Inspired by the Jr. Senator from Wisconsin

August 31, 2008

…From 1947-57, that is.

I find myself in a rather interesting situation, bordering on a predicament.

I have been reading Reclaiming the American Right, the 1993 work of Justin Raimondo–the somewhat cynical libertarian (much like myself) who, as of right now, is editorial director of antiwar.com.  In this work, he describes the multiple schisms and shifts of American political thinkers–between left and right, republican and democrat, conservative and liberal–from the World Wars to the Cold War.  I feel enlightened and strangely encouraged as he tells the stories of such forgotten “paleo-conservatives” as Garet Garrett, H.L. Mencken (not so much forgotten as misplaced), Frank Chodorov, Albert Jay Nock, and others.  The convergence of the very diverse paths of these great libertarian thinkers is shown to lead to nigh-prophetic understanding of what is to come for the erstwhile Republic, but–to one uninitiated in 1950s political thought–on occasion seems somewhat inconsistent.  Particularly when it comes to their stance on the work of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy.  To someone of my generation and educational level on the subject, Sen. McCarthy is the 20th Century embodiment of everything that is wrong with the idea of such things as the Alien and Sedition Acts–and the more recent manifestations of this train of thought (see Acts of Congress from 10-26-2001, and 12-17-2004).  But Raimondo refers to these so far praiseworthy people as having supported the spirit of what McCarthy was doing, and explains how it makes sense quite convincingly.  I find I agree with his conclusions.

Then, I maintain my positive stance on the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney.  Suffice it to say that I doubt Mr. Clooney and i would agree on much.  So how, with my enlightened view of McCarthy’s campaign, which albeit having strayed from the right path rather early on, seems to have started in a direction consistent with my views, do I support and reccommend this work of a papier-mache political activist actor?  Well, frankly, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.

But that is definitely not the main thing.

In taking on such an issue in the climate of his time, Edward R. Murrow showed a level of courage that, so far as I have yet seen, has since completely vanished from political journalism on the national stage as long as I have been paying attention to it.  Even if the film is as romanticized a perspective as most such films are, the facts speak for themselves.  First of all, Murrow and his See It Now co-creator Fred Friendly literally put their money where their mouths were.  But the most outstanding feature of this stand Mr. Murrow took is its singularity in the history of broadcast journalism.  He warned against the trend he saw:  essentially, giving the people what they want.  He feared that people of any point of view doing what he and his team were doing would be phased out in favor of turning the TV into yet another opiate for the masses.  This was 50 years ago.  I won’t say any more than  this sentence about its immediate contemporary relevance.

So, who is nearest the mark: Raimondo’s heroes, who felt that McCarthy started off well, but lost the plot (while also pointing out the notable ironies and inconsistencies of the Red Scare from the perspective of the government behind it); or the apparently honest, definitely relevant depiction of Murrow and Co., who courageously espoused the belief that the Red Scare tactics were on their best days (to use a cliche I despise) un-American, and other than that, all too reminiscent of the country from which it was claimed the Committee and its allies were preventing infiltration?  The best answer I can give is “Push.”  But to one in my perpetual political predicament, it is a gratifying and edifying experience to ponder upon it.

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Head Start…For Whom?

May 1, 2008

More musings on the subject of education.

I was watching the Education and Information Box (commonly called television) the other day, and two ladies were talking about adoption.  The look they had on their faces when they came to the term “foster home” was one of utter disdain and disgust, as they talked about how so many children need to be “saved from these horrible environments.”  Later the same day, I happened to hear about a group from the local Head Start program touring one of the historic sites near where I live.  For whatever reason, something about hearing “Head Start” connected with the memory of those two ladies and their conversation.

Head Start really strikes me as the poster-child for the failure of modern public education.  The article to which I referred in an earlier post reinforces this line of thinking any time I happen to think it.  How can so many people express disdain for foster care, and then basically expect the educational system to become nothing more than foster care?  It seems a bit ironic to me.  There are a few basic expectations that everyone who sends their children to public schools have:

1.  Disciplinary training–How to behave and comport oneself in a variety of situations.

2.  Education–Of course, formal book-learning is considered an obligatory part of this exercise.

3.  Provision for basic needs–Of which part aren’t schools expected to provide the bulk?

4.  Constant supervision.

If you slightly tweak or weight the order of necessity of these expectations, they are veritably interchangeable between foster care and public schooling.  So, if Dick and Jane are to be handled in the same way that the public assumed Oliver Twist was handled, is it all that surprising when the number of Art-less Dodgers grows?

