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(if I were) King of (the) Forest Posts

Where the Candidates’ Kids Go To School

Those who demand that all education resources must stay firmly and unaccountably within the public system — those whose official policy for fixing broken schools is that citizens must sacrifice their children now to the ideal and the (perhaps empty) promise of a more robust and egalitarian public school system later — are hard-pressed, then, to explain why they should be exempt from that sacrifice, themselves. Whether or not, in the long run, their policy preferences really will do the most and the best for our children’s education, voters are understandably, and perhaps rightfully, offended by leaders who would refuse to accept for themselves the sacrifices they demand of everyone else.

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Why the Christian Right Feels Persecuted?

In May of 2005, The New York Times ran a story — as part of a series of stories on “class” issues in America — about efforts by the Christian right to increase their presence on Ivy League campuses as the number of evangelicals and religious conservatives attending those institutions increases. The article focused on one group, the Christian Union, which was founded to provide a counter for committed Christians to the secular pressures and hostility to faith they encounter in the modern academic environment — and, yes, to provide support for communicating and spreading their faith to the wider university community.

Although the Times article was neither fawning nor fretful — was in fact pretty fair and thoughtful –some of the responses they chose to publish as letters from readers reminded me how often self-defined ‘liberals’ defeat themselves by making the claims of the fundamentalist right about religious persecution and ‘liberal’ intolerance seem legitimate. I wrote this letter to point that out.

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How (Not) To Spend a Budget Surplus

Jack Connors, Jr. argues (12 Jun) that the current revenue surplus in Massachusetts should be spent on increased Medicare reimbursements rather than being returned to the taxpayers from which it derived…

…even if you grant that shoring up shaky government budgets is the better use for the excess funds, using them to increase reimbursements for Medicare — or to fund benefit increases for any other entitlement program — is the worst possible use for the money.


The “Arrogant” Press

…You cited people writing about gun control who know nothing about guns, and mentioned a need to find more “red state evangelicals” for the newsroom. But it goes well beyond that. As a former military officer (many years ago), I cringed every time I saw a Pentagon press conference during the wars in Iraq: It was clear that almost all the reporters not only knew nothing about military operations but were also incapable of — and to all appearances had no interest in — understanding strategic or tactical or operational security considerations; and it was also clear they had no respect for those of whom they were asking questions. I see the same thing often in business reporting (or any reporting having to do with economics), in science and technology reporting, in pretty much any reporting of anything having to do with mathematics (like reporting on the results of statistical studies in medicine and sociology), and on and on…

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Shameless Photo Op

I find The New York Times‘ indifference to the very real cash-flow obligations with which we are saddling our children and grandchildren dismaying. I wrote this as yet another attempt to convince them — and their equally insouciant readers — to take those obligations seriously.

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The Bible In The Jury Room?

In March of 2005 the Colorado Supreme Court voided the death sentence for a murderer on the basis of the fact that a juror during the penalty phase — when the decision of what sentence to impose was being debated — had copied down a verse from the book of Exodus and quoted it during deliberation.

The law is clear that jurors are not allowed to consult outside sources or use information that was not presented at trial during a jury deliberation, so the fact that a juror consulted the Bible and wrote down a verse suggests that perhaps the Court was technically correct in upholding a narrow legal prohibition. Of course that this was a deliberation over punishment — a moral question — rather than over a determination of fact and law might suggest that such prohibitions are overly narrow if they limit moral debate.

And of course under their ruling it is not entirely clear that the prohibition would have held had the juror merely cited the verse in question from memory rather than consulting the source; the law cannot prohibit the application of cultural and educational background we bring to jury service, and many Christians (and not a few heathens) could have provided that citation as a matter of course. Further, in Western culture, the Bible is so ubiquitous and so identified with moral perception it is inconceivable that its moral lessons would not be debated and applied in such a deliberation, regardless of whether or not a specific verse was quoted or even referenced. Recently the Supreme Court of the United States prohibited a particular application of the death penalty (to those who were minors when they committed their crimes) based not on specific Constitutional principle but on a common understanding of the current moral atmosphere — including citations of legislative preferences from selected foreign countries and from selected individual states. Is consideration of Biblical principle, or principle from hundreds of secular philosophical sources which underlie so much of Western thought, any less relevant or permissible to the application of law, and particularly of punishment? I would hope not.

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Union Economics

Wal-Mart has been much in the news recently for its shoddy treatment of employees. As expected, “advocates” for “labor” have been agitating for higher wages and, as usual, they presume that low wages are primarily the result of greed rather than of market conditions — and they presume that we can wave our magic wands to make wages higher with no other consequences either to the company or to the economy.


Double Standard on the Right?

The perception and appreciation of analogy — of discerning the common characteristics that make two superficially dissimilar situations or events essentially similar, or the divergent characteristics that make two superficially similar situations or events essentially dissimilar — is one of the fundamental skills of human reasoning that allows us to learn from history, to avoid the mistakes of the past and to progress despite those mistakes. It has been my observation that in our modern approach to education we no longer emphasize the teaching or the learning of those skills — and that therefore those skills have atrophied in Western culture — or at least in American culture — to the point that we are in danger of losing their benefit entirely.

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Headline Bias

In the aftermath of the Iraqi election, as the new parliament worked through the political compromises and alliances required to form a stable government, The New York Times ran a “news analysis” describing the difficulties and dangers induced by the relative split among the various political constituencies in the vote — by the lack of a clear mandate for one group to rule.

Although the analysis itself was unobjectionable and even somewhat balanced — labeling something “analysis”, even in the news section, reduces the need for a veneer of objectivity — I found it objectionable because of the way it was prefaced: the headline placed on the story communicated a clear and critical bias against the notion that the election had been successful that was not supported by the report itself.

If you had merely read the headline and the first paragraph you would have come away with an impression of utter chaos and gloom completely at odds with what the analysis overall communicated. My objection was not to the bias but to the dishonesty.

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