Thursday, July 23, 2009


It’s not the kind of news AP generally cares to print—and I found no local reportage on the story. I refer to a speech given by the National Education Association’s retiring General Counsel Bob Chanin at the group’s convention in San Diego during the long Fourth of July weekend. The entire presentation is on YouTube. I provide a few salient snippets below:

About the NEA’s effectiveness as an advocate, Chanin said, “It is not because of our creative ideas, it is not because of the merit of our positions, it is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.” (Standing ovation)

Concerning student achievement, dropout rates, and teacher quality, Chanin observed, “These are the goals that guide the work we do, but they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights, and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

Reemphasizing his union-centered theme, Chanin had this to say: “When all is said and done NEA and its affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions and what unions do first and foremost is represent their members. If we do that and if we do it well, the rest will fall into place. NEA and its affiliates will remain powerful and that power will in turn enable us to achieve our vision of a great public school for every child.”

Chanin’s rhetorical coup de grace was this bit of gutterly eloquence: "Why are these conservative and right-wing bastards picking on NEA and its affiliates? … It is the price we pay for success. NEA and its affiliates have been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the United States, and they are the nation’s leading advocates for public education and the type of liberal social and economic agenda that these groups find unacceptable.”

Chanin can at least be credited with honesty, if not civility. Note, however, the absurd invisible hand he assumes will work to the benefit of students once union demands have been satisfied—a benefits-results correlation that’s clearly nonexistent, as the late Senator Patrick Moynihan observed.

Anyone who isn’t blinded by self-interest can see that the “successful” unionization and politicization of teachers over the last forty years has been paired with a general decline in public education that’s often been catastrophic.

By the way, NEA and CTA dues will be increasing this fall--despite the recession.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


“Legoland cancels tribute to Jackson.” That’s a local headline that catches the eye.

According to this July 3 North County Times story, the Carlsbad amusement park was planning to install “a 4-inch-tall model of the ‘King of Pop’ in the park’s popular Miniland Southern California attraction” but pulled the pint-sized plug on the project because of “unresolved legal issues.” The article also noted that members with annual passes had been consulted about the proposal and were “sharply divided” in their opinions. What a shock.

The thought was to install a tiny Michael exiting a limousine by Miniland’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Diminutive paparazzi and fans, desperate to get peek of Lego-Jacko, would add to the display’s charm and verisimilitude.

Assuming that troublesome “legal issues” are resolved, here are some additional suggestions the park’s creative team might consider:

Construct an entire Miniland suburb devoted to various periods in MJ’s career. One spot could focus on little Michael and the Jackson Five. Then there would be a patch of land dedicated to the entertainer’s distinctive crotch-grabbing choreography—a position more easily Legoized than an animated Moonwalk.

A third bit of soil could provide mini-portraits of Jackson’s surgical reincarnations—perhaps with a hands-on mix-and-match computer where young patrons are given the opportunity to create their own favorite look from various facial components and tints.

Of course no tribute to Michael would be complete without a Neverland presentation that includes a scene where the Gloved One is engaging in an activity he repeatedly said was perfectly ok in an interview with Martin Bashir—sharing his bed with a child.

Another Wacko-Jacko section could portray the King of Pop in court in jammies, MJ with his surrogate breeders and motherless kids, MJ dangling his infant child over a balcony rail, and Michael paying several million Lego-dollars to an abuse accuser who never went to court. That set of visuals should attract a lot of attention from inquiring tiny-tot minds.

Obviously these “suggestions” take the recent idol-worshiping coverage of Jackson to its morally absurd conclusion. But given the debased “Family Guy” and “Two and a Half Men” fare that appears daily on the boob tube, the aforementioned “pushing the envelope” scenarios might not be so far-fetched.