I might be accused of telling a twice-told tale here, but the example used to point out the overwhelming success of the headstart programme vexes me greatly.  It stresses what the mother was able to do despite having a young child, since head start was there to look after her.  It says nothing about what head start actually did for the child!  Who was given a head start here?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that mother shouldn’t have the opportunity to better herself.  But who is Head Start for?  It just seems like the child is seen as an impediment, and head start (and later, elementary, junior high, etc.) is just a surrogate parent to keep the kid from getting in trouble while the breeders get on with their lives.  There will be no educational reformation until, as Bill Cosby opined at the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, parents become the primary educators.  I can’t stress this enough, so I won’t attempt to.

An Unpleasant Admission

April 16, 2008

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that these United States of America remain the best place in which one could have been given the grace of Providence to reside. Still, I feel the present crises beg a question which most red-blooded Americans would probably just as soon overlook. The Federal government has long been headed in a certain direction. I’m not speaking of the strife between the Republicans and Democrats, or between capitalism and socialism. I simply mean that it has outgrown the definition of government. It “governs” by no means by the consent of the governed; rather, it seems that it does so in spite of the existence of the governed. The interesting socio-political dynamic here is the general response of the governed–or lack thereof–to this unusual situation.

As the outrageous silliness spewed forth by any number of Presidential candidates without equivocation or demand for explanation will show, as the, shall we say, “bi-partisan” voting records of our entrenched legislators do out (if anyone cares to scrutinize), “Washington” first governs itself, and waits for inertia to trickle the consequences of these measures down to the general population. This is why someone making $6 an hour knows nothing of the vast recession we may or may not be amidst, and goes out and gets himself an XBox. The moves made at the top have no notable impact on those at the bottom, as far as the latter are concerned.

State governments are practically counties. Being a Senator means a significant deal more than being a Governor (plus, in most cases, you get to keep the job a good while longer). The Federal government moves on its own, knowing nothing of how it will affect the nation across the board. Then, if it feels the need, it can practically blackmail a state with Federal funds (the idea of this being “taxpayer dollars” is long obsolete) if that state dares to point out that following these mandates would be imprudent from the state’s regional perspective. The only people close to the bottom that are really assisted in any way by the government are those members of whatever happens to be the loudest minority at the time–and usually this “assistance” turns out to be counterproductive…or come with a cost. Something like Don Corleone with Bonasera.

My point is that thinking nationally is a failed experiment. It is good for a time, when there is actually a national threat. But on a day-to-day basis, it is meaningless. What does Washington state know of Louisiana? What does New York City care about San Antonio? Those who wish to reform the national government are fighting an un-winnable battle against a determined, immeasurably larger, fantastically entrenched foe. Look at it this way. The United States is a multinational corporation. The President is the CEO, Congress is the board of directors, the Capitol (and its innumerable outposts) is company HQ. The rest of the country is the sweatshops and factories that keep the blissfully ignorant folks at the top in stockings and gin. It is highly unlikely that the workers at the loading docks will be able to change much in the minds of the people at headquarters. But they can make a concerted effort at their own workplace. That is the only way things will get done, is if the people who know what needs to be done where they are work towards that. On a workaday basis, there is no common goal for people across this country. There is no one “change” that can be made that will suffice for everyone. We in the colonies (I mean, states) are the pagani, the people to whom Rome will pay no benign attention. We have to start fending for ourselves. I don’t necessarily think individualism is the answer. Regional self-reliance is the root of popular sovereignty. Those are two things that we as a nation have left behind, and desperately need to pick back up.

Educational Reformation: A look at the condition of American education

March 26, 2008

The following is the first installment of a work in progress based on my observations of the state of state education. 

Education in America has undergone quite a transformation over the last century or so. Determined men and women have made great sacrifices in the admirable service of making equally effective organized education available to all. But in the last thirty years or so, this crusade for egalitarian education has overcorrected mistakes of the past, and in so doing now finds itself marching in a direction that, while continuing the struggle for uniformity in educational opportunities, causes one to lose sight of the real purpose of education. Education has fallen from, as Sherwood Anderson said, a thing whose “whole object is…to develop the mind”, to Bertrand Russell’s observation of “[O]ne of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.” When a person pledges themselves to the education of the nation’s youth, they are often rapidly disillusioned by the barrage of barriers thrown in their originally ambitious way. The authors of this work hope not only to expose the inconsistencies between the self-proclaimed goal of the educational system in America and its actual products through a series of carefully thought out conclusions based upon observations in their own experiences with that system, but to demonstrate how quickly this can be changed by way of a reinvigo-rated determination of today’s educators to truly educate this nation’s youth.

I.                    The Purpose of Education

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.’

