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Friday, July 07, 2006

Who's the Kid Here?

Liberalism 101: Human motivations are determined by external circumstances. Individual choice? Basically an illusion. Personal responsibility? Get real. It's the social system, stupid. For instance, why did a Littleton, Colorado high school student team up to murder 12 of his classmates and one faculty member? Because his English teacher disrespected him, that's why. The kid writes a creative short story for an English class, about some dude who kills nine high school students with automatic pistols. "I saw emanating from him power, complacence, closure, and godliness," the story ends. "I understood his actions." The teacher's critique: "You are an excellent writer and storyteller, but I have some problems with this one." See how the seeming praise is negated when the judgmental, creativity-stifling teacher defines the story as problematic? Can't you just feel the crushing blow to the boy's embryonic sense of self esteem? Why wouldn't he go on a shooting rampage? Wouldn't you? In the same vein, consider the growing methamphetamine epidemic among young people. Now, this is really gnarly stuff. Kids who use it — meth, tweak, speed, tweak, crank, crystal — do all kinds of bad things, like stealing your wallet and then helping you look for it, anything for the next cheap euphoric high. Okay, so which kids are specifically at risk? "All of them," writes a journalist who has studied the subject. Here's the roundup: "Teens whose parents ask too little of them. Teens whose parents ask too much from them. Teens who feel invisible. Teens who feel everyone expects them to be the best, the brightest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the handsomest. Teens who are stressed, insecure, depressed, struggling to find their identity or struggling to escape an identity imposed upon them." The journalist summarizes: "Which kids are at risk? All of them." Wait a minute — notice that "all of them" on the journalist's at-risk list are "victims of society." Mere pawns of powerful cultural forces beyond themselves. Oh, pity the too pretty, too bright, too thin kids, all "stressed" from struggling to find their "true identity." Excuse me, but I think a category or two has been overlooked. What about young'uns who turn to dangerous drugs because they make really bad personal choices? Why not so much as a mention of them, or their parents who ignore obvious warning signs (sudden weight loss, acne scarring, paranoid behavior, small plastic bags lying about) that their kids are doing drugs? Back to Columbine: within days of the shootings it was understood that the shooters weren't exactly secretive about their year-long plan to commit mass murder. "A lot of this stuff was clearly visible and the parents should have known," [Jefferson County Sheriff John] Stone said. "I think parents should be accountable for their kids' actions." Memo to Sheriff Stone: You're so funny! Did they really teach you that at police school? What a dangerous concept — personal accountability. Remember the 1960s notion that to be part of the "counter-culture" meant being willing to go against mainstream thinking? Flash forward: to be part of the counter-culture now requires challenging the insidious idea that individuals are mere robots at the effect of forces beyond their control. Let me be clear. I'm not saying negative social pressures aren't real. The Columbine killers were bullied. And young potential crank users are susceptible to toxic cultural messages. Relevant factors, but they don't change the basic reality: Individuals are free to make better or worse choices in their lives. So what we need is the right kind of framework for understanding this fact. Let's see. Perhaps we could begin with a comment about the human capacity for sin — no, wait. That would take us into uncomfortable religious territory, ick! Well, how about "evil"? Too moralistic — though it is a four-letter word and that's always a plus with liberals keen on flouting traditional values. Hey, I think I've got it — let's start a new movement and call it "pro-choice." Now wouldn't that be a hoot: extending "choice" beyond the right to terminate lives conceived but not yet born? Maybe the simplest explanation is right in front of us. Young people have always rebelled — it goes with the territory of adolescence. In fact, kids need rites of passage so they can be initiated into the larger passions of a life worth living. Bottom line: children need parents who are willing to pay attention. Call me crazy optimistic but I think it's not too late even for many Baby Boom parents - at least the ones who are open to a simple challenge. You start by looking your children in the eye, then looking at yourself in the mirror. The point is to come away absolutely clear who's the kid and who's the adult. Everything important will follow from that.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ken Lay, Rest in Pieces

