24 December 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

In Hoc Anno Domini

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published in The Wall Street Journal annually since.

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression -- for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

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23 December 2007

Free Mark Steyn

At least in Canada, when the local Muslim interest group complains, they don't throw you in jail and threaten lashes and/or worse. Well, they haven't, yet.

Mark Steyn has been a favorite columnist of ours for some time now. We serialized one of his best (and funniest) columns here, here, here, and here. We mentioned him in a post about an experience at the Cambridge Intel Seminar where we met a critic of his here. And if that's not enough Steyn for you, he's currently filling in for Sean Hannity on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes.

First of all, it behooves us to understand that other Western countries do not protect speech the way the US does. In fact, they typically don't have a Bill of Rights in the way that America does. This bears repeating: speech is not protected anywhere the way it is in the United States. Mark Steyn, like others before him, is currently experiencing what it is like when one offends a powerful interest group in a country with limited speech protection.

Read the overview about the case at National Review Online. Then, read what prompted the current kerfuffle at Macleans.ca. Finally, check out more about the case in an article by John Robson. Then, if you like, return and comment here.

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18 December 2007

Our Fav Christmas Music

Originally posted on 4 December 2005, updated.

With 487 songs from 118 artists and 48 different albums comprising 1.1 days of music (thank you iTunes for that stat), our list is comprehensive and authoritative.

To be sure of our rankings, we've done nothing but listen to Christmas music the entire weekend, spurning invitations to dinner, movies, and other social events. Living on nothing but a steady diet of pop tarts and diet cherry coke, addled by way too much Kenny G, we present THE TOP 9 GREATEST CHRISTMAS ALBUMS EVER.

1. Christmas to Christmas - Lee Greenwood
Famous for his patriotic favorite, "God Bless the USA" (you know you sang it in elementary school) this country artist produced the best Christmas album ever. From "Tennesse Christmas" to "Lonestar Christmas" this one is a classic. But we're still waiting for "Evergreen (Washington) Christmas."

2. Home for Christmas - Amy Grant
"Breath of Heaven" is the signature song from this album that is a favorite of our erstwhile roommate Marc--he's a HUGE Amy Grant fan.

3. When My Heart Finds Christmas - Harry Connick Jr.
Not to be confused with the imposter, Michael Buble, this master of big band, jazz, and the silver screen (awesome performance in "Independence Day") is best known for "It Must Have Been 'Ol Santa Claus." This is our brother Matt's favorite.

4. An Airus Christmas - Kurt Bestor
More religious than the Top 3, the best songs on this album are "Coventry Carol" and "What Child Is This."

5. Once Upon A Christmas - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
For all you young kids enjoying holiday romances, try this selection from Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. You say you've never heard of Kenny Rogers? Ask your parents. "A Christmas to Remember" and "Christmas Without You" are the best.

6. Faith - A Holiday Album - Kenny G
Good album, just don't listen to it repeatedly. Oh, and if you haven't seen it already, Jon Stewart did a great parity of Kenny G in a SNL sketch a few years ago. Spoontang. Download it.

7. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
The Godfather of Christmas music and Christmas movies. Before "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" there was "White Christmas." Was he the first to sing "The Christmas Song"?

8. Making Spirits Bright - Dean Martin
This Rat Pack member gets credit for having the best version of "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"--popularized by Elf. Check it out.

9. Christmas with the Beach Boys - The Beach Boys
Call this a concession and a shout out to all our friends from SoCal. Our mom likes this album too. "Merry Christmas, Baby" is the star-track.

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16 December 2007

Our Fav Christmas Movies

Christmas is the time for Christmas movies. We continue to be amazed by the number of people who have never seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story (NN, we're talking about you). And so, we re-post this Christmas fav.

Originally posted on 20 December 2005.

1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
In the genre of Christmas films Cousin Eddie is possibly the best character ever. We also think he is a composite of several members of my extended family. If you've only ever watched this on tv, be prepared to fast-forward a couple parts.

2. A Christmas Story
Red Rider BB guns, the neighbor's hounds, the smiling Christmas duck, chocolate ovaltine--this movie has it all. And you can't beat the tongue on the flagpole, you really can't--that's the type of humor that appeals to all ages.

3. Scrooged
We love watching the angel/ghost beat the snot out of Bill Murray's character. If you like Groundhogs Day or What About Bob? or Ghostbusters you'll love Bill Murray in this movie. Ditto on the self-edit, the tv version cuts out some of the unnecessary crass material.

4. It's a Wonderful Life
We're sometimes sentimental, but never sappy. This is one you can watch with the whole family.

5. Elf
This movie is good, but not great. We particularly enjoy the scene where Will Ferrell tries to put the star on the tree. Also, answering his father's office phone, "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?" is classic and oft repeated. Speaking of oft repeated quotes from Will Ferrell, can we please be done with everything being "kind of a big deal?" Sure, we think more cowbell is just as funny as the next guy, and we know Ferrell is popular because even the dumb get his jokes, but still, can we let this one die, please? It's overused in the way "alrighty then" from Ace Ventura Pet Detective was abused. Apologies to those of you too young to remember that movie or the quote or, if you do, don't remember why it was funny. You probably don't remember because it wasn't that funny in the first place. But, in ten years when some little-read blog writes about Anchorman and how everyone used to wait around for the obligatory reference to something being "kind of a big deal," you'll wonder at the fact that you thought it was so frickin hilarious. And then, you'll know what we mean.

6. The Santa Clause
Our sister wanted us to include this one. And yes, we did watch Home Improvement growing up, and loved it.

7. Santa Claus The Movie
Before there was Elf there was this movie where an elf leaves the North Pole because he doesn't fit in. This movie has Dudley "need we say" Moore? Seriously. Need we?

8. White Christmas
We first watched this movie because Chevy Chase's character (Clark Griswold) referred to it in his famous rant near the end of Christmas Vacation. Watch this one with grandma.

9. Home Alone
What is it about pain that gets such big laughs? Suspend your hate of Macauley Culkin and watch this one with your younger cousins or neices and nephews--that way you can either laugh at the movie or their response.

10. A Muppet Christmas Carol
Our favorite version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This one should also appeal to your friends of the Angry Left. We don't know why we wrote that, it just felt right (no pun intended).

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14 December 2007

Echo, Echo: Democrat Lovefest

It's no wonder the Democrats trumpet the superficial diversity of their primary candidates--a woman, black, latino, etc.--there is no diversity of opinion.

We watched today's debate hoping to find out what was different about each candidate. Asked about taxes and the economy, each one blamed Bush and called for increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Health care? Each one wanted a universal, euro-style socialized system. At one point we closed our eyes and tried to guess which one was speaking--only Hillary's shrill voice set her apart from the rest, her politics certainly didn't.

