Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just surfing I

Have you heard of Some very ... really ... um ... creative ... er ... photos of women in extremely strange clothes.

Pournelle on Vietnam and Iraq

Some good stuff on Jerry Pournelle's site: a compare-and-contrast essay on Vietnam and Iraq. From the essay:
Viet Nam fell, not because we turned over operations to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), but because the Democratic Congress in 1975 smelled blood in the water and turn on Nixon and all his works; by denying ARVN support in the face of a Russian supplied armored army as large as the one lost in 1972, the Democrats assured North Viet Nam of victory, and we got the shameful scenes of the helicopters leaving Saigon. Democrats can all be proud of that: it was their war from Kennedy through Johnson, and their loss in 1975 when they voted the ARVN 20 cartridges and 2 grenades per man with no US air support -- to face a Russian supplied armored army. Had the US responded in 1975 as they did in 1972, Saigon would still be Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City. And the Boat People would not have begun their tragic voyages. So it goes.

And now for something completely different I

Could someone explain this to me? It's a group of pictures taken on Oct. 13th of this year at Boise State University. The event was called "The Bra Project." What does this mean, eh, Precious?

I pray that the President gives this speech

James Q. Wilson, professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, has written a speech that President Bush should deliver. It appeared in the weekend's Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
We have created a balance of power in the Middle East in which no regime can easily threaten any other. In doing this, we and our allies have followed a long tradition: We worked to prevent Imperial Germany from dominating Europe in 1914, Hitler from doing the same in 1940, and the Soviet Union from doing this in 1945. Now we are doing it in the Middle East.

And we are winning. Soon Iraqi forces will be able to maintain order in the few hot spots that still exist in Iraq. We will stay the course until they are ready. We made no mistake ending Saddam's rule. We have brought not only freedom to Iraq, but progress to most of the Middle East. America should be proud of what it has accomplished. America will not cut and run until the Iraqis can manage their own security, and that will happen soon.

Now this is more like it!

For those of you wondering whether any Democrat Congresscritter has a lick of sense about Iraq, I give you Senator Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut. His piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal says it exactly right. An excerpt:
Nationwide, American military leaders estimate that about one-third of the approximately 100,000 members of the Iraqi military are able to "lead the fight" themselves with logistical support from the U.S., and that that number should double by next year. If that happens, American military forces could begin a drawdown in numbers proportional to the increasing self-sufficiency of the Iraqi forces in 2006. If all goes well, I believe we can have a much smaller American military presence there by the end of 2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our presence will need to be significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.

The economic reconstruction of Iraq has gone slower than it should have, and too much money has been wasted or stolen. Ambassador Khalilzad is now implementing reform that has worked in Afghanistan--Provincial Reconstruction Teams, composed of American economic and political experts, working in partnership in each of Iraq's 18 provinces with its elected leadership, civil service and the private sector. That is the "build" part of the "clear, hold and build" strategy, and so is the work American and international teams are doing to professionalize national and provincial governmental agencies in Iraq.

These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on the ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about their future--and why the American people should be, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gad! Ted Turner on a roll

I guess if a guy promises to give a billion simoleons to the United Nations we oughta listen to him at least a little. But it's so painful to listen to him! Today he gave the 141st Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Here is some of what he had to say:
Turner said the situation in Iraq is serious but not hopeless. He raised concerns about global overpopulation, poverty and hunger.

He also called for nuclear disarmament.

He said the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on a "hair trigger." He said if he were in charge – making it clear he wasn't and never would be – "we'd be rid of them."

Just like that, eh? I wonder what the Russians will have to say about it? Say! Maybe a well-timed contribution to Vladimir Putin's re-election fund would grease the wheels of disarmament!
He warned that a nuclear war could "kill everything on the planet" and said it could take place in an afternoon.

Well! That was – how shall I put it? – incisive? Pithy? Cogent? Nah! Sophomoric, mundane, and puerile.
Turner said he was afraid someone in power could make the mistake to launch a nuclear war, including President Bush, based on his previous decisions.

"You have to question ... the president on a lot of decisions he's made," Turner said. "He might just think launching those weapons would be a good thing to do. ... He thought Iraq was."

He also has a firm grip on logic: if Bush thought going to war in Iraq was a good idea, he could launch a nuclear strike because that's a good idea. Oh, my word!
Turner said war is an outdated form of diplomacy that has stopped working.

"You would think that we would have learned that in Vietnam," he said.