Ken Lay's unexpected death complicates prosecutors' bid to seize pieces of his estate, but that doesn't mean the man shouldn't be punished even in death, judging from the fury of some who can't quite believe they no longer have Lay to represent the intrinsic villany of capitalism. Hey, don't get me wrong; I have no use for a guy who clearly lied, cheated, and stole his way to enormous wealth at the expense stockholders too numerous to name. I confess that I was looking forward to the day when he moved into a federal prison. But let's keep our spirits bright; there's hope that Lay in his death can continue to personify unmitigated evil. Idea: since he's has become a poster kid for the worst excesses of free enterprise, the least Lay's family can do is turn over his corpse to an angry mob so they can rend his flesh to pieces. Let those who hated Ken Lay have the opportunity to express the categorical hatred they didn't or couldn't bring to bear when Zarqawi assumed room temperature a few weeks ago. As for those who got cheated by Enron, here's hoping they leave no stone unturned in going after Lay's estate in civil court. Their chances for recovery ain't great, but they deserve to fight for every cent they can reclaim.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Racist Voter Fraud Measures

All of us have heard liberals complain that requirement for voters to produce photo ID cards are repressive, oppressive, marginalizing, racist, anti-poor-people. Now we learn that a specific electoral system makes use of photo ID cards, electronic fingerprints and computers that can pinpoint each voter's home on a map. Moreover, on voting day every polling station receives a book of digital photos to help identify voters! Surely the sinister aim of such a reactionary voting system can be none other than to exclude persons of color and poor people. Tell that to the Mexican government. It's their system. After voting results are announced Wednesday, elections offices nationwide will check the tally sheets and issue final totals. Those results will be sent to Mexico's Electoral Court, which certifies the winner. No chads, hanging or otherwise. This is how a country with stringent immigration rules seeks to ensure that only qualified people vote. So here's a thought. Suppose we here in El Norte were to adopt Mexico's immigration and voting rules, while we still have a culture and an electoral process worth protecting? And: is it "racist" for Mexico to demand that a white Mexican citizen of Swedish descent must produce a photo ID on election day, as a condition for participating in that nation's electoral process? Why is the UN human rights committee silent on this troubling issue?

Racist Voter Fraud Measures?

All of us have heard liberals complain that requirement for voters to produce photo ID cards are repressive, racist, marginalizing, rigged against poor people. Now we learn that a specific electoral system makes use of photo ID cards, electronic fingerprints and computers that can pinpoint each voter's home on a map. Moreover, on voting day every polling station receives a book of digital photos to help identify voters! Surely the sinister aim of such a reactionary voting system can be none other than to exclude persons of color and poor people. Tell that to the Mexican government — it's their system. Here's how their oppressive electoral system works. When voting results are announced today, elections offices nationwide will check the tally sheets and issue final totals. Those results will be sent to Mexico's Electoral Court, which certifies the winner. No chads, hanging or otherwise. This is how a country with stringent immigration rules seeks to ensure that only qualified people vote. So here's a thought. Suppose we here in El Norte adopt Mexico's immigration and voting rules, while we still have a culture and an electoral process worth protecting? And since we're asking inconvenient questions: Suppose a white Mexican citizen of Western European descent — say a blue-eyed blonde Swede who got tired of all the snow and took up permanent residence at Oaxaca — attempted to vote in his new country's presidential election. Would Mexican election officials commit a "racisct act" by demanding that this citizen produce a photo ID on voting day? Would that constitute "racial profiling" of a person of (fair) color? Why is the UN commission on human rights silent on these troubling issues?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Reborn on the Fourth of July

"Do they live in America? ... You mean they don't like freedom?" My then 6-year-old son asked me these questions last year upon learning that there are people who hate seeing the American flag (except when it's on fire). I discussed that in a 2005 essay on why I love Independence Day. I hope your day is one of family, friends, and festivities — and that you'll take some time to remember that Thomas Jefferson and his visionary companions literally risked their lives in behalf of the freedom that makes America unique among all nations of the world. A reflection for this day:
"In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man—these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth and their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress." — Calvin Coolidge

Monday, July 03, 2006

Lieberman's Base...

...just got much bigger. Joe Lieberman's decision to file as an independent is politically smart. It also happens to be the right moral choice. This is a senator who considers himself a loyal Democrat in the tradition of Harry Truman, a Democrat whose principaled refusal to abandon Iraq to fascists appeals to Connecticut independent voters, even as Leiberman's commitment to principle offends the Democratic Party's far-left base. Ned "Surrender Now" Lamont accuses Leberman of trying to "hedge his bets and game the system." No, it's called: aiming to win. Memo to Ned: If you're so confidant that you're the voice of the people, why don't you too file as an independent and put your "populist" agenda (tax increases, expensive new government social programs, gutting national defense) before Connecticut voters in November?