceberg-related deaths virtually impossible. The fact that the White Star line was owned by Morgan gave him extra incentive.

Senator Smith waited at the dock when the Cunard liner Carpathia arrived with survivors, and barged into the stateroom of J. Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of White Star, to summon him to a hearing to be held the next day. He bullied several witnesses, including Ismay. He (with much popular support) resented the fact that Ismay chose to save his own skin and board a lifeboat, under the assumption that a CEO is obligated to go down with the ship along with its captain. (Contrary to the urban legend that has been preserved in every single Titanic film, Ismay was the only person on deck within sight when he boarded "collapsible" lifeboat C, and contrary to James Cameron's revisionist history, the lifeboat had 27 mostly-third-class women and children, and even with Ismay, a W. E. Carter, four apparent stowaways, and six crewmen, it still had room for 8 more people.) The worst of Smith's behavior, as described in an excellent article written by Stephen Cox for Liberty magazine, involved the pursuit of wild conspiracy theories:

But to Senator Smith, the real issue remained that of corporate guilt - in many possible forms. He demanded evidence that White Star officials had not tried to fool the public into believing that Titanic had survived, so that they could try to reinsure her. He demanded stockholders' records from the Morgan holding company. He demanded that Dow, Jones furnish complete information on the (minor) fluctuations of the company's stock subsequent to the disaster. He demanded to know how Dow, Jones handled the news.

Smith even pursued the Marconi Company, whose wireless operators had saved the surviving passengers by summoning Carpathia's aid. He subjected company officials, among them the great Guglielmo Marconi himself, to tireless and almost incredibly hostile questioning. He wanted to know whether they had connived with Ismay or White Star to block the news of Titanic's fate. He also attempted to arouse public indignation about the help that Marconi officials had given Carpathia's operator, and the surviving Titanic operator, to sell their personal reminiscences to the New York Times.

Contrast Smith to Charles Bigham, Lord Mersey, who oversaw the inquest in Britain. That inquest was conducted not by Parliament but by the British Board of Trade. Lord Mersey was more interested in seeking information rather than pointing fingers of blame, actively avoiding the latter. He was not averse to increasing safety regulations, but he approached the matter skeptically, insisting that such regulations be well thought out. Cox illustrated his sober approach:

Along the way, he amassed twice as much evidence as Senator Smith, although he was constantly trying to exclude irrelevant or unhelpful information. He was reluctant, for example, to summon passengers to testify, thinking that they would provide a less educated view of issues that crew members and technical experts had already developed. For Lord Mersey and the Attorney-General, Ismay was not a high priority. They wanted to know how the Titanic was built, what happened in her engine room, how hard it was to reach her boat deck, what risks were involved in launching the boats, what risks were run in the whole affair. Mersey did not know if rules could reduce such risks; he meant to find out.

The moral here is that wherever possible, all efforts must be undertaken to ensure that investigations of misconduct, criminal or otherwise, are entrusted to disinterested parties. Lord Mersey had nothing to gain or lose from the findings of the British Board of Trade inquest. Senator McCarthy Smith, on the other hand, had the opportunity to get his legislation passed and to wreak vengeance against people he doesn't like depending on how the Senate hearings proceeded. Our courts make sure that people with no vested interest in a case serve on a jury. The same logic should be applied to picking investigators.

Complete transcripts of the American and British inquests can be found here.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Is That a Copy of the Fourth Amendment In Your Pocket, Or Are You Unhappy to Be Searched By Me?

A must for your next air trip.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

Matt Drudge reported a few days ago that Martha Stewart thinks the Republicans are out to get her. A "Stewart intimate" is reported as saying:

"Martha told me that she believes they are doing the very same thing to her, they did to President Clinton. What Ken Starr did. She believes it is nothing short of a witch hunt! They are even digging into her private e-mails! They are demanding to know who she's dated. Martha said to me, 'Can you believe they want to know who I'm dating?' Republicans on Capitol Hill are probing her sex life!"

Message to Martha Stewart: If this "Stewart intimate" is telling the truth, then you're a loony. Who are you? You're a billionaire interior decorator with an unnatural obsession with pastels and some questionable financial dealings. There's a reason why you're not being targeted by a political witch hunt: you don't matter politically. You do give big bucks to the Democratic party, but so do a lot of other people, and very few of them are being pursued for breaking securities laws. You're being targeted because there's apparent evidence that you're a crook. And nobody cares about your sex life. You haven't been accused of raping and molesting people like Bill Clinton has. Get a life.

