Category Archives: Current Events

The Experiment That Has Failed

Of all I’ve read about the shootings Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting I think Phil Plait said it best,

Online and in the media I see a similar urge with those talking about this. And it’s a natural reaction to try to assign blame, saying it’s the fault of the NRA, or politicians, or a failed health care system.
None of that is true. I’ll tell you who’s to blame. You are. I am. Everyone is.
America has been called the Great Experiment, and it’s really true. When this country was founded it was a chance to start again, to try to learn from past mistakes, take what was good from learned experience, and apply all that to create a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And since then, we’ve experimented. We—the American people—expanded voting rights to women, to blacks, to everyone over the age of 18. That experiment worked. We experimented with banning alcohol. That experiment did not work. We’ve experimented with a national road system, a space program, deregulating the airline industry, and more. Some things have worked, and some haven’t.
The purpose of an experiment is to learn. And one of the many purposes of learning is to act on what we’ve learned.
Politicians are the front line of this action. They make the laws. So in events like today’s we look to the politicians and try to lay blame. That’s natural, and not unwarranted. We also look to their influencers, like lobbyists. That’s also natural, and also not unwarranted.
But who are the ultimate influencers of politicians and the laws they make—or don’t make?
You are. I am. Everyone is.
[snip]
Because we are the ones who are the caretakers of this experiment. And we’re abrogating our responsibility. We are watching the same events unfold over and again, and we’re not doing anything to change the conditions. That is not an experiment. That is irresponsibility, plain and simple. And the responsibility is yours. It’s mine. It’s everybody’s.
And we must ask ourselves: What have we learned today? And what are we, the people in charge, going to do about it?

Yes, it’s time to call our experiment with the Second Amendment as written and as interpreted by the Supreme Court a failure. It’s time to try something that works for good rather than evil. And yes, that we have not addressed this failed experiment is my fault as much as the fault of anyone else.
Please read all of Phil Plait’s post. I left out some his most important points.

“On The Road To Greece”

When some of our politicians talk about the US being on the road to Greece, do they mean this?

Greece’s economic troubles are often blamed on a public sector packed full of redundant workers, a lavish pension system and uncompetitive industries hampered by overpaid workers with lifetime employment guarantees. Often overlooked, however, is the role played by a handful of wealthy families, politicians and the news media — often owned by the magnates — that make up the Greek power structure.
In a country crushed by years of austerity and 25 percent unemployment, average Greeks are growing increasingly resentful of an oligarchy that, critics say, presides over an opaque, closed economy that is at the root of many of the country’s problems and operates with virtual impunity. Several dozen powerful families control critical sectors, including banking, shipping and construction, and can usually count on the political class to look out for their interests, sometimes by passing legislation tailored to their specific needs.
The result, analysts say, is a lack of competition that undermines the economy by allowing the magnates to run cartels and enrich themselves through crony capitalism. “That makes it rational for them to form a close, incestuous relationship with politicians and the media, which is then highly vulnerable to corruption,” said Kevin Featherstone, a professor of European Politics at the London School of Economics.

Some of them just might be wishing there were an even more powerful American oligarchy.
Read all of Rachel Donadio and Liz Alderman’s piece in the New York Times (may be behind pay wall).

A Naive Suggestion

Next time, why don’t candidates for public office tell us, in terms of policy and style, how they will govern and let us decide if we want to be governed that way?
At a recent Harvard University Institute of Politics Campaign Managers Conference, Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, said this about the process of gaining the nomination. “When you’re running for the nomination, you’ve got to win the nomination. If you’re looking beyond securing the nomination too much, you are jeopardizing your chances of winning the nomination.”
Now the people who wanted Governor Romney to be our President presumably knew how he would govern and, if not, I image at least Governor Romney knew how he would govern. The same is true of all the other candidates including President Obama. So why not just tell us how you will govern and why we should think you can govern that way and let us decide if we agree with you?
I know. I know. Now back to reworking my paper on the Tiryns alphabetic inscription.

Cheerleaders, Bible Quotations and Free Speech

I’ve been meaning to comment of this for a few days but politicking has drained much of my time. Here’s the issue in a nut shell,

A judge stopped an East Texas school district on Thursday from barring cheerleaders from quoting biblical scripture on banners at high school football games, acknowledging their argument that is appears to violate their free speech rights.
District Judge Steve Thomas granted an injunction requested by the Kountze High School cheerleaders allowing them to continue displaying such banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit set to go to trial next June 24, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Thomas previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.
School officials barred the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious messages such as, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained. The advocacy group says the messages violate the First Amendment clause barring the government — or a publicly funded school district, in this case — from establishing or endorsing a religion. [CBSNews.com]

I tend to support the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Generally these things aren’t even close calls. But here I sort of think that maybe Judge Thomas might have been correct in issuing the injunction pending trial on the issues. But I see it as a very close call and contingent on a couple important, often problematic, issues. So, I also worry that the judge made the wrong call. The cheerleaders may well have elected to use and continue to use banners with various quotations from the Bible on their own and without the advice, direction, or supervision of any school teacher or employee. It’s possible. As such these banners may represent the completely free expression of the students and not of the government in the form of the school district and its employees functioning in their capacity of employees. If that is so and there are no other contingencies to the contrary, then it is a simple matter of free expression and is protected as such.
But it is likely not that simple. First, I worry that the use of the banners was not a completely free expression of the students. Such student expressions seldom are. Second, I worry about a tyranny of the majority. In other words, I worry that peer pressure from the majority of the cheerleaders might have compromised the free expression of a minority who might not want to have the Biblical quotations on the banners. I also worry about a more direct form of peer pressure. Someone may have been excluded from the squad because of contrary religion beliefs or lack of religious beliefs. That possibility is nearly unavoidable. A public school sponsored cheerleading squad is not a church and does not have the right of exclusivity. If there was even the slightest role of school officials, including teachers, or the slightest element of tyranny of the majority involved then the judge was wrong and hopefully will be shown so at trial. Should the outcome be against the cheerleaders, those who so chose to do so will be completely free to express their religious credulity in some other way.
It will be abnormally interesting to see what happens at trial.

