Saturday, September 24, 2005

Liberal Guilt

Ezra Klein is feeling guilty about graduating from college:
Jonathan Kozol, in an interview with Campus Progress, touches on something I've been thinking a lot about:

Some young people will tentatively say to me, “well maybe I oughtta get involved.” Well I say, “You don’t have any choice; you’re involved already. Even if you never do anything about this, you’ve benefited from an unjust system. You’re already the winner in a game that was rigged to your advantage from the start. If we did not have an apartheid school system in America, what is the chance you’d walk into this college so easily? It would have been a lot harder because there would have been a far larger applicant pool of highly capable minority kids to compete with you."

This week, I graduated from college. My diploma will come from UCLA, I will have been in-and-out within three years, and it never should've happened.

I exited high school with a 2.0, enough letter D's to bring you a season of Sesame Street, and a big fat F where Algebra II should have been. I should barely have graduated, forget acceptance to UC Santa Cruz. But even with that sort of transcript, I got into a four year school.

Why?

As a kid, the only thing I was allowed to buy whenever I wanted was books. And so I did, going from comics to fantasy novels to philosophy. And when the SAT's came around, well, you don't want to know what I got on the verbal side. But the point is, I would have never gotten that score without a well-off, highly educated family that funded my reading habit. If my school system wasn't the sort where 90-some percent go on to college, guidance counselors would have long ago told me the SAT's were a waste of time and I should save the space for more likely applicants. Everything would've been different. And the only reason it wasn't was socioeconomic. But so much as being on the winning side of inequality saved my ass, it's still a stain, I remain undeserving, and, if you like how I turned out, you should be furious that more kids don't get the same nine lives. Read the interview and buy the book.

It's an important subject that, like it or not, you're already a part of.

Let's put aside Jonathan Kozol's rant, and focus instead on Klein.

During his childhood, Klein enjoyed certain advantages. He identifies two: (1) parents who encouraged reading; and (2) a strong school system. These advantages don't exactly make him a feudal lord, but they are surely benefits that not everyone enjoys. From these two advantages, Klein reaches the following conclusion about his graduation from UCLA, "it never should have happened."

This lament suggests that something else should have happened. Instead of enjoying what he considers "socioeconomic advantages" in the race of life, Klein wishes that he and everyone else would have started from the same starting line. Because Klein benefited from what he considers to be an unjust head start, he is now "stained" and "undeserving." (One wonders whether Klein will similarly "stain" his own children.)

On his blog, Klein's guilt was well-received, a typical comment being:
If you're not feeling guilty about the fact that you grew up in a system where you were able to succeed despite your listlessness while those who aspired to better things got held back, then what the heck is wrong with you?
There is too much to unpack here. So, in lieu of a point-by-point rebuttal, I'll just address the commenter's question. What the heck is wrong with me?

To answer that question in full would require me to undergo years of pyschoanalysis, followed by years of writing. My wife might tell you that even then it would not be possible to cover everything. For now, I'll just focus on the part about not feeling guilty.

Let's turn to the Dictionary.
Guilt:

1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty;

2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach
My parents and school system helped me succeed while other people's parents and school systems let them down. I was (and am) occasionally listless (gasp!). Yet, I dont' believe I have "committed a breach of conduct". Nor do I experience "feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy."

Back

Vacationing with Ophelia on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Battling a nasty stomach virus. And, catching up after an extended absence at work. These three activities have displaced blogging from my daily schedule during the last ten days. But, I'm back now. And, I intend to pick up where I left off.

Incidentally, my schedule the next few weeks may also make my postings sporadic. But, I do plan to continue.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Common Resources

I admit it. My fascination with the socialist language that the Left invokes when writing about the estate tax now qualifies as an obsession. And, truth be told, it's much less fun of an obsession than was my adolescent fixation on Elisabeth Shue.

But, Mother Jones has made it extremely hard to kick the habit, as their own obsession with the estate tax has fed my addiction. What fascinates me about the Left's arguments is how clearly they illustrate a fundamental disagreement between my world view and the view of the Progressive Left. I believe in private property. If these articles are any indication, Progressives do not. Rather, they believe that everything belongs to the Government -- expect, of course, for those things which the Government happens to "give" to private individuals.

