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The World Of "They're Just Kids" After Rove There’s Work to Be Done

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Another Fine Mess

by Christopher Chantrill
August 12, 2007 at 5:23 pm


LAST WEEK was not the best in recent memory. The Fed and the European Central Bank had to rush the global financial system into an ICU and pump in hundreds of billions of dollars and euros to try and control its raging sub-prime mortgage contagion. If you aren’t nervous, you ought to be.

Yet the sub-prime contagion was not the only storm signal.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James E. Hansen, director, quietly updated its US temperature anomaly chart, demoting 1998 from its position as the warmest year ever and restoring 1934 to that honor. Canadian gadfly Steve McIntyre at climateaudit.org is now 2 for 2. First he pointed out that the global temperature “hockey stick” was flawed. Now he’s pointed out that James Hansen has committed a “Y2K error” by switching temperature time series in 2000.

To top it all, the US decided to opt out of the international math pennant race. According to Education Week, the US Department of Education has decided to sit out part of the current update of the international TIMSS study of student math performance. The education bureaucrats don’t want to be a part of the TIMSS-Advanced 2008 test  that evaluates students “taking physics and upper-level math classes, such as calculus, at the end of their secondary school years.” You can see why. The last time they tested US students, they came in fourth from the bottom. But not to fear, says Newsweek. Congress has just passed the America COMPETES Act, “which carves out a whopping $43.6 billion for science education and research.”

Meanwhile it is beginning to seem as though all is not lost in Iraq, even though everyone knew it was.

How are we to make sense of all this?

Usually, you expect the nation’s writers and poets to tell the story that makes sense of it all. But today the writers and poets are demoralized. Recently Seattle Intiman Theatre director Bartlett Sher told Encore magazine “we’ve gotten to a point in our history where we feel that we can’t pull it all together.” What with all the cynicism, it’s become hard to build up hope in our country again.

So Sher has been putting on plays like Thornton Wilder’s Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town, and, of course, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which shows “how our kids learn about justice and learn to have an informed conscience.”

Our Town was written in 1938 and The Skin of Our Teeth in 1942. Mockingbird was the 1960 best-seller that told liberals they had always been on the side of the angels on civil rights. So the plays that Sher is presenting to his liberal Seattle audience are nostalgia pieces from a liberal golden age when America was sitting in front of the radio listening to FDR’s fireside chats or working to make civil rights a reality rather than a promise.

It was an era when “everyone” agreed that government was a force for positive good.

Here’s a nickel that says that Sher won’t be putting on a play about a fictional federal Office of Global Financial Coordination in which the ambitious executive-grade deputy assistant under-secretary hands out research grants to his academic buddies to study the importance of race in the development of mortgage-backed securities crises in between attending an endless round of international negotiations on global risk mitigation at which nothing is ever decided.

He won’t be putting on a play in which liberal school administrators and liberal teachers’ union leaders use their media contacts to publicize trumped-up charges against the principal of an inner-city private school while they trade financial and sexual favors at conferences in exotic vacation resorts.

He won’t be putting on a play about an academic hounded out of his tenured professorship because the grants dried up when he wouldn’t shade his research to support the prevailing academic global-warming orthodoxy.

And that’s a pity.

Americans desperately need to know what it all means whether “it” is globalized financial markets, politicized scientists, educational flatulence, or the clash of civilizations.

Bartlett Sher wonders why “we” can’t “pull it all together.” Maybe it’s because, in the liberal arts community, there are too many topics that can’t be brought to the stage or the screen. Because liberals don’t want to talk about it.

The troubling news of last week reminds us that we cannot put off a real national conversation much longer.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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