Update: Martha Stewart publicly denies the claims of Matt Drudge's unnamed source, so states Jim Greenwood in an interview excerpt (don't remember the source) played on Matt Drudge's radio show tonight. Either she's lying or the source is. Her motivations for such are obvious: covering up some embarrassing remarks. But what of the "Stewart intimate?" The only three I can think of are: 1) to make Martha Stewart look like a fool; 2) to make Matt Drudge look like a fool; 3) to deflect attention from the real issues of insider trading charges. Greenwood, by the way, is a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Investment Subcommittee that is probing the ImClone affair.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

One Politician Who Doesn't Trust Citizens With Weapons

Four years ago today, Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes at a camp in Afghanistan not proven to be occupied by al-Qaeda forces, and at a medicine factory in Sudan not proven to be producing biological or chemical munitions for al-Qaeda.

A Primer on the Second Amendment

A few days ago, InstaPundit posted this mention of an analysis of the Second Amendment by Nelson Lund, a professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law. It's a lengthy read, but worth it. The following addresses briefly two critical elements of the amendment:

The people. The argument that the amendment grants states the right to organize militias assumes that in the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," "the people" refers to states. This ignores the fact that the Constitution never uses the phrase "the people" to refer to states; the Tenth Amendment specifically regards "the States" and "the people" as two separate entities.

The militia. Article 1, Section 8 grants Congress, not the states, the authority to call forth and arm the militia - and the Constitution never grants the states authority that is also granted to the federal government. Dr. Lund makes three points with regard to the context of the "militia clause" (emphasis in original):

  1. It emphatically does not say that it protects the right of the militia to keep and bear arms.
  2. Nor does the Second Amendment say that the people's right to arms is sufficient to establish a well regulated militia, or that a well regulated militia is sufficient for the security of a free state.
  3. Nor does the Second Amendment say that the right of the people to keep and bears arms is protected only to the extent that such a right fosters a well regulated militia or the security of a free state.

Two philosophical observations on the subject are worth airing, the first of which is my own. I wrote the following in response to a Tanya Metaksa column on FrontPage Magazine. Unfortunately, this was prior to the redesign of the website; the original reader letters are either not preserved or are sitting on a backup disk in David Horowitz's closet.

Our nation is a representative republic. That means that the highest civil authority is the citizenry, not the government; the latter is simply the former's delegated agent for carrying out functions enumerated by law. One who has authority does not lose any of that authority once it is delegated. Government's power to tax descends from our right to charge fees for our services. Individuals are free to form private associations and to institute rules for members; thus the Founders could legitimately create the United States of America, and their successors can legitimately enact laws consistent with the nation's charter - the Constitution. And the government can raise armies and navies and declare war because the individual has the authority to use deadly force to counter deadly threats against one's self or one's neighbor.

The other is a statement from author L. Neil Smith, who believes that the one issue that ultimately defines a politician guns and gun ownership. The key passage is this (emphasis in original):

"What his attitude - toward your ownership and use of weapons - conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn't trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him? If he doesn't want you to have the means of defending your life, do you want him in a position to control it?"

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Follow The Money

What do these four men have in common?

  • Abdurahman Alamoudi, founder of the American Muslim Council and President of the American Muslim Foundation
  • Mohamed S. Omeish, Vice-President of the American Muslim Foundation and President of the Success Foundation
  • Ahmed Totonji, Vice-President of the International Institute for Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia
  • Jamal Barzinji, Manager of MarJac Investments in Herndon, Virginia

These men are named as defendants in Burnett v. al Baraka Investment and Dev. Corp., a civil lawsuit filed by survivors of 9/11 victims against parties charged with funding or otherwise abetting the 19 hijackers. As stated in the complaint, "The financial resources and support network of these Defendants – charities, banks, and individual financiers – are what allowed the attacks of September 11, 2001 to occur." Alamoudi vocally sympathizes with Hamas and Hezbollah and has ties with the former (see also here). The International Institute for Islamic Thought, Marjac Investments, and the Success Foundation were among the 14 locations raided on March 20 by Operation Green Quest, the Treasury Department's counterterrorism financial task force.