–G.K. Chesterton

The mind of a child is a very malleable thing. Children have no preconceptions from which to form opinions. One of the most evident examples of this in our society is racism. A college student once told of an experience on this subject in an elementary classroom. She called one of the students to the front of the class. On the far-left side of the room was a row with an African-American child, a Japanese-American child, a Hispanic child, and a Caucasian child. She directed the student’s attention to this row, and asked, “Is there anything that stands out to you about any of the kids on that row?” The child immediately answered, “Yes ma’am. The girl in the back has glasses.” The child had no reason or motivation to make any distinctions based on race. To her, the pair of glasses was the most poignant difference among them. Making such distinctions is not something that a child is born with. It is an example of outside influences, learned by observing those in their immediate environment. The most influential environmental influences on a child are their family and teachers.

Regardless of the level of its lasting effects, the formation of a child’s mind is to a very large extent environmental. This means that those persons placed in charge of controlling a child’s environment find themselves in a delicate situation. How does one effectively control a child’s environment without adversely affecting the child’s development? How can a child’s mind be cultivated without being manipulated?

The ultimate answer is not entirely restricting the child’s environment, but setting the pupil up to analytically manage unforeseen circumstances. The child must be prepared to deal with situations out of their control. The basic term for this is “problem-solving”; the best word for it is logic.

For a child’s mind to be prepared to reach its full potential, they must be taught to learn. The best indicator of a child’s educational development is not necessarily the grades achieved. There are far too many examples of students whose test scores are in the highest percentile, yet remain completely unprepared for higher learning—much less the uncontrollable situations of adulthood. The job of an educator is not to top last year’s test scores. It is to inspire within their students a desire to learn, a need to question, and a will to discover.

 

I.                    Education…or Regurgitation?

 

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’

–Aristotle  

The foremost ailment of the contemporary educational system is its ostensible motivation. The proportional nature of the scores at the end of the year to the funding received has triggered a narrow-minded approach to how the students are instructed. The overriding goal is to get the scores up for the sake of the bottom line. The most odious result of this course is the phantom score improvement, meaning that the manner in which the scores are presented are altered so as to cause the same output to appear to be an improvement. This is not a methodology conducive to the intellectual edification of the students.

In the name of these “improved” scores, concepts—whose original source and sole purpose are the proficiency tests at year’s end—are drilled into the minds of these students without opportunity or encouragement for discussion or explanation. Thus are the students taught that what is on the page before them is the only information necessary for a full understanding of the subject, leaving their minds dull and their initiative effectively moot.

True education is not informational indoctrination. It should not be the goal of the school to ingrain a list of perceived facts into the minds of its students. On the contrary, students should be trained to logically prove or disprove presented ideas. Unquestioning acceptance of offered information does not nurture the intellect, nor does it foster the desire to understand. It can be said with some confidence that the typical student does not consider school a rewarding experience. This is not entirely the fault of the student. Nor is lowering expectations by any means an appropriate response to the result of the student’s apathy.

A major mistake made on a wider scale than simply teacher-to-student is the unwritten policy of making scores appear to have improved by lowering the standard. In so doing, the funding might go up, but at the cost of actual educational progress while the last vestiges of motivation on the part of the school-going population are negated. The primary results of this course of action are the disfranchisement of those students who have proven themselves capable, and the stunted development of those whose potential has not yet been realized. In both cases, intellectual development is brought to a halt.

As was best said by the great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Teachers should not teach based upon a test. The tests should be based upon the teaching.  In short, blind determination for increased funding will not solve problems; fully equipping the next generation of problem-solvers will.

That buzzing sound you hear…

March 26, 2008

NOTE: Only slightly less important to me than objective understanding of the reasons for optimism and action when objectively observing the cyclical nature of human history, is sports. Many times, readers will be treated to what may seem to be a stream-of-consciousness breakdown of the state of modern sport from varying levels of backing-away. Since I am starting my blog here catching up with what I’ve already written in various places, there will be a number of such posts in a row. If you are interested, enjoy. If not, don’t let me scare you off with them. Just keep scrolling, I beseech you.