Granted that Presidential primaries cause each candidate to appeal to the extreme base, but still, the Democrats might as well all have the same policies and platforms. Republicans may all be white and male (thought not all Alan Keyes!!!!!), but there are differences of opinion on abortion, the environment, taxes, campaign finance, immigration, trade, stem-cell research (though with recent findings, those differences are diminishing), Iraq (Ron Paul), etc. Among the Republican candidates, there exists a strong diversity of opinion.

For as long as we can remember, we've heard that the liberals were the open-minded party. Anyone listening to today's debate would know that's not true.

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13 December 2007

Iran: Beware Good News

As we consider the recent NIE revelation that Iran discontinued it's nuke program some 3 years ago, it's worth considering a couple of things:

- Iran recently tested a missile with a range of 2000 km--effectively allowing a strike against Israel.

- Israel does not agree with many of the basic assumptions in the NIE report.

- The French, specifically President Sarkozy, still believe Iran is a threat to acquire nuclear weapons. For all you doves, the fact that it is the French sounding the alarm ought to carry a bit of credibilty with you.

- At least two of the committee members who reviewed the final NIE report have been outspoken critics of President Bush. Though criticism has been warranted, much of theirs took on a very partisan tone.

- Iran still has hegemonic aspirations. And they want to obliterate Israel.

- Iran continues to enrich Uranium. This is one of the more difficult steps in the bomb-making process. Ostensibly, they are doing so for energy production. We should know better.

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Lincoln on Persuasion

In a post last week, we mentioned our love of dailylit.com and admiration for Abraham Lincoln. We wrote this in the context of a letter we'd read that day, written by Lincoln, to a friend, regarding his recent marriage proposal. The response from friends who've read this in email (we forwarded it to some) and on the blog has been overwhelmingly positive.

Though not all letters are as funny and interesting and revealing as that letter, they often contain nuggets of information that seem to have present application. Or, at least they do to us. Bear in mind that we are a historian in training.

From an Address before the Washingtonian Temperance Society. Springfield, Illinois. February 22, 1842

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim "that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.

On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interests....

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Participate In Our Poll!

As a part of our ongoing effort to make this blog more interesting (yes, it's possible), we recently added a weekly poll--located immediately to the right of this post.

Since our readership has dwindled--owing to our sporadic posts--we'll start out with a question-of-the-week. If/when we start getting a few more hits (shameless plug--please tell your friends about OL&L), we'll shorten the duration of each poll, thereby giving you, dear reader, more opportunities to weigh in.

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11 December 2007

National Review, Our Fav Conservative Mag, Endorses Mitt

Generally, we believe that newspapers should not endorse candidates. Rather, we think they should advocate issues, ideas, and positions. We're not quite sure what to make of it when an outspoken conservative publication endorses a particular candidate.

Drudge called our attention to this development and it appears the Drudge traffic is overloading National Review's servers, so good luck getting at the article here.

Like National Review, we appreciate the totality of Mitt Romney's conservative positions. His current stated positions more closely match ours than any of the other Republican candidates for President. However, we still have reservations about Romney. How sure is his conversion to conservative principles? Was his change of position the result of a change of heart? Or was he just endorsing moderate to liberal positions to get elected in MA? Or, even worse, is he only now adopting conservative ideals to get past the Republican primary?

Point by point, Mitt is our ideal candidate. But if he is not a true conservative believer, we'd rather have a candidate with whom we disagree, but believe is telling the truth.

***Update 11:23PM MST - Transcript of chat between Hugh Hewitt and Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review. This provides great insight into NR's decision making process vis-à-vis their endorsement of Romney.

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10 December 2007

From the Journal: On BYU & Mormons

In the Friday, December 7th edition of the Wall Street Journal Naomi Shaeffer Riley, deputy Taste editor wrote on "What Iowans Should Know About Mormons." Good stuff, this article.

Riley spent some time at BYU while researching religious universities. Based on her experience then and there, she recommended not that readers vote for Romney, but that they do not discount him because of his religion.

About BYU and its students she wrote:
The young men and women at Brigham Young University are among the smartest, hardest-working and most pleasant college kids you will find anywhere. (For better or worse, I have visited dozens of college campuses.) The student body lives by the Mormon principle: "The glory of God is intelligence." Most reside off campus without adult supervision, yet they adhere strictly to curfews, rules about contact with the opposite sex and every other church directive. They are purposeful but seem to enjoy themselves, spending their free time hiking in the sprawling desert. And BYU has America's largest ROTC program outside of our military schools.

This last fact is one I had occasion to think about on my trip. I left for BYU on Sept. 7, 2001, and returned home a week later. On 9/11, the students gathered for a campuswide devotional. The university president tried to comfort the students with "the eternal perspective." My eternal perspective is not the same as theirs, of course. But hearing more than 20,000 young people around me reciting the Pledge of Allegiance made me realize that our temporal perspective is the same. I'm sure Sam Adams would have agreed.
While we personally haven't spent much time "hiking in the sprawling desert," we much prefer this characterization of BYU students to others we've read.

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Maureen Dowd is a hack

This morning we received the following email, having been forwarded to us mass-style:
Hello Everyone:

New York Times columnist Maureen Down wrote a hateful, offensive, and untruthful article about the Mormon Church yesterday (Sunday, Dec. 9th). In it, she describes Church leaders as "authoritarian", asserts that the Church today does not "grant[] women and blacks equal status", and declares that Joseph Smith was a "lusty, charismatic Prospero." (Prospero, in case you are not aware, is a character in Shakespeare's The Tempest that uses sorcery to control the play's other characters.) She exclusively quotes Jon Krakauer (author of "Under the Banner of Heaven") as her "expert" on Mormonism.

Ms. Dowd's column falls far below the standards of professional journalism. She is loose with the facts. Her disdain for Mormons is apparent. You may recall that radio talk-show host Don Imus was forced to publicly apologize and leave his job for calling the women of the Rutgers basketball team "nappy-headed hoes." Ms. Dowd's comments were equally offensive to Mormons. I believe that she, like Don Imus, should apologize and lose her job.

Please take a few minutes to complete the following three steps:

1. Read the article entitled "Mitt's No JFK"

2. Send one short, RESPECTFUL email to publisher@nytimes.com and president@nytimes.com requesting that Ms. Dowd apologize and step down from her position.

3. Forward this email to all potentially interested friends/family in your email list.
Our first reaction to this email was surprise. We can't believe anyone still reads Dowd--a columnist whose scurrilous and spurious work would fit in better over at the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post.

If this email writer or anyone else thinks this is the first or worst or last of these types of columns, they had better brace themselves. Attention: much, much more to follow.