Need I say more? Clausewitz just had the wrong attitude! Of course, he never experienced Vietnam, which, as everyone knows, is the most important example of war that there has ever been or ever will be.
Turner also said the authority of superpowers of tomorrow will be derived from education, health care, and science and technology. He encouraged the United States to focus it energies on those areas.

And to top it all off, the "authority" of the super powers will be derived from health care. I'm surprised that he forgot to mention day care!

I'm sorry for posting this. I see the error of my ways. I will never post another comment from the pusillanimous Ted Turner ever again.

Are Wives Necessary?

I recommend that you read this piece by James Pinkerton at It delves into the modern-day battle of the sexes as analyzed by Maureen Dowd, Hugh Hefner, and Camille Paglia. My favorite quote from Paglia that Pinkerton cites is:
If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

Pinkerton's main thrust is that current sexual mores will lead to a decline in the population of the West:
Now it's time for some additional leadership; social incentives need to be shifted so that women are encouraged to have more children. Since women vote, these encouragements need to be in the form of carrots, not sticks. Because, of course, the biggest stick -- the looming Death of the West -- should speak loudly to all of us.

Religion, equality, and liberalism

I have had occasion more than once to recommend highly Jerry Pournelle's excellent web site, Over the weekend there was an email exchange featuring one of Jerry's readers.
Faith of our Fathers revisited

Dr. Pournelle, When I spoke of the "faith of our fathers," I wasn't harkening back to the culture of the Thirty Years War. I was referring to the very strong but moderated Christianity that existed in this country in various forms until the post WW2 era. My older relatives saw what I am describing as a sort of "main street and public square" faith. I am willing to speculate that that sort of faith would provide our society with the courage and identification it needs to face the current realities.

In my earlier post I did not mean to convey that I desired a crusade: just a motivated people engaged in a competent active defense. I think it would help if our citizenry saw their nation as worth defending on every level. Faith and culture can play a role in that. I think a large number of our citizenry still wish to see our nation defended on every level including culturally; arguably a larger percentage of the more secular French and other Euros seem not to care about defending theirs.

I would like to see active border security and military force deployed according to hard military realities and goals. I think nation building in regions with no or at least very limited interest in democratization is a waste of our troops' lives. I also think such stratagems are born of overly secular minds that have not a clue about the real motivations inherent in faith and culture.

Regards, Paul D. Perry Milford, Texas

I understood what you meant, and I agree. But when I was young there were no public ceremonies without an invocation and a benediction, usually both with one by a Roman Catholic and the other by a Protestant Minister. For sufficiently important events there would usually be a rabbi as well. We paid public attention and deference to "Divine Providence" and saw the Hand of God in our works.

The courts in the name of liberalism have thrown all that out. Soon after of course goes most of civility: again I refer people to the Drama of Atheist Humanism, and where it has always led. Yes, there are highly ethical atheists. Some of them tend to militancy, at least among their friends. Marvin Minsky is a great example. But The Drama of Atheist Humanism still plays out in a different way because for every Minsky there will be two Trotsky's and a Stalin.

Today's liberal establishment makes war on religion, which is odd, because the roots of liberalism are in religion. The assumption of human equality makes sense only in religious terms -- surely few of you feel equal to the drooling idiot who camps on your doorstep and shakes the paper cup at you asking for change? Some see the Image of Christ, but that is not a rationalist or materialist position. Some see "But for the Grace of God there go I," but again that is not a rationalist position. And some think thoughts of personal superiority rather than thankfulness for grace. But what rationalist reductionist can see an equal, who ought to have all the rights of citizenship including the vote (which he would sell for a shot of hootch or a line of cocaine)?

But without that assumption of equality, liberalism is in big trouble. As we see: although today's liberals profess a kind of equality in their words, their actions show they believe themselves Enlightened, with a mission to minister to the Benighted. But "minister to" more an more translates to "lord it over."

The Ancien Regime would have none of this equality. Lords were born superior; if well brought up, they had a sense of honor and duty as befitted those chosen. Some became evil. Some purported to reject most of their heritage, but there remained something about them -- see the life of Byron, who except for the doctors who bled him to death might well have become King of Greece. Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsy was certainly idle rich, but he had his place in that ordered world that is gone and may not return until generations of tyrants and demagogues teach us that there were worse things. Under the old regimes those of great merit could still rise; those with no merit but great ambition born low could still feel that there were reasons other than their own inadequacy that held them back.

For that is one of the real frights of the egalitarian state with ruthless competition and genuinely equal opportunity: it is pitiless toward who had their chance and failed because there is no excuse for failure.