Has been getting louder and louder for three years now. The New Orleans Hornets (I have never, nor will I refer to the OKC portion–nothing against Oklahoma City; we appreciate them giving our team a place to play til we got things straightened out as much as they will be down here, but as for trying to take them entirely…buzz off) have gone from a team which I once wished would have the organizational ethos of the Memphis Grizzlies (seriously, I did….of course that’s when the Icon was running them), to truly one of the top teams in the league. They didn’t do this by buying stars. They did it by putting together a basketball team: getting hard-working team players to start (the oodles of talent therein didn’t hurt), and equally hard-working role players to come off the bench.Chris Paul has practically single-handedly rejuvenated my interest in the NBA. Ever since the Admiral retired, I found myself slipping further and further through apathy to antipathy towards the soulless, vainglorious, bling-infested hip-hop video that the NBA was becoming. To add to the situation, there was the very real possibility–complete with the vociferous endorsement of the head coach–that the Hornets (who, with the Cleveland Cavaliers were one of my top 2 teams during the ’90s) would be headed out of the state. But then I saw a guy who gets triple doubles in points, assists, and STEALS?!? Sounds like someone was actually playing basketball! If MVP actually meant what it means (Most Valuable Player), instead of Flashiest Scorer, Chris would be a no-brainer. Then I hear him on NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO???!!!???

OK, it was as a guest on their quiz show, but he was witty, charming, and a big hit. It was at the 2nd Annual Chris Paul Weekend in his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That weekend, Chris Paul and several other NBA players helped a group of volunteers build a Habitat for Humanity house. He talked about how his parents wouldn’t allow him and his brother to play any sports if they didn’t maintain a 3.0 GPA. An intelligent, hard-working, personable, unbelievably talented NBA player? In this day and age? I’m hooked. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in. Who knows? I might even buy his new shoe.

Then, there’s his back court complement, Peja Stojakovic. He definitely got my attention when he was in Sacramento. First off, other than Sarunas Marcillionas (sp?), he’s the first European player I think of. Secondly, he’s an absolute marksman. He’s like Robert Horry, but every day, and during the regular season, too. David West is one of the most under-rated big men in the game. Damn near averaging a double-double every night out, he is to the front court of this team what CP3 is to the back. Hilton Armstrong is a consistent offensive player, and a force down low defensively. The bench has a great combination of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership. The Hornets are what the future of the NBA should be.

This team is young, talented, and hungry. They work together–on and off the court. And it is this fan’s sincere desire that they stay just the way they are for years to come.

Monetary Policy

March 26, 2008

I recently received an email featuring a picture of the new $1 coins. The subject of the email was the “notable” lack of the motto “In God We Trust.” No “In God We Trust”? What an unthinkable outrage! The venerated declaration, which has been a part of our national currency since the Civil War, and official motto of our country for over 50 years! Is nothing sacred? This bit of lip service that has become a more dignified version of the trite Irving Berlin ditty turned seventh-inning stretch anthem “God Bless America”–overlooked until they have the gall to do away with it. It can hardly be imagined how our forebears could have possibly lived with themselves for years, buying cigarettes, booze, pornography, drugs, judges, etc. without this dusty bit of listless propaganda, ignoring all the evidence of our eyes and ears to the contrary of it?

I almost find it a relief that the charade surrounding this silly little bit of half-hearted hypocrisy has been left behind. “In God We Trust”? I’ll believe it when I see it. A declaration of a supposed national faith with all the substance of a bumper sticker is not something I feel as a tragic loss. It is not for the government to decide in whom the people “Trust.” It is up to the people. The U.S. Mint has no business in that arena. Rather, as the Psalmist says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”

When Children Were Left Behind

March 26, 2008
I was just thumbing through a much-annotated copy of The Closing of the American Mind (How could anyone stand it? No pictures, graphs, or any graphics…I’d wait for the movie, but I can’t see how they could fit in the requisite number of explosions and sex scenes to make it marketable!), and I couldn’t help but notice how far we’ve come from his unbridled cynicism (Didn’t he realize he was in the Reagan administration; the glorious, libertarian utopia that it was?) 21 years ago. All of the language and arguments are so archaic and obsolete now as to seem quaint. For instance, this excerpt:
“The recent education of openness…pays no attention to natural rights or the historical origins of our regime, which are now thought to have
been essentially flawed and regressive. It is progressive and forward-looking. It does not demand fundamental agreement or the abandon-
ment of old or new beliefs in favor of the natural ones. It is open to all kinds of men, all kinds of life-styles, all ideologies. There is no enemy
other than the man who is not open to everything. But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any
longer possible?”

Thank whom-or-whatever it is your creed to tender thanks to that we are no longer dominated socially or otherwise by these forebears of the factinista! The stifling, pejorative oppression of freedom of expression subtlely–though unmistakably–espoused on nigh every page is enough to make any member of our enlightened society weep. But, I suppose it is necessary to have chronicles of past thought availiable to the present generation, that they may realise that, there, but for No Child Left Behind, go we all. The only way I can see myself managing this entire book is by taking it in 10 minute increments, then breaking to listen to podcasts of Sean Hannity’s radio show.