When you do write your email to the NYT publisher and president, make it a form letter. You'll be filling in a lot more names before this campaign is over.

***Update 1:26pm MST: From the Washington Post, a more "balanced" look at Mormonism (you know, one that doesn't rely on sensationalist John Krakauer for its information) by Michael Otterson entitled "Are Mormons Christians?"

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06 December 2007

Lincoln on Love

A week ago we subscribed to two books or collections over at dailylit.com: Pride and Prejudice and the Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln. Among the latter was this gem of a letter Lincoln sent to his friend, Mrs. Browning regarding his recent attempt at marriage. We guarantee you'll laugh out loud or get your money back (most books at DailyLit are, like this blog, free).

Most people know Lincoln as America's great liberator--one of the two best Presidents in American history. Letters like these humanize Lincoln, they help us realize that he was a normal man with normal concerns and worries and, as this letter shows, an incredible sense of humor (self deprecating) and humility. Lincoln is one of our heroes.



A Letter to Mrs. O.H. Browning. Springfield, Illinois. April 1, 1838

Dear Madam, Without apologising for being egotistical, I shall make the history of so much of my life as has elapsed since I saw you the subject of this letter. And, by the way, I now discover that in order to give a full and intelligible account of the things I have done and suffered since I saw you, I shall necessarily have to relate some that happened before.

It was, then, in the autumn of 1836 that a married lady of my acquaintance, and who was a great friend of mine, being about to pay a visit to her father and other relatives residing in Kentucky, proposed to me that on her return she would bring a sister of hers with her on condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch. I, of course, accepted the proposal, for you know I could not have done otherwise had I really been averse to it; but privately, between you and me, I was most confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding life through hand-in-hand with her. Time passed on, the lady took her journey, and in due time returned, sister in company, sure enough.

This astonished me a little, for it appeared to me that her coming so readily showed that she was a trifle too willing, but on reflection it occurred to me that she might have been prevailed on by her married sister to come, without anything concerning me having been mentioned to her, and so I concluded that if no other objection presented itself, I would consent to waive this. All this occurred to me on hearing of her arrival in the neighbourhood--for, be it remembered, I had not yet seen her, except about three years previous, as above mentioned. In a few days we had an interview, and, although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff.

I knew she was called an "old maid," and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features,--for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles--but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her.

But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse, and I made a point of honour and conscience in all things to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case I had no doubt they had, for I was now fairly convinced that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my bargain. "Well," thought I, "I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it." At once I determined to consider her my wife, and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to work in search of perfections in her which might be fairly set off against her defects. I tried to imagine her handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. Exclusive of this, no woman that I have ever seen has a finer face.

I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person, and in this she was not inferior, as I could discover, to any with whom I had been acquainted.

Shortly after this, without attempting to come to any positive understanding with her, I set out for Vandalia, when and where you first saw me. During my stay there I had letters from her which did not change my opinion of either her intellect or intention, but, on the contrary, confirmed it in both.

All this while, although I was fixed "firm as the surge-repelling rock" in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. Through life I have been in no bondage, either real or imaginary, from the thraldom of which I so much desired to be free. After my return home I saw nothing to change my opinion of her in any particular. She was the same, and so was I. I now spent my time in planning how I might get along in life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place, and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time, which I really dreaded as much, perhaps more, than an Irishman does the halter.

After all my sufferings upon this deeply interesting subject, here I am, wholly, unexpectedly, completely out of the "scrape," and I now want to know if you can guess how I got out of it--out, clear, in every sense of the term--no violation of word, honour, or conscience. I don't believe you can guess, and so I might as well tell you at once. As the lawyer says, it was done in the manner following, to wit: After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honour do (which, by the way, had brought me round into the last fall), I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay, and so I mustered my resolution and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of the case, but on my renewal of the charge I found she repelled it with greater firmness than before.

I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.

I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time never doubting that I understood them perfectly; and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then for the first time began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her. But let it all go! I'll try and outlive it. Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never in truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself. I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason--I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockhead enough to have me.

When you receive this, write me a long yarn about something to amuse me. Give my respects to Mr. Browning.

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22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 2007 II

And the Fair Land

Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places -- only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere -- in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2007 III

The Stuff of Democratic Life
By Allen Guelzo

On Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the dedication remarks at the opening ceremonies of a cemetery for soldiers of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pa. This "Gettysburg Address" -- a gem-like model of conciseness, passion and political eloquence -- quickly became a fixed feature of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and triple-decker Fourth of July orations, even the soundtrack of the first "talking" motion picture in 1922. It was read once again to dedicate a block of burnt earth in Manhattan during the solemn first anniversary of 9/11 at Ground Zero.

Lincoln wrote a great many other memorable speeches, from his two inaugural addresses to the proclamation that, a week after the Gettysburg Address, made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Why was the Gettysburg speech so much more important? The answer would be easier if his words had not become so worn with familiarity. Time has done more than just heal the wounds of the Civil War. It has grown moss over prose that captured, in a shorter compass and with greater power than any others, the three fundamental challenges of the American experiment.

In 1863, the United States was the only significant democracy in the world. The French Revolution had drowned itself in blood; the democratic uprisings of the 1820s and 1840s had been easily and successfully repressed by kings and emperors; and everywhere, it was power and hierarchy rather than liberty and equality which seemed the best guarantee of peace and plenty. Americans remained the one people who defined themselves by a natural proposition, that all men are created equal, so that no one was born with a superior entitlement to command.

But this republic of equal citizens had two basic weaknesses. The first was its tolerance of slavery, which drew the line of race across the line of equality. The second weakness was the question of authority in a democracy. In a society where every citizen's opinion carried equal weight, decisions would have to be made by majority rule. But a citizen whose opinion carries such weight might find it difficult to submit to the countervailing vote of a majority which thinks differently, and the result is likely to be a simple truculent refusal to go along. Refusals make for resistance, and resistance makes for civil war. Is there, Lincoln asked in 1861, some deep flaw in popular government, some weird centripetal force, which inevitably condemns popular government to whirl itself into pieces "and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth"?

To that question, every king and autocrat in 1861 -- and every fuehrer, duce and president-for-life since -- has answered, smirkingly, yes. And the American Civil War looked like the chief evidence that this was so. Which is why, as Lincoln looked out across the thousands who had gathered on that November day, it seemed to him that what he was viewing was more than just another noteworthy battlefield. It had fallen to him to argue that the Civil War signaled not a failure, but a test, to determine once and for all whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

We pass this test, Lincoln said, not by dedicating cemeteries, but by dedicating ourselves. That dedication lies first in seeing that equality is an imposition of self-restraint. It means refusing to lay upon the backs of others the burdens we do not wish laid on our own. Slavery was an outrage on the notion of equality, not just because it treated members of a different race as unequal, but because it allowed one race to exploit another without any restraint at all. "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master," Lincoln explained in 1858. "This expresses my idea of democracy." Popular government is not about what we want, or about our demands for ourselves, but what we should not want and not demand of others.