The latest rant against the successful comes from Paul Rogat Loeb. Loeb devotes the first two paragraphs of his argument to describing in detail the extravagant features of the yachts belonging to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (e.g. spa, private movie theater, etc.). Then, this:
We know Allen is unimaginably rich, so maybe his yacht collection comes as no surprise. But the Republicans are talking about permanently ending the estate tax in the new Congressional session. Our leaders are already lavishing more and more gifts on those who already have more than they can ever use, even in the midst of crises from the Iraq War to the New Orleans disaster, to the shifts in global warming that, by warming the ocean, may have turned a routine hurricane into a cataclysmic one. Allen's yachts remind me of our choices about what we value.
Just as John S. Irons and Robert Gordon equate cutting the estate tax with Government "spending" on the wealthy, Loeb equates tax-cuts with "lavishing more and more gifts on those who already have more than they can ever use." In Loeb's world, to allow a taxpayer to keep his money is to lavish a gift upon that taxpayer.

More:

[I]n the richest country in human history, we make it a point, at every turn, to help those of vast wealth accumulate more and more. Recently I saw a $3 million Brentwood house being torn down so someone could build one on the same lot worth twenty million. I've seen comparable extravagance throughout the country, combined with massive cuts in practically every program that serves the needs of ordinary citizens. The super-rich get infinite breaks with nothing asked in return, while more and more Americans struggle just to survive, even in the absence of unexpected cataclysm.
To Loeb, the super-rich get "infinite breaks with nothing asked in return." "Nothing" may be stretching it a bit. After all, in 2002, the top one percent of the nation's earners paid 33.7 percent of the nation's income taxes. The top five percent paid 53.8 percent. But, one man's "nothing" is another man's 53.8% of the nation's tax burden. Loeb says tomayto, I say tomahto.

Loeb continues:

The top 5 percent of Americans now get $110 billion a year from Bush's tax cuts, with most going to the top 1 percent, during a reign that's cut child abuse prevention, community policing, AmeriCorps, low-income childcare, health care, housing, and even support for military families.
Here, I will heed my mother's advice that if I don't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all.
We should debate where our government should spend the revenue it takes in. But we also need to discuss where it gets this revenue, and how to share the burden equitably.

Here, here!

As Bill Gates Senior wrote, in opposing the estate tax repeal, "Our society has facilitated wealth-building by creating order, protecting freedom, creating laws to govern property relations and our marketplace, and investing in an educated work force. What's wrong with the most successful people putting one-quarter of their wealth back into the place that made their wealth and success possible?"

Bill Gates asks: What's wrong with successful people giving away money? I say: Nothing! That's why I would oppose a law forbidding the wealthy from giving their money away. Is there anyone who would support such a law?
The other argument is the concept of enough, where we question whether our most important social priority really is to do everything possible to enable a tiny few to buy as many yachts and $20 million houses as they please.
Again, Loeb equates policies allowing people to keep their money with doing "everything possible to enable a tiny few to buy as many yachts and $20 million houses as they please."
Do we really need to help Allen be able to fly 500 of his closest personal friends wherever and whenever he chooses on his two 757s? We might remember that there are more important goals to support with common resources, and more important things to live for.
There you have it. If Loeb's word choice hadn't already made clear his position on private property, in the last sentence of his article, he removes any doubt. Paul Allen's millions are "common resources." Woo-hoo! Barring any objection, I say we spend it all on Celebration.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Militant Islam Claims Allah Sent Katrina

The Angry Left has exploited Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity for Bush-bashing. Yet, this response is not in the same league as that of Militant Islam, which has delighted in America's suffering.

In an internet statement regarding the hurricane, Iraq's most wanted man, al-Zarqawi stated:
It is the start of its collapse . . . Congratulations to the Islamic nation, to our sheikh Osama bin Laden, to our emir Mullah Mohammad Omar, to sheikh Ayman Zawahiri (bin Laden's deputy) . . . for the destruction of America, which is at the forefront of evil. The curses of the oppressed have been fulfilled . . . There are signs of victory on the horizon. The anger of the Almighty has descended on the tyrants. Their deaths can be measured in the thousands, their material damage in the billions (of dollars). If Muslims are powerless to defend their religion, God is on the lookout to punish the oppressors.

Islamist bloggers have reached similar conclusions:
    • In spite of being a superpower and of its technological development, America was unable to cope with the power of the Almighty
    • It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire
    • Katrina, a soldier sent by God to fight on our side ... the soldier Katrina joins us to fight against America

Impostors Hack National Review Website!

I'm having a hard time thinking of any other explanation for this this editorial.