Jonathan Turley On Free Speech

This post is a little dated, two days late, but still relevant even at the speed of the internet. Here are a few snippets from Jonathan Turley’s Washington Post essay, “Shut up and play nice: How the Western world is limiting free speech”

Of course, free speech is often precisely about pissing off other people — challenging social taboos or political values.
. . .
Our entire society is being treated as a crowded theater, and talking about whole subjects is now akin to shouting “fire!”
. . .
Ironically, while some religious organizations are pushing blasphemy laws, religious individuals are increasingly targeted under anti-discrimination laws for their criticism of homosexuals and other groups.
. . .
Whether speech is deemed imflammatory (sic) or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.

Jonathan Turley’s whole essay is well worth reading in its entirety.

Quotation Strange Remark Of The Day

When Mitt Romney has an original observation its always worth repeating.

When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. [ Los Angeles Times]

Gov. Romney made this amazing comment in the context of Ann Romney’s surely frightening and possibly dangerous experience of being on a plane when the cabin filled with smoke due to an electrical problem. I understand his concern. But like many of his comments, this one seems weird at best and downright crazy at worst.
It should be noted that comedian Dennis Miller was at the same event with the former moderate governor of Massachusetts. Perhaps Miller was Romney’s warm up act.

Libraries Are Fragile Things

They can be burnt, bombed and abandoned. They can also be defunded. Such is the case with my local Pomona Public Library. In the end it wasn’t completely defunded. Its budget was cut from the neighborhood of $1.5M a year to the neighborhood of $0.5 million a year with commensurate decreases in operating hours and professional staff. But this is just a patch to get the library through the City’s fiscal year. What happens at the beginning of the next fiscal year in June, 2013? What happens if the City’s finances further deteriorate over the remainder of the 2012/13 fiscal year? Or what happens if there is a major disaster that draws heavily on City funds? Anyone who thinks that the vector doesn’t point in the direction of closing down our city library just hasn’t looked closely enough at the political and financial realities of Pomona. Our situation in not unique but it is our situation.
Shirley and I are dedicated to preserving this 125 year old institution, not because it is 125 years old but because it is an important asset today. Public libraries like ours remain among of the most influential of equalitarian institutions. Its computer lab provides the only internet access and application software available to a large segment of our city’s population. Lawyers practicing at the nearby County Court use that same library for research.
As our State Assemblymember Norma Torres reminded us this morning, The Pomona Library is not just another city library. It is a regional library. So if you live in the region (or even if you don’t) consider contributing to the “Save Our Pomona Public Library Advocacy Group.” Everyone else should take a few moments in inquire about the financial security of their local public library.

Now Fareed Zakaria?

Fareed Zakaria is smart. He is smart enough to avoid plagiarizing the work of someone else. But apparently he did it anyway. In his Time Magazine opinion piece, “The Case of Gun Control,” he rather clearly recycled the words of Jill Lenore of the New Yorker without attribution. Tim Graham has the comparison at NewsBusters; so does the Huffington Post, the National Review Online and The Atlantic Wire.
Apparently Zakaria plans to apologize. I can tell a story that makes Zakaria’s recycling of Lenore’s words a case of inadvertent plagiarism resulting from the interaction of bad note taking and cutting and pasting. But intellectual laziness also comes to mind.
This saddens me. Even when I have disagreed, I have generally found (what I thought was) Zakaria’s work informative and stimulating. He certainly owes an apology to Lenore but he also owes an apology to his readers, to me. That apology needs to include specific steps he plans to follow to prevent a future occurrence.
Update: Read Zakaria’s Apology
His apology is unequivocal (“I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault.”) but lacks an action plan.

Today’s Post Is Really Abnormal

I’ve spent a large part of the last few days going over and meeting about my City’s General Fund Budget. At over 180 pages, it is a rather intimidating document. The several other related budget documents don’t make it any less intimidating. The goals of the team of which I am a part are three:

  1. To better understand the City’s General Fund Budget and how it interacts with other budgets under the City’s justification.
  2. To explore the shared hope that fresh eyes might find some additional funding for the library.
  3. To communicate to our City government that we are watching and that we are watching at the line item level.

I’ve mentioned a few times the plight of our local city library.
The reason I bring this up is that I have found the exercise abnormally interesting. I’ve learned things I didn’t even know were subjects to learn. The City’s budget is about the same complexity as that of a major corporation for which I work when, in those days long ago, I did work. While the exercise is ongoing, I now believe that every citizen has an obligation to his or her self, to his or her city and to his or her fellow citizens to do this at least once in a life time. I believe that if citizen involvement at the level our team is perusing were the norm rather than the exception, many cities wouldn’t be in the mess they are now in. And if they got into such a mess anyway, there won’t be as much cynicism about the steps needed to get out.