Dedication lies, second, in the enforcement of self-restraint. Democracy is a discipline. One cannot opt out on the plea of liberty whenever the political score goes against us. The Southern secessionists imagined that they were protecting their liberty by seceding from the Union, but they were in fact negating it. Secession, Lincoln argued, was the essence of anarchy, not liberty, since the only liberty the secessionists had in mind was the liberty to do what they pleased, without restraint, and to people whom they deemed unequal. Against that, a democracy must take up the sword, or cease to be a democracy at all.

But dedication also comes, third, in understanding how to sustain a fervor for democracy's defense. It was the complaint of Francis Fukuyama that the triumph of democracy had only managed to produce a "last man" who had no other reason for being free than the satisfaction of his own interests. It was Lincoln's words at Gettysburg which invested the triumph of democracy with a transcendent meaning, as a good based on natural law rather than on personal comfort. It was because these honored dead were witnesses to that kind of democracy that we could take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.

The turn of the 9/11 ceremonies to the Gettysburg Address was instinctively correct. But Lincoln's words are more than just a tonic for crises. Self-restraint, self-enforcement and the recollection that democracy has a transcendent core arching far above our poor power to add or detract -- these are the stuff of democratic life, and the Gettysburg Address is the reminder of Lincoln's prescription for government of the people, by the people and for the people. If we forget it, it may be because we have forgotten all the other things that democracy demands.

Mr. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and the author, inter alia, of "Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America" (Simon and Schuster, 2004).

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Happy Thanksgiving 2007

The Desolate Wilderness

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits. [Desolate Wilderness]

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

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13 November 2007

Giuliani & Abortion

Last night we finished reading Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' memoir, My Grandfather's Son. Thomas has always been our favorite Supreme Court Justice and reading his memoir has made us admire him even more. He is very honest about his struggles with depression, alcohol, divorce, education--everything.

But the thing that stood out to us, and the reason for this post, was his description of his Senate confirmation hearings. We remember watching these hearings on TV. It was where we first learned about sexual harassment. We remember asking our father (though we doubt he'll remember) why the guys on TV seemed to be attacking then Judge Thomas. Our father, who'd voted for Bush Sr. and supported his nomination of Thomas explained that some people had said things about Thomas that weren't true and that before he could join the Supreme Court, they needed to make sure everyone knew it. We'd never watched C-SPAN before, didn't really understand what they were talking about, but we recognized a good man when we saw him (Thomas) and what Thomas in his book calls a "high-tech lynching" when we saw that, too.

As we read the book, we learned what it cost Thomas, his wife, family, friends, the Bush Administration--everyone who supported him--to be drug through the mud by the cabal of liberal Senators, groupthink Civil Rights organizations, pro-choice women's groups, and their willing echo chamber/propaganda machine, the mainstream media. "Ludicrous" does not even begin to describe the shameful event that played out on C-SPAN and in the press.

Suffice it to say that My Grandfather's Son is one of the best books we've read in some time.

The next President will nominate 1-2 new Supreme Court justices. If nominated by a Republican, they could conceivably change the future of American jurisprudence--abortion, property rights, affirmative action--all these and more could and probably would be reconsidered by a newly conservative Supreme Court.

Rudy Giuliani has admitted that his personal beliefs are pro-choice. In order to placate social conservatives and win the Republican nomination, he stated that he would nominate judges in the mold of Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. While somewhat comforting, the experience of Judge Thomas illustrates why this may not be enough. The most recent justices nominated to the court--John Roberts and Samuel Alito--replaced conservative William Rehnquist and nominally conservative Sandra Day O'Connor. Though they were opposed by Democratic Senators and the aforementioned interest groups, because it wouldn't change the balance of the court, they largely got through without a fight.

However, if a Republican somehow manages to win the next presidential election, John Paul Stevens, who seems to be awaiting a Democratic president, may not live long enough to see one and could be replaced by a conservative judge. As this would upset the "balance" of the court, you can expect a fight on the scale of Clarence Thomas, with the same amount of dirty politics. Such a fight requires especially a President who principally believes in and would support a nominee who would face the sort of character assassination faced by Clarence Thomas.

Giuliani has made no secret of his personal pro choice beliefs. We're afraid that when push comes to shove, a President Giuliani would quickly back away from his justice "in the mold of Alito & Scalia" and instead nominate someone more palatable to the angry lynch mob of liberal interest groups.

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11 November 2007

Weekend Conversation - Referendum 1 & School Vouchers - Part 2

Yesterday we posted one part of a discussion thread from cougarboard.com about Referendum 1 and school vouchers. This post includes the rest of the thread.

(cougarboard.com question/contention in italics, OL&L response in regular type):

There are a lot of good reasons for vouchers, but I cannot see that vouchers will help motivate people who cannot or will not find their way to school. I wholeheartedly support vouchers, but I don't see where the race card fits in.

It's a valid question, and the answer is, that everywhere vouchers have been tried--Milwaukee, Washington DC, Florida--they are overwhelmingly used by minority students and have resulted in higher test scores and grad rates.

The same is true of Utah. Utah public schools have about a 13% minority population. Utah private schools are around 25%. Even without vouchers, the parents of these students recognize that a private education--for whatever reason--offers their students, their children, a greater chance to learn and eventually graduate.

If it works, it should be used. Practical solutions should be the end of public spending. If you have proof it will work, then all the better.

There is definitely another side to the Milwaukee program, which has been around for 17 years. It isn't all roses.

I'm for vouchers, but there are still some serious issues with it.

Voucher programs aren't perfect. But unlike public schools, they are willing and able to change and evolve to respond to the needs of their students. Schools and their overlords, teachers unions (the real bad guy here) resist any attempt to change or improve *their* territory.

Simply sticking with the status quo of public education is the classic example of insanity: same behavior and we expect a different result.

It's time for change.

Check the stats -- the large % of those failing will be boys. For most of them it's not that they aren't capable --- They simply won't/don't do the work. And their parents don't care enough to MAKE them do the work. So they sit there for 4 years, take up space, cause disruptions, waste money and then drop out as a jr. or sr. My wife's a teacher (not in UT, thank goodness) and sees this day in and day out. Kids that refuse to turn in any work at all. It's much more common than one would think. They can't be forced to work and the school districts are not allowed to kick them out. Sad.

If someone told your wife that they would pay her an additional $5k per year if she could figure out a way to turn these "problem students" into "productive students," do you think she'd be interested? How about an additional $10k?