And there remains the ceaseless striving, with no peaceful end: is it any wonder that bureaucrats form feudal organizations and effectively end the striving and competition? Is it any wonder that the rise of the modern egalitarian state has produced the rise of bureaucracy and rule by bureaucracy?

Enough. More another time. Jerry Pournelle.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An 'independent' viewpoint on politics

In an e-mail group I belong to, a liberal friend of mine posted a link to a page on The Moderate Independent site, where the motto is “Not left, not right, just right.”

I read the linked piece titled “Inside the Fall of the Democratic and Republican Parties.” What follows are some excerpts and my comments:
Notice there is nothing about principles in this. There is nothing resembling confidence. There is nothing resembling boldness. There is only self-interest and the wanting to take advantage of a power structure that has been set in place and is going to work to their personal advantage.
I wonder what this guy would think of Feingold?
And so when, in the early 1990's, the Republican Party, under the initiative of George H. W. Bush, began assembling a lying propaganda network like the ones the CIA Bush formerly led has used around the world, the Republicans felt not disgust but at last some hope. While they knew morally that lying was wrong, and they knew that one-side-promoting propaganda was an un-American tool that never should be trusted - was the standard implement of evil stalwarts like the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein - their desperation give a Machiavellian embrace to their only hope.
Florid, yet entertaining!
And while Limbaugh and Gingrich were the first gleam of light at the end of a very long tunnel for Republicans, many were still not ready to accept lying and intentionally misleading propaganda.
As opposed to unintentionally misleading propaganda?
Clinton won re-election handily
And, whaddaya know? With less than 50% of the popular vote!
And there waiting for them were the people they had dubbed hateful, disgusting, and undesirable just a few years back, the new breed of Soviet/Nazi-emulating Limbaugh/Gingrich Republican.
I'll just let this one go.
...[Governor Schwarzenegger's] documented past of nude posing, drug use, orgies, and lechery
I thought that Dems didn't mind these things...
America's two major political parties have both fallen into complete demise. The Democrats have entirely lost their principles and ability to stand up for anything at all, standing only for their personal political ambitions; and the Republicans have lost their moral code, sold their souls for the sake of political wants, abandoned principleand conscience for the sake of political expediency.
Can't argue with this too much. It's clear that the author wishes that the Dems would straighten up and fly right, so I can't really accept the “independent” part of his moniker.

I checked out another piece of his, "PAY ATTENTION TO RUSSIA, DAMMIT!" I found this interesting:
President Bush's inept, naïve foreign policy was allowing President Putin of Russia to play our nation and the world and take bold steps, rolling back human rights and democratic reforms and consolidating power and wealth in his hands.
I read through the article looking for what the author felt would be the right thing to do. He fixed the blame on Bush for rescinding the ABM treaty. He goes on:
But even despite that, shortly after September 11 the world came together, and Putin was among the leaders who took the opportunity to stand together with us and work to craft a plan that could make the world a safer place. As reported by CNN (see article: "A New Era For U.S.-Russia Relations?") on November 14, 2001, it was Putin who suggested a massive cut to both Russia's and the United States' nuclear arsenals. It seemed like we were entering a "new era of US-Russia relations" where we truly were allies working together in securing the world's safety against threats by rogue nations and terrorists.

But going to Iraq changed things, and no sane nation felt it could sit by waiting for America to come up with some reason to go after them "pre-emptively." And so instead of this "new era" of positive relations, Russia has done an about face.

So, while we are stuck ostrich-like in Iraq, the real threats to America, actual thoughtful leaders like Putin who realize power is a chess match, not a spitting contest, continue to gain for their nations as America slips and weakens and goes further into debt – the sort of the debt that brought the Soviet Union down to begin with.
What's puzzling to me is how he figured Putin would not go on to do the things he's done in Russia if the U.S. hadn't dumped the ABM treaty. As if Putin's own consolidation of power relied on the ABM treaty being revoked by the U.S. The author blames Bush but treaties are ratified (or ended) by the Senate. I suppose that if the Dems are as spineless as he claims in his other piece, then the vote to end the ABM treaty makes sense. But does he truly believe that Putin would not have gone on to consolidate power?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

One not to forget

On election day, November 5, 2002, a letter to the editor of the Appleton Post-Crescent was published. The letter was written by my fellow Neenah-ite (Neenah-onian?), David George. This should get wide distribution:
Here are the top 10 reasons public schooling is better than home-schooling:

1) Most parents were educated in the under-funded public school system and so are not smart enough to home-school their own children.