Sensing that the Hurricane Katrina aftermath presents a political vulnerability for the Bush administration and the GOP, the National Review Editors propose a solution:
No single step would go further to dramatize the GOP's commitment to rebuilding New Orleans than announcing now that the party's 2008 convention will be held in the recovering city. Such a move would signal the party's confidence in the Big Easy's renewal, and put it at the forefront of what should be similar commitments from private actors to do their part to help New Orleans come back.

Generally, as my propensity to burp in public reflects, I don't care much about 'good taste.' But, whether or not the Editors' suggestion is in good taste, is it good politics?

This seems like an easy one, even for a novice like me. Uh, no. For, whether or not I care about what's 'in good taste', millions of people tend to get their knickers in a twist about such matters. And, if the GOP were to heed the Editors' advice, such people might wonder why, a week after the worst national disaster in the country's history, the GOP sees New Orleans as a politicial opportunity, not as a disaster zone. Or, worse still, as both.

Ultimately, there might come a time when it would be shrewd to announce New Orleans as the site of a party's 2008 convention. But, not while bodies are still being recovered from the toxic waters that currently submerge the city.

Donate here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Reparing the Irreparable

Last week, a large, bold CNN headline read: Bush: Response 'not acceptable'. Yet, a review of the transcript of Bush's comments shows that he said no such thing. After commending the efforts of those who have assisted in responding to Hurricane Katrina, Bush said that the results -- not the response -- were unacceptable.

In the haste to pass judgment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, CNN is not alone in ignoring the distinction between the relief effort and the results of that effort. Pundits have presumed that the unacceptable results mean that the response, itself, merits criticism. Yet, unless another relief effort could have achieved acceptable results, this reasoning is invalid.

The belief that a procedure's unacceptable results justifies criticism of the procedure plagues medical malpractice litigation. Successful plaintiffs' attorneys persuade jurors to blame doctors for any failure to restore a patient to health, no matter how sick the patient, and no matter how unlikely it would have been to restore the patient's health.

Hurricane Katrina has left the Gulf Coast devastated. The thousands of relief workers who have rushed to the region face a task that is as monumental as it is unprecedented. At this point, no response effort would have restored health to the region. Yet, just as juries often blame doctors for failing to cure the incurable, pundits are now blaming the response for failing to repair the irreparable.

Ultimately, we may determine that human error has exacerbated the region's suffering. But, in making that determination, we will have to rely on more than the suffering itself.

Rush to Judgment

For some people, opinions are like crack. Such people don't let their ignorance about a topic deprive them of their rush. In the unfathomable aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in the absence of evidence, these people have been eager to opine about who is (or who is not) to blame and what the government should (or should not) be doing differently.

Yet, the thing about the unfathomable is that it is unfathomable. And, where we are unable to fathom, we are unable to judge. There is no understanding on which to base judgment. It may turn out that we discover that human error has exacerbated the hurricane's damage. But, at this stage no one knows.

Here is one man's response to those who have been quick to opine and second-guess . . .

The people in the Superdome are in a special position. And let me say, I've been going to New Orleans for over 50 years. There's no place on earth I love more. They went into the Superdome, not because of the flooding, but because we thought the hurricane was going to hit New Orleans smack dab and they'd be safe in there if they didn't leave town.

What happened was, when the levee broke and the town flooded, what did it do? It knocked out the electricity and it knocked out the sewage. They're living in hellacious conditions. They would be better off under a tree than being stuck there. You can't even breathe in that place now.

So I understand why they're so anxiety-ridden. But they have to understand, by the time it became obvious that they were in the fix they were in, there were a lot of other problems, too . . .

And you and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there . . .

When you say that they should have done this, that or the other thing first, you can look at that problem in isolation, and you can say that. But look at all the other things they had to deal with. I'm telling you, nobody thought this was going to happen like this. But what happened here is they escaped -- New Orleans escaped Katrina. But it brought all the water up the Mississippi River and all in the Pontchartrain, and then when it started running and that levee broke, they had problems they never could have foreseen. And so I just think that we need to recognize right now there's a confident effort under way. People are doing the best they can. And I just don't think it's the time to worry about that. We need to keep people alive and get them back to life -- normal life.

Former President Bill Clinton.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Three Cheers for MoveOn.org!

No, seriously.

Hurricane Aid

If this site had more traffic, I would devote more time towards urging donations for hurricane relief. Given the low traffic, however, I will refer the few of you who check in now and then to Instapundit, who has a round-up of ways to give.