All teachers and all schools are not created equal. Some of them figure out ways to teach these students. A voucher system would allow them the flexibility and set up the incentives and penalties to encourage them to succeed in finding ways to teach problem students. Simply saying that it is the parent's problem and can't/wont be corrected is a cop out.

I don't know, maybe someone will set up an Army run high school with strict rules, codes, punishment, etc. Maybe that type of system would work? I don't know. But you know what? I don't have to know. All we can do is support a system that allows people to be creative in solving the problem. Public education doesn't do that.

For example, teachers unions in Utah refuse merit pay. In other words, whether they teach well or not, they are compensated similarly.

I know, I know, many teachers teach out of the goodness of their hearts(!) and insist that their teaching has nothing to do with money. Right. Teachers are the only segment of our population to whom money means nothing. I suppose if you believe that then you will also believe all the other anti-Referendum 1 drivel.

There are good teachers out there and they should be getting paid double or triple what they're getting paid now. But there are even more bad teachers and they, in turn, should be fired. Neither one of those two things happens under the current system.

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10 November 2007

Weekend Conversation - Referendum 1 & School Vouchers

We realized, after linking to it in one of our recent posts, that unless you, dear reader, are a member of cougarboard.com, you would be unable to access the discussion thread. Since many important questions were raised and addressed in that thread--questions which we continue to be asked in person and email--we thought it would be worthwhile to copy and paste at least part of that dialogue here, at OL&L.

To draw traffic to OL&L, we posted posted the following at cougarboard.com (cougarboard.com question/contention in italics, OL&L response in regular type):

43% of minority students--primarily African- and Latin-American students--fail to graduate from high school in the state of Utah. Meanwhile, student test scores fail to match those of students in states with similar demographics.

Vouchers probably wont affect your students, but they could give less fortunate students a real chance to succeed.

How does someone not graduate from high school? I don't care if you are black, pink, purple, striped, or polka dotted. How on earth does someone not graduate from high school? All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go. What on earth could cause 40% of any group to drop out?

How DOES someone not graduate from high school? "All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for public education anywhere.

I'm not trying to say it's hard or endorse public education. It seems to be that a high school diploma is just the absolute bare minimum that any competent person could accomplish in their life. I live a pretty sheltered life, but I don't know anyone who failed to graduate from high school. I just can't imagine what on earth could cause any group to fail to graduate 40% of it's members.

Your response reads like the response of teacher's unions. Clearly they haven't been able to discover what it is that causes over 40% of a certain demographic to fail AND more importantly, they have been unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify it.

But then, it isn't your job to figure out what the root cause or causes are, so your incredulity is understandable. What's infinitely more frustrating and not understandable is the inability of public education to figure out the problem.

Clearly the one-size-fits-all of public education *doesn't* fit all.

What's your reasoning? I'm inclined to say that it is the students fault. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get a degree. The school district can't drag kids to school. At some point they have to value themselves and their future lives enough to put forth the basic effort to get a degree.

I have a hard time being sympathetic to anyone who is to lazy to put for the minimum effort required for a HS degree.

I refuse to believe that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate because they are lazy. Sure, this is a popular excuse, but it's also too lazy.

But you know what? Neither you nor I need to figure out why it is that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate. It's as simple as looking at the status quo--public education--recognizing that it doesn't work, and demanding a change in the form of vouchers.

One additional point: monopolies are bad for a number of reasons. One of them is because they do not meet the needs of consumers. Because they control the market, they decide what to provide and for what price. There is no incentive for them to improve or lower their prices. Thus, the problem with public education and minority students.

Vouchers and privatized education overcome this problem because they are directly answerable to their students and the students' parents. If a voucherized school underperforms, the parent can immediately remove their students from the school--the threat of lost revenue and school closure will motivate those teachers and schools to succeed. Furthermore, the incentive of increased revenue will cause these schools and teachers to find a way to reach the minority students failing in the status quo. They want those students to succeed because they want their money.

Why they fail is not the question. Why we continue to permit a system that allows them to fail is the relevant question. And the answer is to set up a system that rewards those teachers and schools who find a way, despite the long odds, of helping those now failing students to succeed.

Vouchers do that.

Do other systems truly work? Perhaps those minority students who attend private schools currently come from more affluent families or have more parental involvement. I'm not convinced that taking the thug out of the ghetto will automatically take the ghetto out of the thug.

It appears that you are simply here to spout off political rhetoric and try to support vouchers. I'm not interested in that.

I'd love to discuss the reasons that minorities don't graduate as that is a huge mystery to me. I'd love to get some different viewpoints on your statistic. However, to simply say that public schools fail minorities is a pretty "lazy" argument as well.

Your question is far more important than anything you typed.

"Do other systems truly work?"

For the most part we don't know because of the stranglehold monopoly that public education has in the United States. Those programs I cited--Milwaukee, DC, Florida--have only been able to offer vouchers in a very limited form and even then, they haven't been around for very long.

Like you, public schools have been "discussing" why minorities don't graduate for a long time. Unlike you, our political correct culture causes them to refrain from referring to all those who fail as "thugs."

Stereotypes like these are a "lazy" way of abdicating our responsibility to these failing students.

Furthermore, advocating for positive change and supporting it with logical, cogent arguments is not, as you suggest, "spout[ing] off political rhetoric." On Tuesday, I see an opportunity to make a lasting positive change in the state of Utah. Arguing in favor of that change is far more productive than yet another pointless discussion that blames minority failure on their "thug" status.

So you're for change for the sake of change? Look, I support vouchers as does my entire family (including my mother who is a school teacher). I'm not convinced they will benefit very many people (can a minority student's family afford $4500 tuition any better than they can afford $7500), but I do believe that it will save some money in the long run even if only a few children are able to use them. Also, I support alternatives to government monopolies even if my children won't be able to take advantage of them. The less control government has in our lives, the better off we all are.

However, it seems to be that you are throwing out vouchers as the solution for minority graduation rates. How can you fix a problem if you don't know what the problem is? Creating or funding another program won't necessarily solve your minority graduation rates. Again, I don't know what the underlying issues are. However, I would be very surprised if a simple change of scenery was enough to solve the problem.

Also, what responsibility do I have to these failing students? They have the exact same opportunity that I had. They can choose to make the most of their public education or they can choose not to. It's their choice, their opportunity, and their life.

I believe that vouchers will solve the problem you outlined--minority graduation rates--in the same way a business finds ways to meet the needs and desires of consumers. It's in their best interest to come up with a solution. Because they must be more responsive to students and parents, they will try anything and everything to solve the problem. If they don't succeed, the student will leave and they will lose money. The best teachers and best methods and best schools will be rewarded with more students.

