Thursday, January 02, 2014

Cruising the Web

Glenn Reynolds makes a great point about the continuous stream of zero-tolerance idiocy coming out of public schools. When administrators can't distinguish between fantasy and reality so that they punish the child with the pretend bow and arrow or the child chewing his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, what does it say about their ability to teach critical thinking skills to children?

George Will reflects on Ilya Somin's book, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, to argue that the political ignorance of the average citizen has long been a problem and, actually, makes sense. That leaves people like me and probably most of my readers who are interested in politics, but have little impact on policy decisions that are made in this country.
Many people, says Somin, acquire political knowledge for the reason people acquire sports knowledge — because it interests them, not because it will alter the outcome of any contest. And with “confirmation bias,” many people use political information to reinforce their preexisting views. Committed partisans are generally the most knowledgeable voters, independents the least. And the more political knowledge people have, the more apt they are to discuss politics with people who agree with, and reinforce, them.

The problem of ignorance is unlikely to be ameliorated by increasing voter knowledge because demand for information, not the supply of it, is the major constraint on political knowledge. Despite dramatic expansions of education and information sources, abundant evidence shows the scope of political ignorance is remarkably persistent over time. New information technologies have served primarily to increase the knowledge of the already well-informed, which increases the ability of some to engage in “rent-seeking” from the regulatory state, manipulating its power in order to transfer wealth to themselves. And if political knowledge is measured relative to government’s expanding scope, ignorance is increasing rapidly: There is so much more to be uninformed about.
The solution, Somin and Will argue, is to have smaller government. It's a nice argument, but as unlikely to happen as for the great majority of people to suddenly become politically knowledgeable and active.

Daniel Henninger paints a very dismal, but realistic picture of the world today.
As the year turns, the subject becoming impossible to duck is growing global disorder. The days before the New Year brought two suicide bombings in Russia and a major political assassination in Lebanon. Throw a dart randomly at a map of the Middle East or Southeast Asia and it will hit trouble....

Whether the world in 2014 will tip from containment to chaos or war is not the subject here. The subject is rediscovering the antidote to war, which is strong global leadership. The world we inhabit now doesn't have enough of it. Or any of it for that matter.

Russia's Vladimir Putin runs Russia with soft Stalinism while he intimidates nations on the Russian periphery to bend under his control. Some are resisting the Russian heavy. President Xi Jinping governs a China that is rediscovering Maoist nationalism internally and challenges neighbors from Japan to the South China Sea. They, too, are resisting.

In the Middle East, the flowers have fallen from the Arab Spring. Egypt is run by a de facto military junta, Syria by a war criminal, and Iran by a Cheshire cat named Rouhani. The Saudis, after downgrading their alliance with the U.S., promised this week to send $3 billion in military aid to Lebanon as leverage against Iran's ally, Hezbollah.
This leads Henninger to call for presidential leadership in our next president since he's given up hope for leadership to come from Barack Obama. That's all well and good to say, but it would help to learn what that leadership will lead us all into doing. I'm afraid that too many or the problems today are truly insoluble no matter how much leadership a president might be willing to expend.

Bureaucracy at its finest:
Before you whine about an airline temporarily losing your luggage, think of poor Boujemaa Razgui. The flute virtuoso who performs regularly with The Boston Camerata lost 13 handmade flutes over the holidays when a US Customs official at New York’s JFK Airport mistook the instruments for pieces of bamboo and destroyed them. Razgui, a Canadian citizen who lives some of the time in Brockton, had flown last week from Morocco to Boston, with stops in Madrid and New York. In New York, he says, an official opened his luggage and found the 13 flutelike instruments — 11 nays and two kawalas. Razgui says he had made all of the instruments using hard-to-find reeds. “They said this is an agriculture item,” said Razgui, who was not present when his bag was opened. “I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life.” When his baggage arrived in Boston, the instruments were gone. He was instead given a number to call. “They told me they were destroyed,” he says. “Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never written letters to people.” Our calls to US Customs and Border Protection were not returned Tuesday. Razgui, who’s been performing with The Boston Camerata since 2002 and is scheduled to play with Camerata Mediterranea in February, says there are perhaps 15 people in the United States who play these sorts of instruments. “And now they’re gone,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.”

With 2014 bringing the centennial of the start of World War One, expect all sorts of retrospectives that then try to look to the possibility for another world war beginning today. Harvard's Graham Allison kicks off this sort of analysis in The National Interest. What strikes me is the utter fatuousness of the earlier era's pacifists and how little has changed.
Precisely a hundred years ago today, the richest man in the world sent New Year’s greetings to a thousand of the most influential leaders in the U.S. and Europe announcing: mission accomplished. “International Peace,” he proclaimed, “is to prevail through the Great Powers agreeing to settle their disputes by International Law, the pen thus proving mightier than the sword.”

Having immigrated to the US penniless, created the steel industry as a pillar of America's rise to preeminence, and become fabulously wealthy in the process, Andrew Carnegie had the confidence of a man who had achieved the impossible. When he turned from making money to spending it for public purposes, his goals were universal literacy at home (funding public libraries in cities and towns across America), and perpetual peace abroad, starting with the great powers of Europe and the US.

Events in the year that had just ended convinced Carnegie that 1914 would be the decisive turning point towards peace. Just six months earlier, his decade-long campaign culminated in the inauguration of the Peace Palace at the Hague, which he believed would become the Supreme Court of nations. The Palace was built to house the new International Court of Arbitration that would now arbitrate disputes among nations that had historically been settled by war. As the Economist noted, “the Palace of Peace embodies the great idea that gradually law will take the place of war."

Carnegie's Peace Palace captured the zeitgeist of the era. The most celebrated book of the decade, The Great Illusion, published in 1910, sold over two million copies. In it, Norman Angell exposed the long-held belief that nations could advance their interests by war as an "illusion." [3] His analysis showed that conquest was "futile" because "the war-like do not inherit the earth."

One Alabama mother details the sort of horror story awaiting average American families as they attempt to find health insurance under the new regime of the laughably titled Affordable Care Act.

Here is the "complete list of everything banned" during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Given that the new mayor is way more liberal than Bloomberg, expect to soon be seeing additions to this list.

Prepare to be shocked, utterly shocked by the results of a study to figure out what party felons register for. The results are all you need to know about which parties favor or oppose felon enfranchisement.

Don't believe HHS's claim that 2.1 million people have enrolled in Obamacare health plans. There is still a lot that HHS is not revealing about that number. And, as John Hinderaker demonstrates, there is absolutely no way that Obamacare has turned the corner and is now heading toward success.

The New York Times catches up with the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the focus on the grades being given athletes for pretend courses in the university's African and Afro-American studies department. I find it very difficult to believe that all the shenanigans was limited to just two people. There must have been those in the athletics administration who had a very good inkling about what is going on despite the university's wish to blame it on the chairman and department manager of the AFAM department.

Tom Blumer identifies ten forms of media malpractice in 2013. Amazing how all these tricks of the trade seem to lean in one particular ideological direction.

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