2) Children who receive one-on-one home-schooling will learn more than others, giving them an unfair advantage in the marketplace. This is undemocratic.

3) How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight off bullies on a daily basis?

4) Ridicule from other children is important to the socialization process.

5) Children in public schools can get more practice "Just Saying No" to drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

6) Fluorescent lighting may have significant health benefits.

7) Publicly asking permission to go to the bathroom teaches young people their place in society.

8) The fashion industry depends upon the peer pressure that only public schools can generate.

9) Public schools foster cultural literacy, passing on important traditions like the singing of "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg ..."

10) Home-schooled children may not learn important office career skills, like how to sit still for six hours straight.

So, does this mean the Bush recession is over?

I suppose that the anti-capitalist pundits will still wring their hands over this report:
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, estimated that November sales rose 4.3 percent at its U.S. stores open at least a year, a key retail measure known as same-store sales. The figure was toward the high end of its forecast for 3 percent to 5 percent growth. The retailer said demand for the day after Thanksgiving beat its expectations at both its namesake discount stores and the Sam's Club warehouse chain ...

“Friday was a record day for the company and clearly exceeded our expectations. We feel we have good momentum going into the holiday,” said Ken Hicks, president and chief merchandising officer for J.C. Penney.

The same article bemoans the “steep energy prices and rising interest rates.” Could we just get a grip, people? The day that Katrina hit the northern Gulf coast the price of regular gas in little old Neenah, WI, jumped 30 cents, from 2.69 to 2.99. Yesterday I bought regular at 2.26, and it's cheaper elsewhere. I guess that shoots the "blood for oil" theory, doesn't it?

I'd better save my breath. As long as Gore or Kerry aren't in office, no economic upswing of any magnitude will matter to the Bush haters. They'll probably come up with some cockamamie story like the oil companies were "persuaded" to lower gas prices with sweetheart tax breaks. Bah!

UPDATE: This report says that sales for the entire weekend were up 22% over last year!

I love stories like this XXVII

A politically-partisan high school vocabulary quiz? Here's a sample:
I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes.

Did you get the right answer? The Benington, VT, English and social studies teacher that came up with the quiz
said he isn't shy about sharing his liberal views with students as a way of prompting debate, but said the quizzes are being taken out of context.

It does not bother me in the least that this happens in the government-funded compulsory-attendance day-care and matriculation centers. Make mine home schooling!

Friday, November 25, 2005

A news story to dissect

I read the story below and wondered whether I was just being cynical or expecting too much. I mean, the headline says "Oil Company Blamed." All right. Here's a quiz: What's the name of the oil company? Take your time and read the article thoroughly. I'll wait...

Give up? That's all right, because the article doesn't mention it. That was the first thing wrong that I noticed. Then I read a bit more carefully. Do these reporters or editors actually read what they've written?

The first part of the first sentence (emphasis mine): "The Chinese government's decision to cut potentially contaminated supplies of fresh water" compares interestingly to the rest of the article which features not a hint of such a qualifer. Is this a reporting shortcut of some kind? That it, use a qualifier in the first paragraph so that wherever the subject appears in the rest of the article the qualifier is "understood?" As you read you're supposed to say to yourself, "potentially" with respect to the water supply?

The article is a curious blend of tourism notes ("known for its annual ice sculpture festival in January"), dire predictions ("Pollution and contamination have exacerbated China's water shortages, which environmental experts and even senior officials say could threaten economic development"), official sources ("director of the city's water bureau, said on state television, according to the Associated Press"), disingenuous commentary ("The threat of contamination to Harbin is a reminder that with its booming economy, China is facing a huge environmental challenge"), and fascinating, unexplained tidbits ("The local authorities have ordered heating companies to ensure that they have adequate reserves of water from wells to maintain supplies of hot water to buildings"). That last one is fascinating because it implies that the "local authorities" have lots of say-so over the utility companies. One can only imagine what will happen to the heads of those companies if the water reserves turn out not to be "adequate." I say that because of a news article I saw in the South China Post some time back that featured a photo of a group of criminals being led into a stadium in China for public execution. Here's a link to a recent article on the subject.

Then there are the statements like "Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution," that just sweep me off my feet! Talk about all of China's problems rolled up into one sentence! I'd love to see more on the juxtaposition of "the best environmental laws" versus "inadequate planning." Hasn't central planning been discredited ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Or do people still believe that if only we had the right people in power then central planning would work?