These men also made cash donations to the Congressional reelection campaign of Georgia Democrat Cynthia McKinney. Barzinji gave a $500 donation on Spetember 26. Alamoudi, Totonji, and Omeish gave $2000, $1000, and $500, respectively - all on September 11.

More information about Cynthia McKinney can be found at It has a page devoted to donations from terror-linked Muslims and another with a complete list of the defendants of Burnett v. al Baraka Investment and Dev. Corp.

Update: Georgia's 4th Congressional District doesn't have Cynthia McKinney to kick around any more.

Friday, August 16, 2002

If The Jackboot Fits

In the previous post I made the statement that the President "fitted airport security with jackboots." Before I go further, a vocabulary lesson is in order:

Jackbootery (n.) - The act of engaging in unconstitutional searches, seizures, assaults, and destruction of property by government agents.

Over the years agents of various federal agencies have overstepped their constitutional restrictions, particularly the Fourth Amendment ban on warrantless searches and the Fifth Amendment ban on property seizure without due process of law or without just compensation. These protections exist for a reason: so that government agencies can't take stuff from citizens in secret, can't keep stuff they're not supposed to have, and can't force citizens to sell the government their property at below market rates.

Agents from virtually every federal law enforcement agency have conducted warrantless searches. One notable incident involved the Secret Service and Steve Jackson Games based in Austin, Texas. IRS auditors and state child protection services workers rarely if ever show up with warrants. The DEA often takes property from people suspected but not convicted of drug crimes, and such people must go through costly procedures to retrieve their property. As reported by Reason Magazine, the Coast Guard routinely conducts random searches of fishing vessels for drugs without warrants and without compensating the owners when the catch of the day rots. The EPA seizes or forces the sale of private property that endangered species and the non-endangered spotted owl are proven or rumored to visit. Infra-red video suggests that Branch Davidians attempting to flee the burning compound were fired upon by government forces. Cameraman Anthony Zumbado claims that he was assaulted during the Elian Gonzalez raid. In most cases such abuses occur not because people at the top want these things to happen but because punishment of such offenses is lax; less punishment equals more crime.

Airport security has always conducted warrantless searches, but it could legally get away with it because, until recently, it was operated privately. Now that it has been federalized, the only way that baggage searches can be made legit is if a sign outside the receiving area stating "Everybody is subject to search" and notarized by a judge can legally constitutes a legal warrant. Passengers have had their Fifth Amendment rights by having small items like nail clippers taken from them and discarded without any compensation. Neal Boortz has logged many airport security abuses in his NewsMax columns, including the theft of cash from a purse at Atlanta Hartsfield and the apparent attempted theft of a passenger's credit card at LAX. And now complaints are pouring in about sexual harassment, one such incident involving blogger Laura Crane.

Blogger Gary Leff has been criticizing post-9/11 air transportation policy for a while and is now instigating an "Impeach Mineta" campaign, complete with bumper sticker. This post cites fiscal mismanagement and an incredibly outrageous quote from the Transportation Secretary: "[W]e will strip-search everyone, including pilots, before this is over and if they don't like it we have a nice jail cell for them." Glenn Reynolds says that the Laura Crane incident "was the final straw leading to open calls for his impeachment."

Mineta's quote is sufficient grounds for Bush to fire him. Unfortunately, fiscal mismanagement hasn't been considered grounds for impeachment for several generations at least. (Otherwise, we could impeach everybody in Congress except Ron Paul for looting Social Security. Is that a good plan for installing the first Libertarian Speaker of the House or what, Jay?) Mineta can't be held legally accountable for the thefts and assaults - but he can be for refusing to punish those screeners who committed crimes since airport security was federalized. If he does nothing, Norman Mineta will go down in history as the Cardinal Bernard Law of the Transportation Department.