We all went to public school, we know there are a few really really good teachers, lots of middling ones, and a handful of poor ones. Rather than compensating them all the same the way the current system does, a voucherized system will encourage and reward those who find ways to reach every student--including the "lazy thugs." Some teachers are able to do this; finally, we will reward them for their efforts rather than overworking them and underpaying them along with their subpar coworkers.

Regarding your responsibility to these students: I guess you could say that it is in your self interest to see that they are educated and become productive members of society. High school graduates earn more money, pay more taxes, are less likely to commit crimes and have children out of wedlock. A more educated populace makes us all better off. Though unfamiliar with your situation, I doubt many of these students "have the exact same opportunity [you] had." Unfortunately, many of them come from low income, single parent homes. As you must know, these two factors increase the "difficulty level" of graduating from high school significantly. A voucher system will reward those teachers and schools who have found ways to "reach" poor and minority students rather than doing as public school system has done: simply shrugging their shoulders and exclaiming that "it's their parent's fault for not being more involved."

We can't find and force every absentee father to go home or the mother to quit working two jobs to support her family, but we can create an education system that gives those disadvantaged students a chance by rewarding those teachers and schools that have found a way to educate them against the odds.

FYI: the median cost of private school in the state of Utah is $2500.

Tomorrow, the rest of the conversation.

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08 November 2007

Referendum 1 - School Voucher Follow Up

Though the polls leading up to the voucher vote were not encouraging, we held out hope that perhaps they had been wrong, that perhaps vouchers would win out. Regrettably, we were wrong.

It seems parents in suburban Utah believe their schools are good enough and care little for those attending failing schools. They bought the disingenuous ad campaigns funded by teachers unions that insisted that public schools would suffer as a result of this legislation.

As Paul Mero told us after the debate at Provo High School, this isn't the end of vouchers. He and others like him have been fighting these battles to improve education for 20+ years and along the way they've accomplished a lot--charter schools, magnet schools, intra-district transfers--and they'll keep on fighting. The potential of vouchers is far to great to be ignored and slowly but surely, the evidence in favor continues to grow.

This paper is especially worth reading. It's by Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard Economist, and represents the very latest in education economics (hat tip: Matt Lybbert): School Choice and School Productivity (or Could School Choice be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?)

The abstract from the article:
A school that is more productive is one that produces higher achievement in its pupils for each dollar it spends. In this paper, I comprehensively review how school choice might affect productivity. I begin by describing the importance of school productivity, then explain the economic logic that suggests that choice will affect productivity, and finish by presenting much of the available evidence on school choice and school productivity. The most intriguing evidence comes from three important, recent choice reforms: vouchers in Milwaukee, charter schools in Michigan, and charter schools in Arizona. I show that public school students' achievement rose significantly and rapidly in response to competition, under each of the three reforms. Public school spending was unaffected, so the productivity of public schools rose, dramatically in the case in Milwaukee.
This issue wont go away. We certainly wont let it die here at OL&L. Good things are worth fighting for.

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05 November 2007

We Like Oreos and Vouchers

A recent ad by the pro-voucherers uses oreos to illustrate a basic fact about Referendum 1: the state of Utah spends roughly $7500 per student, per year. The largest voucher is $3000. Even assuming that every student received the largest voucher possible (the average voucher is estimated to be just $2000), that would still leave $4500 in the system. That's $4500 dollars for fewer students.

Let's also assume, as one friend who opposes vouchers suggested, that 30-50% of the $7500 paid per student went to some fixed cost like utilities or facilities. In fact, let's use the larger number--50% of the original $7500. Halving our $7500 leaves us with $3750. Even if every student took the largest voucher amount possible--$3000--that still leaves public schools with an additional $750 after allowing for fixed costs. But all of this is a waste of time in debunking the deliberate deception of teacher's unions. They know that for at least the first 5 years, the money for vouchers will come from the general fund, and not from monies allotted for education in the state of Utah. So when students leave their public schools, they aren't taking any of the $7500. Every last cent stays behind to fund a behemoth monopoly which has no incentive to change or improve and, as we cited in our last post, educates Utah's children worse than any other state with similar demographics.

We suspect that the real reason teachers oppose vouchers--you know, besides the fact that it threatens their monopoly--is because after 5 years, when the results of Utah's vouchers begin to be known, parents of children will wonder how it is that private schools, operating with far fewer dollars per student, far out performed the still failing Utah public schools. They'll wonder why they're still paying in excess of $7500 per student, only to see the same old poor test results and the same grad rates for minority students. Remember the minority students? The ones who really want this measure to pass? And why do they want it to pass? Because 43% of their children don't graduate from high school. And that's just completely unacceptable.

The time has come for Utah voters to say with one voice to their failing public schools: You've had your chance and you failed our students. It's time to give vouchers a chance.

*Additional reading: Professor Clayne L. Pope - Educate, don't brainwash
**Even more reading: The Wall Street Journal - The Union Libel (subscription required)

***Update: Cougarboard discussion thread.

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02 November 2007

Referendum 1 - School Vouchers

Last night we attended a debate about Referendum 1 (school vouchers in Utah) at Provo High School. We've written about it before--here and here--so frequent readers will know we favor vouchers--indeed, we favor free market reforms generally.

A few observations:

- 43% of minority students in Utah do not graduate from high school. Voucher programs in Milwaukee, Washington DC, and Florida have all proven to aid primarily minority students. With a sliding scale, progressive voucher award in Utah ($3000 for the poorest students; $500 for the wealthiest), Referendum 1 appears geared to help minority students.

- Statewide, Utah schools have about 13% minority student populations. Private schools are nearly double that. This is significant because the anti-voucher crowd insists vouchers would result in increased segregation.

- Utah test scores, while good compared to the rest of the nation, don't compare well to states with similar demographics--especially similar levels of college educated parents. Apples to apples, Utah schools underperform.

- Paul Mero, President of the Sutherland Institute (a SLC based think tank) and Dr. Patrick Byrne (CEO Overstock.com) represented the pro-voucher side at the debate. They did a fair job of arguing in favor of vouchers--Mr. Mero was especially sharp. Though we understand the issues surrounding vouchers, we were sometimes confused by Dr. Byrne's analogies. We wonder what a public that is undecided and unfamiliar with the issues thought of Dr. Byrne's comments.

- To those familiar with the literature and research regarding vouchers, the supposedly neutral researchers from the University of Utah revealed their true colors. They were selective in their use of evidence and their opposition to vouchers was thinly veiled.

- The grade-school teacher/teachers union rep and "concerned mother" representing the anti-voucher crowd were very effective debaters. Polished and prepared, they came off well. Initially we thought that perhaps the crowd was largely anti-voucher, the Q&A session revealed exactly the opposite as the vast majority of questions were rhetorical critiques of the anti-voucherers.