Anyway, is this what "news" has become? A hodge-podge of opinion, hints, rumor, poor editing, and speculation along with a fact or two?

November 24, 2005
Toxic Flow Reaches Chinese City; Oil Company Blamed
International Herald Tribune

BEIJING, Nov. 24 - The Chinese government's decision to cut potentially contaminated supplies of fresh water to a major city has highlighted the threat that industrial pollution poses to public health and economic development across the nation.

Almost four million people in Harbin in northeastern China are expected to be without running water until late Saturday after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13 contaminated the upper reaches of the nearby Songhua River with toxic benzene.

A 50-mile stretch of the river carrying the benzene reached Harbin this morning, Shi Zhongxin, director of the city's water bureau, said on state television, according to the Associated Press. The contaminated water was expected to take 40 hours to make its way through the city.

State media reported Wednesday that the local government ordered the shutdown starting at midnight Tuesday in Harbin, which is internationally known for its annual ice sculpture festival in January.

China's Environmental Agency confirmed that the river, which supplies the city, had suffered "major water pollution," the official New China News Agency said late Wednesday. But contaminated water had not reached the city, it added.

Before water was disconnected, residents were encouraged to store water in buckets and other containers, while the local authorities trucked in thousands of tons of bottled water. In panic buying Monday and Tuesday, customers stripped supermarkets and stores of bottled water and other beverages.

The airport and railroad stations were reported Wednesday to be jammed as residents tried to leave.

The New China News Agency reported that schools would be closed until Nov. 30, while 15 local hospitals had been placed on standby to handle any poisoning cases.

On Wednesday evening, Harbin temporarily restored water supplies to allow residents to stock up.

The shutdown is a potential threat to heating systems in Harbin, one of China's coldest cities, where day temperatures are already below freezing as winter approaches. The local authorities have ordered heating companies to ensure that they have adequate reserves of water from wells to maintain supplies of hot water to buildings.

The chemical plant explosion, 236 miles upriver, killed 5 people and forced 10,000 others to evacuate, the state media reported.

The threat of contamination to Harbin is a reminder that with its booming economy, China is facing a huge environmental challenge.

The combination of rapid industrialization, a vast population and intensive agriculture has led to some of the world's worst air pollution, widespread shortages of fresh water and soil degradation.

Pollution and contamination have exacerbated China's water shortages, which environmental experts and even senior officials say could threaten economic development. Data from monitoring stations in the country's seven major river drainage zones showed that 44 percent of rivers were polluted.

"Many lakes and water courses contain an excess of nutrients and need treatment before they are suitable as freshwater sources," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a Nov. 14 report on Chinese agriculture.

Senior Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have adopted environmental protection as a government priority, and they have repeatedly called for China to switch to economically sustainable development policies.

Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The right thing to do

Joseph Farah is the editor of He very vigorously advocates conservative/libertarian political positions. One of them is very tellingly presented in his column from Nov. 16th, "9th Circuit's wakeup call." In it he urges parents to home school their children. Why?
A three-judge panel of the full court ruled that parents "have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students."

As a home schooler in a state with some of the most liberal home schooling laws in the country, my proper stance should be non-combative, conciliatory, and agreeable. That's because if I start making noise about the superiority of home schooling vs. the deplorable (oops! I mean, "ambivalent") state of government-funded compulsory education, I might make it tougher for the other home schoolers in Wisconsin to stay under the radar, quietly rearing their children as they see fit, not as the bureaucrats see fit.

But, by golly! Farah stirs the blood! Home schooling is superior. Children don't need the artificial and disingenuous (to say the least) approval of their peers. Nor do they need the mawkish, saccharine, and cloying emphasis on self-esteem. Nor the grade inflation. Nor the lock-step progress of a curriculum that stifles the love of learning. Nor the bells. Nor the inculcation of the behavior of sheep. Nor the stupefying emphasis on sports and fashion.

As you might guess, I could go on, but I'll spare you the boredom and my fellow Wisconsin home schoolers the mortification.

It's hard to say it better

I have no way with words like Mark Steyn of the Chicago Sun-Times, so I won't even try. His column of yesterday ( ) is very stirring. An excerpt:
One expects nothing from the Democrats. Their leaders are men like Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, who in 2002 voted for the war and denounced Saddam Hussein as an "imminent threat" and claimed that Iraq could have nuclear weapons by 2007 if not earlier. Now he says it's Bush who "lied" his way into war with a lot of scary mumbo-jumbo about WMD.

