Mr Sullivan’s Conservatism

I’m still trying to work on my essay, so submitted for your approval, here Andrew Sullivan outlines his view of what actual conservatism is:

In general, money = power. The more of their own money people keep the more likely it is that the society will evolve the way its people want it to evolve, and not be coerced by some rationalist in government. I prefer markets to make these decisions to governments. But of course, it is equally true (and this is where conservatism has gone off the rails in America) that it is the government’s task to ensure that the game is not rigged, that private corporations do not gain too much power, that politics is not corrupted in this fashion, and that financial markets are robustly regulated and monopolies vigorously broken up. Like Adam Smith, I favor a small but very robust government. In America right now, no one seems to really be able to represent that tradition – although Obama says he does.

The problem is, of course, that neither this conservatism nor this liberalism can work on its own. In advanced societies, we need to find a balance between them. Some things, like infrastructure or defense or even funding public education will need to be done collectively. But there’s a tipping point at which a society becomes centrally run and managed, rather than governed from the ground up by the wisdom of individuals, families, villages, towns and cities. This is the vision behind Cameron’s Big Society, which is why he is a genuine Tory. Even within collectivist institutions, like the National Health Service, he is trying to empower local doctors or within public education, individual school principals, because they are closer to the problems they are tackling than someone in Whitehall or Washington or a state capitol.

I’m still trying to write out my own thoughts. But I agree much with what Mr Sullivan says. It really shows how I don’t think I’ve ever felt properly represented, no matter where I’ve lived. I think I would have been better off as an Eisenhower Republican.

Now That’s Comedy. Wait, I Mean Tragedy.

Mr Clark over at the Slacktivist finds something properly laughable:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Republican Christine O’Donnell, a candidate for the United States Senate, is unfamiliar with those 16 words.

You really have to check out the video from about the 2:30 mark. Within 30 seconds of that, Christine O’Donnell rightly gets laughed at by the entire room. It is honestly worthy of Saturday Night Live.

There hasn’t even needed to be all that much debate on the topic of religious and secular separation in this country since the Bill of Rights. The biggest debate? Whether to put it in the Constitution proper, or as an Amendment. (The Founders opted for Amendment because they needed to get a functional government, plus it was quite obvious the thing would get passed so they may as well get some practice).

Then comes the tears to my brain. This isn’t a skit. Not a spoof. Not even a snafu. It is a real debate between candidates for the United States Senate. Though tremendously faulty, it is the body that is the true check on Executive power. It is the place in the Federal Government I had most hoped to take my place in (though since I don’t sit well under either political party, those plans are slightly delayed.)

I have more coming. Suffice to say, if we as a people are even considering putting up candidates that utterly deny science, law, history, and even simple fact, then our country’s slow collapse is well underway.

On My Mind

Running up to the midterm elections, two themes keep popping back into my mind: ignorance and fear.

Then I realize those two ideas have been married and amplified as of nine years ago this Saturday.

I plan to muse more on the topic later. I’m running on fumes right now.

Proposition 8: Unconstitutional

Some congratulations are in order for California for the recent finding of Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. Such a goofy, convoluted, American English Legalese word for ‘This law was found to be against a higher law.’ I’m glad this happened, for the sake of all my gay friends inside and outside of California. It’s a simple justice, one which means worlds. And this standing puts us closer to being on the better side of the nations of Earth in this regard.

Still, no huge ticker tape parades just yet. This decision will be up for appeal, so Prop 8 may still be enacted while the decision winds up finalized at probably the US Supreme Court level. However, Judge Walker has written a very tight opinion that should add weight to holding the ruling of Prop 8 unconstitutional.

Marc Ambinder lists the facts as seen by Judge Walker:

Here are the relevant facts Walker finds:

1. Marriage is and has been a civil matter, subject to religious intervention only when requested by the intervenors.

2. California, like every other state, doesn’t require that couples wanting to marry be able to procreate.

3. Marriage as an institution has changed overtime; women were given equal status; interracial marriage was formally legalized; no-fault divorce made it easier to dissolve marriages.