- To our mind, the most revealing exchange came near the end of the debate. The "neutral" researchers acknowledged the desire for choice in schools and suggested that there were alternatives to vouchers. the anti-voucherers seized on this and insisted that the debate was a waste of time, that instead they should have been discussing ways to improve schools and bring more choice to public education. They highlighted the choice that had been introduced in Utah in recent history. They listed charter schools and magnet schools as some of the best.

This was all the opening the pro-voucherers needed. The pointed out, rightly, that these reforms had only come about because of outside agitation and that furthermore, the teachers union establishment had fought against these reforms tooth and nail, as they were now fighting against vouchers. They concluded it was wrong for their side to claim credit for something they vociferously opposed.

They should have added that public schools had been at this for x amount of years and results were still poor. That if change was going to come from within, it would have by now. They could point out that money has been thrown at public schools (55% increase under Bush) and yet test scores have not improved. The only reason the teachers union was willing to even discuss reform is because they were facing a mortal threat--vouchers.

Notice that vouchers aren't a mortal threat to teachers or students, but teachers unions. This is an important distinction. Teachers unions use "the children" as a political tool. Yet they oppose simple reforms like merit pay which would reward better teachers.

No, teachers unions act like any government-imposed monopoly would behave--they are fighting to the death to defend their privileged territory.

None of this should be interpreted as ingratitude or lack of respect for good teachers. We agree that teachers aren't paid enough--good teachers that is. Meanwhile, the poor teachers should be fired. The current system makes no distinction between the two and compensates them equally.

- One more canard we want to debunk: certification. As a barrier to entry, teachers unions have established a "certification" process that supposedly guarantees the ability of teachers to teach. Anyone who has attended public schools knows that no amount of "certification" can improve many teachers ability. Indeed, many of the best teachers in our societies have received no certification whatsoever. Consider that experienced and educated members of the general publich--a retired civil engineer, builder, businessman, social worker, someone with a master's degree or PhD--cannot teach at a public school simply because they do not have the required "certification." That private schools can hire teachers with no certification, say anti-voucherers, is a sure sign they will fail our children. Right. Vouchers mean that parents are in charge of guaranteeing their children's education. If a school fails to teach their child, they can simply take them to another school. Parents talk to each other. Information is and will be widely available about the performance of these schools. If private schools fail to teach children necessary skills, they will lose students and fail. Successful ones will succeed.

Contrast that with public schools. If they fail to teach, there is no option for students. They fail along with the school. And in the case of minority students, they are failing at a ridiculous rate that bears repeating:

43% of minority students in Utah do not graduate. Vouchers gives those students a chance.

*Additional voucher reading: George F. Will, Utah's Voucher Vote Most Important Of This Year And Next

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31 October 2007

Everyone Loves Lists

From the Telegraph, a British publication, comes a rank ordered list of influential liberals and conservatives in American politics. Beyond a simple ordering of libs and cons, Toby Harnden (the author) gives a short bio of each person and how/why they're influential. Fascinating reading. Thus far they've only listed numbers 61-100. Click here.

No, we didn't crack the top 100.

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25 October 2007

Short List of Things George Bush Hates

Writing about the Rove-started fires in Southern California got us thinking about all the things George Bush hates--John Kerry, black people in New Orleans, you know, pretty much everything. And it's because there are so many things that we are making this a short list, because if we listed all of them, well, we'd be here all night.

Dick Cheney - you see, George Bush hates the Veep for different reasons than you do. He hates him because everyone gives Cheney credit for things Bush thought up--like torturing terrorists. And because strangely, the Angry Left hates Cheney more than Bush.

Children - HE VETOED S-CHIP!!!!1!!!11!!!!!ONE!!!!! What more do you need to know? He'd rather fund the war in Iraq than give children health care. Come on.

Black People in New Orleans - Why? Because Kanye said so, that's why. And we believe everything Kanye says. Because he's a legitimate source of political and social commentary. And really catchy hip hop songs.

John Kerry/John Edwards - because they have better hair, etc.

Osama Bin Laden - but not enough to catch him!

Will Ferrell - for the global warming special announcement spoof he did about President Bush.

This blog - for obvious reasons.

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24 October 2007

George Bush Hates SoCal Democrats

Pictured above is a map showing the election results, by county, of the 2004 Presidential election. If you compare it to news of the fire in Southern California fires found on CNN, you'll note that most of the aid and fire support is going to "Red" counties--counties that voted for President Bush. Nevermind that most of the fires are burning in "Red" Counties, this is probably just because Karl Rove screwed up when he had the fires started.

Obviously George Bush hates Democrats in Southern California.

And to those who think the fires were caused by Global Warming--you've got it backwards. Bush and Rove started these fires because they wanted to make Global Warming worse. Why, you might be asking yourself, would they want to do such a thing? Because Rove has figured out a way to gain electoral advantage from Global Warming, of course.

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01 August 2007

A Few Good Democrats

Never say we don't give credit where credit is due.

On Monday, an Op-Ed by two long-time Democratic critics of the war in Iraq was published in the New York Times. It bears repeating that Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack are neither neoconservatives nor Republicans. They are Democrats. Add them to the short list of Democrats* who recognize the importance of winning in Iraq and see the progress made by Gen. Petraeus' surge strategy--the positive results of which we noted yesterday.

Their Op-Ed is worth the read. We also suggest reading a review of their article by a number of writers over at National Review Online.

Among the best responses to the article was one written by Senator John McCain, Republican Presidential candidate. We quote in full:
Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack have uncovered a truth that seems to escape congressional Democrats: General Petraeus’s new strategy has shown remarkable progress. Earlier this month, on my sixth trip to Iraq, it was evident that our military is making dramatic achievements throughout the country.

Despite this progress, Democrats today advocate a precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. They are wrong, and their approach portends catastrophe for both Iraq and the United States. To fail in Iraq risks creating a sanctuary for al Qaeda, sparking a full scale civil war, genocide, and violence that could spread far beyond Iraq’s borders. To leave prematurely is to ensure just one thing: that we will be back, in more dangerous and difficult circumstances. We cannot and must not lose this war.

We must prevail. General Petraeus and his troops have asked Congress for just two things: the time and support they need to carry out their mission. They must have both, however much the congressional Democrats seek to withhold them. That is why I will keep fighting to ensure that our commanders have what they need to win this war.

I cannot guarantee success. But I do guarantee that, should Congress fail to sustain the effort, and should it pay no heed to the lessons drawn by Mr. Pollack and Mr. O’Hanlon, then America will face a historic and terrible defeat. Such a defeat, with its enormous human and strategic costs, will unfold unless we do all in our power to prevent it. I, for one, will continue to do just that.
If even some Democrats are willing to acknowledge the improvement in Iraq, we are left to conclude that the surge must be working.