What does Rockefeller believe, really? I know what Bush believes: He thought Saddam should go in 2002 and today he's glad he's gone, as am I. I know what, say, Michael Moore believes: He wanted to leave Saddam in power in 2002, and today he thinks the "insurgents" are the Iraqi version of America's Minutemen. But what do Rockefeller and Reid and Kerry believe deep down? That voting for the war seemed the politically expedient thing to do in 2002 but that they've since done the math and figured that pandering to the crowd is where the big bucks are? If Bush is the new Hitler, these small hollow men are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis whose whining defense was, "I was only obeying orders. I didn't really mean all that strutting tough-guy stuff." And, before they huff, "How dare you question my patriotism?", well, yes, I am questioning your patriotism -- because you're failing to meet the challenge of the times. Thanks to you, Iraq is a quagmire -- not in the Sunni Triangle, where U.S. armed forces are confident and effective, but on the home front, where soft-spined national legislators have turned the war into one almighty Linguini Triangle.

Tie the can to their tails!

In midsummer, 1981, President Reagan responded to a nation-wide air traffic controller strike by firing the lot of them. I haven't the slightest idea what would have happened if Carter had won re-election. Would the strikers not have struck because there was a Democrat in the White House? Who can tell?

Now comes this story about the latest French strike. This time it's the rail workers:
Unions are striking to protest against any privatisation of the rail network, despite government assurances.

Since the rail workers are, essentially, government employees -- as the air traffic controllers were in 1981 in the U. S. -- I wonder if a mass firing has been contemplated. Or is the union contract so good that the workers can't be fired for striking?

I confess that I don't have much sympathy for the strikers. But it sure would be a kick in the teeth if the strike goes on for a while, commuters figure out alternate ways to get to work, and then, after the strike ends, use of the rail system remains lower than before the strike. Then there'll be layoffs because of decreased usage...or will there be?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

J. K. Rowling as Political Observer

There is a very interesting article written by a university law professor and printed in the Michigan Law Review. The link goes to an abstract of the paper (the full PDF file, if you care to download it, is 146 KB) so you can get an idea of what the author is driving at. And that is that the author of the Harry Potter books seems to take a very dim view of government. The author provides a number of examples in the abstract which made me sit up and take notice.
The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar. Cornelius Fudge, the original Minister of Magic, perfectly fits our notion of a bumbling politician just trying to hang onto his job. Delores Umbridge is the classic small-minded bureaucrat who only cares about rules, discipline, and her own power. Rufus Scrimgeour is a George Bush-like war leader, inspiring confidence through his steely resolve. The Ministry itself is made up of various sub-ministries with goofy names (e.g., The Goblin Liaison Office or the Ludicrous Patents Office) enforcing silly sounding regulations (e.g., The Decree for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans or The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery). These descriptions of government jibe with our own sarcastic views of bureaucracy and bureaucrats: bureaucrats tend to be amusing characters that propagate and enforce laws of limited utility with unwieldy names. When you combine the light-hearted satire with the above list of government activities, however, Rowling's critique of government becomes substantially darker and more powerful.

The reach of the Harry Potter books is fantastic. To have children grow up reading them and coming to the realization that most government is part incompetent fumbling, part self-sustaining and self-interested bureaucracy, and part jobs program for social climbers is not at all bad.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Recent commentary: Same sex classes

Should schools be allowed to have same-sex classrooms, and why or why not?

(published 14-Nov-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

“Allowed” to have them? You mean locker rooms are co-ed now??!! When I went to Einstein the boys played murder ball and the girls played field hockey. And “health” classes were separate because the boys were shown different stuff from what the girls saw. I mean the boys saw films on smoking ... but the girls? We figured that they saw things relating to various body parts normally kept modestly covered. I don't remember any girls in shop and no boy in the mid 60's would dream of taking home economics! I remember how uncomfortable I felt as a sophomore at Appleton East taking typing, especially since I sat next to an older girl who teased me mercilessly. Maybe I was blazing a trail. You know, like an adolescent version of chaos theory: I take typing in 1967 and a few decades later all the showers in gym class are co-ed!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I love stories like this XXVI

I had to sigh when I saw this story. I wish we could see stories about teachers that refused to follow their schools' “zero tolerance” policy. Even one story would do. Here's the meat of it:
Crystal Harris says her 5-year old son was forced to take off his costume, and go through the entire school day with only his underwear on.

The incident happened Monday at Walt Disney Elementary.

School officials acknowledge they have a policy that forbids costumes, and that's why the teacher did what she did.