I guess I can forget about getting any White House invitations for a while :-)

Thursday, August 15, 2002

The Tones In Washington

George W. Bush promised that he would "change the tone in Washington." Evidently the President (and the vast majority of elected Republicans) are unaware that there are three tones in Washington. When politicians and pundits talk about the "tone," they are referring to emotionally overheated political discourse. This bickering comes in two very different forms however: honest but mean-spirited disagreement, and lying, mean-spirited demagoguery. The former comes from all corners of the political spectrum. With some notable exceptions, most of the latter comes from the Democrat leadership. , as illustrated by these examples:

  • Bill Clinton's claim that the 1980s represented "the worst economy in 50 years." I don't know about the past fifty (prior to 1992, when Clinton made the remark), but I can pinpoint the worst economy of my lifetime (born 11-5-60) - the 1970s. See what happens when we elect "moderate" presidents?

  • The Gingrich Congress proposed increases in the budgets for both the school lunch program and Medicare. Somehow the Democrats rationalized that having the states administer the former entitlement program (even with more federal funds available) and that spending more on the latter - but not as much as originally budgeted - constitutes "spending cuts."

  • "It's not 'spic' or 'nigger' anymore. They [Republicans] say, 'Let's cut taxes.' " - Rep. Charles Rangel

  • Ann Coulter says that some people call Tom DeLay the "Torquemada of Texas." (Who's killed more Jews - DeLay or Arafat? And in whose party are Arafat's American sycophants concentrated?)

  • Any given broadcast of "Politically Correct Incorrect."

  • In one of the ugliest campaign ads in American history, James Byrd's daughter states, "So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again." (Two of the killers got the death penalty and one got life. How could these guys possibly get punished worse? All three could get the needle, but most of those who lobby for hate crime legislation despise capital punishment.)

  • Bush is blamed for Enron shenanigans that occurred during the Clinton administration, some of which received government loans, including this now-defunct power plant in India. As of last February, Enron still owed $453 million to the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and $512 million to the Export-Import Bank. Your tax dollars at work.

The third tone is what I call the Vast Right-Wing Complacency. Note to Hillary: the right wing couldn't conspire against a hot dog stand. Okay, so every great once in a while they can - but not often. The post-1994 Republican Congress managed to make a little progress toward reform, even getting Clinton to sign a capital gains tax cut, but everything fell apart after the '95 budget standoff. The Dems succeeded in convincing the people that the Republicans shutting down a lot of government functions (when in fact Clinton did) and that the shutdown was an overall bad thing. From 1996 on, the GOP could have fought for major reforms that the Dem leadership would never support and use that as a foundation for an aggressive "we're trying to make your lives better but they're not letting us" campaign. Instead they played softball, settling for stuff they could get past the veto pen. Since then, more and more hope-robbed conservatives have been staying home on Election Day.

And the Bush administration is showing no signs of inspiring their return. It's bad enough that he fitted airport security with jackboots and appointed a Secretary of State who is only half-aware of who our enemies are. But what seems to enrage people the most is his lack of willingness to fight his political opposition. Andy Card's comment at the end of the Hannity interview (see previous post) is very instructive: "[I]t's a great tendency in politics to want to go back and play the blame game. And that's not what this president's about." It is the job of every politician to play the blame game. Any time an office holder fails to carry out his or her official duties, abuses his or her office, voices support for bad policy, or lies about his or her own (or other people's) political activities and political ideology, responsible politicians publicly condemn such misdeeds. Criticism can be dished out without vitriol, and when it is dished out the person doing so should try to end on a note of optimism. Tell the people how they benefit when the office holder does his or her job or doesn't abuse it. Tell them what policies will work after slamming the one's that don't. Call a liar a liar, tell the truth, and explain how knowing the difference affects the public.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Paul O'Neill Weasels Out of Sean Hannity Interview

While driving to work last night I caught part of the Sean Hannity's radio talk show. The show is taped during the day and, at least locally, is aired from 8-11 PM. Hannity interviewed White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. After asking a pointed question, O'Neill hung up on the host and Card made a comment that was cut off in mid-sentence; whether the line was cut off by Hannity's producer accidentally or at Card's end accidentally or intentionally is uncertain.

The source of the following transcript excerpt is a NewsMax story on the incident:

HANNITY: Let me ask you one last question before you go. Robert Rubin, one of your predecessors, made a call to Peter Fischer, who works for you, and asked Fischer to intervene with the independent credit rating agencies to help Enron's credit rating stay artificially high.

Do you know anything else about this call - and whether Rubin or one of his associates made any other calls to your department? And what do you think of Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin refusing to call Rubin to testify and explain his call to your department?