4. California has eliminated marital obligations based on gender.

5. Same-sex love and intimacy “are well-documented in human history.”

6. Sexual orientation is a fundamental characteristic of a human being.

7. Prop 8 proponents’ “assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence.”

8. There is no evidence that sexual orientation is chosen, nor that it can be changed.

9. California has no interest in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in its population.

10. “Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital union.”

11. “Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.”

12. “Domestic partnerships lack the social meaning associated with marriage, and marriage is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States. The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships.”

13. “Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.”

Remember, these are the FACTS that Walker has determined from the testimony and evidence. These facts will serve as the grounding for the legal arguments yet to come.

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

Let me also say that anyone saying anything about ‘activist judges’ on this is foolish and wrong. There is no such thing, unless they are ruling opposite what you want them to rule. This is the court doing what the court is designed to do, so there ought to be no debate about that.

Speaking of what the court is supposed to do, the court just upheld its place to protect a minority from majority rule. It can be easy to claim that this proposition was voted yes on by the majority of the electorate and thus should be law without question. That would be a heinous idea, however, and quite contrary to our basic, ancient roots that our liberty is based upon.

The courts are designed to protect the people from the whims of the masses. Electorates can be fooled, and the strength of our court systems balance that. It is not up to the majority to determine who is worth more than another, who is allowed to learn, to speak, to love, and who is not.

Least of all a majority that even our Founders knew could readily be swayed by influences of fear. Prop 8 had that in spades. Most of this proposition was paid for by a single religious group and money came from outside the state of California and targeted at ignorant parents who were made to believe that their kids would be taught about homosexual sex in first grade. Californians, nor any American, should have their own minds overruled by foreign money, particularly when it comes to personal liberty.

Liberty is our treasure and American birthright. It is what we should never stop fighting to expand and ensure is held for our children. I’m still waiting to allow it here in Minnesota, but I know Iowa, the superstar white democracy simple heartland flag-waving truck-driving freedom-loving eagle-soaring corn-cropping state below mine, has had full-rights gay marriage for well over a year now and our delicate civilization has held up okay.

Split Perspectives on Palin

A guest poster at the Daily Dish believes Sarah Palin’s tale of her youngest child’s birth.
Another blogger responds to the guest post.

I fall into the latter camp, personally. I feel she puts forth such a false persona that regularly varies from ill-informed to bald-faced lying, often with a healthy smattering of damn near illiteracy thrown in. I will not take Palin at her word without significant evidence.

Since no journalists are remotely close to being allowed to investigate (or, frankly, slightly question) her, and she wasn’t that far from being leader of the world’s superpower, this is one conspiracy that I’m willing to give some weight.

This all leads me back to a point I have been making about Palin and her Tea Party movement supporters: it’s not even a matter of relative fact or truth, it is a matter of blatant absence and denial of fact or truth. And when there is no allowance for simple, proven fact, there can be no conversation, let alone compromise.

While Mowing My Lawn…

I finally got out to mow my lawn this evening. It’s been storming off and on for over a week and the grass was as high as a pygmy elephant’s eye. M was home and lots of sunlight was left so I set to work.

As I began my first round around my property (easy to find since the neighbors had already mowed this week), a neighbor kid and his friend came and played basketball using my hoop in my yard. The previous owner of my house had athlete daughters, so he installed a professional, adjustable hoop that hangs over into the cul de sac. Neighbor kids regularly come out and use it, especially this teenager, so I thought nothing of it. He waved hello at me while I passed by.

Once I started making passes under the branches of my crabapple, the basketball rolled onto my driveway. I could see the kid coming up to get it out of the corner of my eye and continued to concentrate on not nailing my head on the one low-hanging limb of the tree. After emerging from this big tree’s low canopy, I saw the kid had walked up to me and wanted to ask me something.

“It’s okay if we use your hoop, right?”

“Yeah, totally. As long as you don’t make tons of noise after dark when my kids are sleeping I don’t mind.”

“I never use it after dark anyway.”

“So yeah, no problem.” I said.