Admittedly, Jackson was dealt a bad hand with a professionalized childhood engineered by an overbearing father. But on the other side of this lottery-of-life coin, Michael had talent and wealth that’s granted to precious few. To honor even a four-inch MJ in a park for kids puts a tacit seal of approval on the whole tawdry package.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Moral education is impossible without the habitual vision of greatness.” In recent decades visions of moral greatness have seldom been emphasized by popular media that routinely prostitute themselves for the sake of money and celebrity. A theme park dedicated to the dreams of kids should set a higher standard.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Paul Begala is having a grand time celebrating the infidelities of Nevada Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Both Republicans resigned party posts after their extra-marital affairs were exposed, and both know their futures within the party are greatly diminished or nonexistent.

Fortunately for Democrats, cheating entails no comparable sanctions on their side of the aisle. Consider Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In 2007 his relationship with a Telemundo reporter coincided with the breakup of his twenty-year marriage. This breach of fidelity was apparently one of many—the most egregious being a shades-of-John Edwards affair that occurred in 1994 while his wife was receiving treatment for thyroid cancer. That dubious fidelity resume, however, didn’t prevent “his honor” from being easily re-elected earlier this year. Further north, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s affair with his campaign manager’s wife in 2007 stunningly combined adultery and personal betrayal—all without losing his job, foiling a same-year re-election bid (73%), or derailing gubernatorial ambitions for 2010.

Returning to the Republican side, in 2006 the overtures of Mark Foley toward a 16-year-old male page not only prompted the Congressman’s resignation but also became a cause celebre for institutional change. By contrast, an actual “tryst” in 1973 between Congressman Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and a 17-year-old male page resulted, ten years later, in a motion of censure that was scorned not only by Studds but also his New England constituents—who proudly returned the page-bopper to Congress for another fourteen years.

One can continue with these contrasts ad nauseam. GOP Speaker-to-be Bob Livingston resigned from Congress because of extra-marital affairs, whereas Barney Frank’s cozy domestic, ticket-fixing relationship with a male prostitute was flushed down the media’s memory hole. Former Senator Larry Craig’s feet-shuffling antics in an airport stall transformed him into an ongoing late-night joke and political pariah, but Ted Kennedy’s deadly dalliance at Chappaquiddick served only to postpone his race for the White House till 1980 and didn’t prevent the morally-challenged legatee from attaining his “Lion of the Senate” moniker.

Most famously, Bill Clinton was sexually serviced in the White House by a young intern-turned-employee and lied about it under oath. Yet he’s revered in MSM circles. “On the other hand” (a la Obama’s absurd Cairo comparison), the honest and articulate Bill Bennett was widely vilified for engaging in the perfectly legal activity of gambling, an arguable vice never explicitly discussed in the former Education Secretary’s popular Book of Virtues.

The justification for this selective indignation, as Begala asserts in his largely partisan rant, is that Republicans claim to have “cornered the market on morality.” Consequently, they show themselves to be hypocrites when moral imperfections are exposed. Here are Begala’s exact words:

“For decades Republicans have sanctimoniously lectured the rest of us—that they’re better husbands, better Christians, better fathers, better wives, better patriots.”

The rhetorical sleight of hand in this apologia for vice is equating the promotion of high moral standards with personal preening. Begala assumes, in other words, that “lecturing” about morality amounts to patting oneself on the back for moral superiority. Accordingly, anyone who embraces the ideal of chastity is simultaneously saying, “Look at me. I’m always chaste and faithful to my spouse.”

The other side of this semantic equation is left blank—for obvious reasons. After all, if defending virtue is the same as saying, “I am virtuous,” then silence on the topic should be a tacit admission of corruption. Not surprisingly, Begala doesn’t follow this train of thought. Instead, he suggests that his party’s reticence to “lecture” about personal morality should be interpreted as a badge of humility. (In times past such reticence would be seen as a mark of cowardice or indifference.)