O'NEILL: Sean, I've got to go do another interview.

HANNITY: You can't answer that question?

O'NEILL: Talk to you again. Thanks. Bye.

HANNITY: You want to answer that, Andy?

CARD: Well, you know, it's a great tendency in politics to want to go back and play the blame game. And that's not what this president's about. He's looking for ... (line goes dead)

HANNITY: Yeah, you there? I guess we just got cut off. (To producer) Did you hit the wrong line? You did? I guess we just lost them. Alright, well. Just when I'm getting to the good stuff. Don't you hate that. It's driving me nuts. Maybe if we can get them back, we'll try.

Neither of the White House officials called back.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Muhammar Gadaffi: International Man of Terror

Doctor Gadaffi Evil photo DrGadaffi.jpg
The above photo was taken by yours truly at Gadaffi's bunker in Tripoli during a meeting of the Bilderburgers at a Steak and Ale in Harare while on vacation, and emailed to Vegard Valberg from my current undisclosed location. He posted this report on Gadaffi's recent exploits in Zimbabwe, and an update in which the photo appears.

Update: The image is now on my own server.

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Saturday, August 10, 2002

Kodak Moment

Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit fame has a question regarding this picture. Whatever the answer, at least our soldiers will know where to aim.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Peace In Our Time

NewsMax contributor Diane Alden has a plan.

Who Would Tiger Woods Be Able to Vote For?

Samizdata linked this story about electoral apartheid in Nottingham, England.

"The New Deal for Communities (NDC) in Nottingham is electing new members to its board in October, but voters are allowed to vote only for a candidate from the same ethnic background...It will ensure a white, black and Asian representative is elected, with the fourth member decided on a 'free' vote."

Does this mean that the NDC officially recognizes Arabs, Turks, Indians, and Chinese as being part of the same ethnicity?

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Walter Williams discusses the idea of secession. He mentions an organization called the Free State Project, which states as its mission:

The Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S. to secure there a free society. We will accomplish this by first reforming state law, opting out of federal mandates, and finally negotiating directly with the federal government for appropriate political autonomy. We will be a community of freedom-loving individuals and families, and create a shining example of liberty for the rest of the nation and the world.

FSP doesn't appear to be talking about outright secession, but it certainly wants to take back the Tenth Amendment.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Angry Parent Syndrome

Speaking of schools, the latest issue of the EIA Communiqué reports the remarks of attorney James G. Middlebrooks. At the annual conference of the National School Boards Association last spring, he spoke of a phenomenon he termed "Angry Parent Syndrome." "Public education is viewed as just another commodity. People have a consumer mentality and have learned to get what they want by pounding on the table...some parents seem out of touch with objective reality, and no amount of placating will ever satisfy them."

Two comments:

1) Middlebrooks' comments convey this message to parents: what we do with your children is our business and not yours, so sit down and shut up.

2) If parents "learned to get what they want by pounding on the table," perhaps they did so by observing the way teachers' unions bargain for pay raises.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Fight Back!

In his latest column, NewsMax contributor Neal Boortz raises an issue of immediate concern. For a number of years some elementary schools have been requiring students to hand over all of their school supplies bought with their parents' money to be placed in a box to be shared by all students. If those of y'all who have elementary-age children find this objectionable, then take action. First, find out if your school has this policy. If not, then you're in the clear. Otherwise, band together with other parents and protest. Demand that school officials refrain from imposing a tax (that's what this school supply confiscation really is) that they have no legal authority to impose. Give your child a note stating that you do not give the school permission to confiscate the school supplies you bought for your child. Don't let school officials walk all over your property rights.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Old Blog, New Name

The World After WTC is now known as Bjørn Stærk blog.

Friday, August 02, 2002

What Saddam Really Wants... for the US to refrain from bombing Iraq. Evidently that's why he's inviting weapons inspectors to drop in on his country. Memo to the White House: what we need are not pre-announced overt UN inspectors but unannounced covert CIA inspectors. What kind of idiot expects someone to enter Iraq with Saddam Hussein's knowledge and expect to find one microgram's worth of weapons of mass destruction? Saddam is a murderous thug. Treat him like one.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

What the Palestinians Really Want

This slideshow, courtesy of FrontPage Magazine, explains the heart of the current conflict in Israel.

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