“Well the guy from that house came up and said we weren’t allowed. I said you’d let me do it before, but he said it wasn’t your choice, it’s just for kids in the neighborhood.”

“It’s in my yard, I’ve known you for years, and you still live just around the corner. I’d say that qualifies you as a neighbor, don’t worry about it.”

So the kid went back to his friend and game. I put my earbuds back in and proceeded to start another pass.

Soon as I had got myself into a groove, the guy two doors down stomps across my lawn to me. Not the next-door neighbor who would’ve had a reasonable issue, since it’s feet from his driveway too. No, it’s the old guy, my height but twice the width, ragged t-shirt and a bent cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Continue reading

Bad at Math = Teh Suck

Chad Orzel and Neil DeGrasse Tyson nail something ridiculously important. (Watch the whole clip, and definitely read Orzel’s old post)?:

A great clip from his World Science Festival appearance the other night, especially the bit toward the end:

“One thing I think that as a nation we should be embarrassed by is that the scientists– you can do this experiment yourself, I’ve done the experiment– the scientists, by and large, know more liberal arts than the science that is known by liberal artists.”

Or you can read my longer, less funny version from a couple of years ago. Either way, it’s an important message: It should be exactly as embarrassing in educated company to say “I’m no good at math” as it would be to say “I’m no good at reading.” The fact that it isn’t– that it’s ok to laugh off innumeracy– is a major problem for us as a society.

Read the comments on this post…

This is actually a point I had never really thought about, and even I’m guilty of it. Of course in my family the line was closer to, “Oh, I could do any Algebra or Trig, but hit the wall at Calculus.” And of course, my family is an odd duck. I’m going to go ahead and claim I am not one of those liberal artsy folks who chuckle about being bad at math. But I’ve never called anyone out for laughing at being bad at math. Maybe it didn’t come up as much, because I grew up within music circles and music and math have a very strong relationship.

Back to their point: Orzel and Tyson are precisely right. Math should be a function like literacy. And it’s not even complex math. Arithmetic and basic Algebra should be proudly ingrained in all American brains. We don’t all need to be calculators. My wife regularly comments about how quickly I can multiply through things, but I attribute that to being quickly able to tear down problems (23 x 5 is actually (20×5)+(3×5) in my head) and having being the loot roller for more Dungeons & Dragons games than anyone else I know.

These guys don’t expect that either. They expect that it doesn’t matter what speed you can figure out a problem, they care that you can figure out the problem at all. Tyson properly goes into this with science as well. Organic Chemistry? Nuts to that. Asking how exactly something works, where it comes from, what are its limitations? Reasonable. Even if you can’t understand the specifics, you should at least be able to cut through the bullshit and see if the claim someone is making could actually be valid.

Actually, that ties into what I try to explain to my son. He’s following what advertisements are and it’s easy to see him get tripped up. He’s a knowledge hound, a precise knowledge hound, and I love him endlessly for it. So when some commercial makes a claim that its product does some amazing feat, I have to methodically walk him back and explain that ads, while not fully lying (usually), are shiny exaggerations of what something is actually capable of.

My favorite example: a box of Kix cereal. Right on the front, it claims to be a good source of Calcium and Vitamin D. Know what milk is chock-full of? Calcium and Vitamin D. So what does the Kix give you? Briefly crunchy filler. And yes, it tastes good and is easy to snack on so we still give it to the kids anyway.

To wrap up, I again agree: if someone makes the claim of being ‘bad at math’ and proud of it, remind them that it’s not okay to be illiterate in the basics of our civilization. We depend on it. I know I’m not touching on the fact math is probably not taught in the ways to reach all learners, but that’s a separate fault. I am sick of people being proud of being ignorant.

My dad is a brilliant man, double mastered in science and engineering. Knows something about everything. He’s why I’m abnormally adept at so much. But he’s a bad speller. He got screwed by an experimental method of teaching phonetics when he was a kid. He’s not proud, it’s just something he has to cope with. Doesn’t mean he can’t string a clear paragraph together or talk to someone about music or literature. So even if you’re bad at math, that’s no excuse for not being able to calculate my change at a coffee shop.