The practical effect of these new ground rules is that individuals who proclaim substantive moral ideals transform themselves into targets for public abuse—for being “hypocrites.” Meanwhile, individuals who forswear “lectures” are given moral indulgences and are praised for humility. This logic—promoted vigorously by media folk who profit from peddling decadence—explains why advocates for personal responsibility (like Dr. Laura) regularly receive more public grief than the likes of Howard Stern.

For those who adopt this way of thinking, the only personal moral duty a society must promote is the minimalist obligation to do no harm. (In the not-so-original words of Sam Donaldson, “My right to swing my fist ends at your nose.”) In place of “lectures” about chastity, modesty, caring for one’s family, and marrying the mother of one’s children, Begalians substitute insufferably arrogant and theoretically dubious sermons about global warming and gay marriage. Simultaneously they vilify as “hypocritical” any non-perfect promoter of traditional virtues.

The redefinition of the word “hypocrite” has been critical to this new approach to moral discourse. Linguistically, the term refers to persons who “pretend” to be better than they really are. It doesn’t apply to individuals who admit their faults. Today, however, the term no longer denotes deception or “wearing a mask.” Instead, it’s employed whenever someone doesn’t live up to standards he or she publicly endorses.

By this linguistic legerdemain all morally serious persons—those whose ideals exceed their grasp—are happily condemned as “hypocrites” by Sex and the City aficionados who don’t fancy living in a world where high standards of personal propriety are constantly reiterated. On the other side of this newly minted rhetorical coin, even moral zeroes can be called “honest” or “true to themselves” or (in Begala-la-la-land) “humble”—just as long as they keep their mouths shut.

These rules are obviously slanted in favor of creeps who would like social standards for personal behavior to be set as low as possible. Put succinctly, in Begala’s world the higher the moral standards endorsed, the greater the hypocrisy--the less any personal standards are promoted, the greater the humility. It’s an adolescent’s dream world where non-judgmentalism and silence are prized uber alles and where the old aphorism, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice gives to virtue,” has become a subversive thought.

That long-forgotten cliché was employed in a society where a reputation for virtue was actually an advantage—even for rogues. In our post-modern world where scandal is often the ticket to wealth and fame, what is “valued” most highly is congruence between one’s stated values and one’s actions—especially if one’s values are of the “flexible” variety. This construct (for which we can thank the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, d. 1980) was the intellectual justification for transforming hypocrisy from a “tribute to virtue” to the one and only deadly sin of an otherwise morality-free philosophy. Only in a world without objective moral standards could someone who consistently fails to clear a moral bar set at 7 feet be considered a “hypocrite” and inferior to a lout who places the moral bar flat on the ground and then steps triumphantly over it.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Moral education is impossible without the habitual vision of greatness.” This “vision of greatness” clearly includes “lectures” about virtues that need to be exemplified as widely as possible throughout an always imperfect society. Even Mr. Begala can relate to this principle—provided it’s linked to cases that resonate in the “left hemisphere” of his brain. It is important, for example, for individuals to exhibit and promote unprejudiced speech and deportment, regardless of latent ethnic or racial stereotypes. Similarly, an addict who’s struggling to overcome dependence on drugs isn’t a “hypocrite” for warning teenagers about the torments he’s undergoing. The same principle applies, extraordinarily enough, for people who tout personal virtues like fidelity and temperance. It’s important to trumpet these virtues precisely because all of us are imperfect and need to have an exalted moral vision habitually placed before us—by persons from both sides of the political aisles.

I suspect that Mr. Begala is as oblivious to these philosophical and linguistic points as he is to the demoralizing consequences of a “shut your mouth” approach to moral discourse. I continue to hope, however, that somewhere in the recesses of his soul, a small, barely perceptible but persistent voice will whisper this revised aphorism: “Crying hypocrisy—that’s the tribute faux virtue gives to vice.”

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Here is an IBD article by a Canadian on that nation's much-ballyhooed and little-publicized socialized health care system--a deadly model of rationed and delayed care that even seeks to control the number of babies delivered by hospital!