*Isn't Senator Lieberman great?

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31 July 2007

Iraq: The Bottom Line

And then there's the latest from Iraq. Breitbart informs us that the death total of American soldiers for the month of July was the lowest in 8 months.

This is significant for a number of reasons:
  • there are more American forces deployed in Iraq now than at any time in the last two years. Logically, one would assume that larger numbers of soldiers in Iraq would result in higher losses.
  • the new surge strategy has moved the military from large bases into far greater contact with Iraqis and insurgents. Logically, one would assume increased American presence on the streets would result in higher losses.
  • insurgents are aware of American public opinion, Democrats'* desire to withdraw immediately, and negative press coverage. They are also aware that General Petraeus will report on progress in September. Logically, one would assume they have every incentive to step up attacks and kill more American soldiers.
In each instance, the truth is opposite of the superfically logical assumption which leaves us with only one possible conclusion:


*Call him the exception to the Democrat rule. Joe Lieberman continues to be awesome.

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20 July 2007

Lybberty in Print

This appears in the 20 July edition of the Tri-City Herald.

An American Student in Londonistan
By Jacob S. Lybbert

When news broke of the latest terror attacks in London, I was in Paris with my family, on the last leg of our European vacation. As I watched the news unfold on CNN in my hotel room, I was reminded of the foiled terror attacks last year. I remembered, with annoyance, the two and a half hour wait to get through Heathrow security on my way back from a summer of studying at Cambridge. In both cases, effective collaboration between intelligence services, local police, and a bit of what can only be described as good luck, resulted in zero lives lost.

Terrorists parked cars loaded with an explosive combination of fuel and nails on Haymarket and Park Lane—two major streets in London—just over a mile away from my flat on Edgware Road. When we returned from Paris, just the day after the bombs had been found and defused, we found an increased police presence everywhere we went. But the threat of terror hadn’t diminished people’s appetite for West End theatre or Haagen Dazs ice cream in Leicester Square. If the crowds have been smaller, it is because the summer has been unseasonably cool and wet.

Despite business carrying on as usual, the recent attacks remind me and everyone else that all is not well in the ancestral home of the English speaking people. Like the US, the United Kingdom deals with its own immigration and assimilation issues. The prominent role of medical doctors in the latest terrorist attempt shows that terror appeals to more than just the poor and disaffected. Polling data about the devastating attacks of July 7th, 2005 which killed 52 people and injured over 700 more—commonly referred to as the 7/7 bombings—show that while most British Muslims condemn the attack, nearly 25% believe the attacks were justified. Considering that the Muslim population of the UK is somewhere between 1.6 and 2 million, this means 400,000 to 500,000 think the freedom fighters had just cause.

I’ve been in England on and off for the last year, and in London for the last nine months. In that time, I’ve attended classes, seminars and conferences at a number of universities. I know from reading newspaper reports that British higher education is a fertile ground for terror recruitment. The ridiculous amount of paper work required to get a bank account are evidence of post-9/11 efforts to frustrate money laundering and financing of international terror. My neighborhood consists of people from countries we read about every day in the news—Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran. I get my haircut in a barbershop around the corner by a Kurdish man from northern Iraq. I get my shirts laundered across the street by a friendly man from Jordan. I eat kebabs and curry at shops run by people from throughout the Middle and Near East. They speak Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi, while I’m limited to English and Spanish. Our communication isn’t perfect, but everyone seems friendly. It’s hard to believe that out of this group could come a fanatic or two, or that one in four of the people I meet on the street are sympathetic to the terrorists.

As I walk around London, I know I have a better chance of being hit by one of London’s famous black cabs than being blown up by a terrorist. I don’t know if it’s the remote chance of another bomb, ignorance, or my desire to somehow show the terrorists that they can’t scare me, but I find myself emboldened to do anything but stay home. And our British cousins? Well, they’d prefer to gather in their now-smoke free pubs and tell stories about John Smeaton, the airport baggage handler from Glasgow who kicked a terrorist in the head.

Jacob Lybbert graduated from Southridge High School in 1999 and Brigham Young University in 2006. He currently lives in London and is working on a Masters Degree in Modern History at University College London. You can contact Mr. Lybbert by emailing him at lybberty@gmail.com. You can also visit his blog at lybberty.com.

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18 July 2007

Daily Primer: Oil Companies are Awesome

- Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the Information Technology Agreement. This agreement enabled the technology led expansion of the last decade. Don't believe us? Check out this bit of information from a great article on the impacts of this free trade agreement:
What impact did all this have on the U.S.? The best way to answer is in terms of productivity, which is the single most important metric to gauge the standard of living for any country. From 1973 to 1995, output per worker hour in the nonfarm business sector grew at just 1.35% per year. Then in 1995, productivity growth began to accelerate. From 1996 through 2006 it doubled, to an average annual rate of 2.7%.

The importance of this productivity acceleration is difficult to overstate. At the previous generation's growth rate, average living standards required 52 years to double. At the current growth rate, average living standards need just 26 years to double. This carries profound implications for the well-being of all Americans.
It's this type of growth that makes America the richest nation in the world. This is why our definition of poverty includes households that own multiple tv's and have air conditioning. And free trade doesn't only enrich America, it raises the standard of living of every country that engages with America in these sorts of free trade pacts. It's why Hong Kong is richer than mainland China and why Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea exploded economically over the last 20-30 years.

We should all be free traders and sometimes we wonder that we're not. And then we walk past that pesky "Fairtrade" cafe at school. To see what else we've posted about free trade & business click here, here, here, here, and here.

- Check out this great defense of the oil industry. These guys are politicians' favorite punching bag and it's a shame they even need a public defense. From the article:
There are two American oil industries. One exists only in the minds of its critics, many of whom are politicians. When prices and profits rise, as happens in a cyclical business, the critics demand new antitrust and other legislation. When prices and profits inevitably fall? Silence.

The other American oil industry exists in the real world. It's intensely competitive, innovative and subject to more scrutiny and tougher antitrust enforcement than any other segment of the economy. And it's adept at meeting the diverse and dynamic needs of American consumers.
They endured 15 years of below average profits, finally have a few good years, and now Congress wants to nail them for "price gouging." Does anyone even know what that is? Then, rather than easing regulations that would speed up exploration for new oil supplies (and alleviate our dependence on Middle East oil) or build new refineries, Congress adds more hoops (ethanol, anyone?). All of this combines to make gas more expensive. It's a testament to the market and oil companies themselves that the price of gas has remained relatively low. In fact, when taking inflation into account, the price of gasoline has experienced only mild increases since Americans first started putting it into their Model T's.

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