Archive for February, 2017

The Case Against Liberal Compassion

February 26th, 2017 No comments

This assessment also provides an answer to the question of why liberals always want a bigger welfare state. It’s because the politics of kindness is about validating oneself rather than helping others, which means the proper response to suffering is always, “We need to do more,” and never, “We need to do what we’re already doing better and smarter.” That is, liberals react to an objective reality in a distinctively perverse way. The reality is, first, that there are many instances of poverty, insecurity, and suffering in our country and, second, that public expenditures to alleviate poverty, insecurity, and suffering amount to $3 trillion, or some $10,000 per American, much of it spent on the many millions of Americans who are nowhere near being impoverished, insecure, or suffering. If the point of liberalism were to alleviate suffering, as opposed to preening about one’s abhorrence of suffering and proud support for government programs designed to reduce it, liberals would get up every morning determined to reduce the proportion of that $3 trillion outlay that ought to be helping the poor but is instead being squandered in some way, including by being showered on people who aren’t poor. But since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive—less gratifying—than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty.

Those of us accused of being greedy and cruel, for standing athwart the advance of liberalism and expansion of the welfare state, do have things to say, then, in response to the empathy crusaders. Compassion really is important. Clifford Orwin, a political scientist who has examined the subject painstakingly, believes our strong, spontaneous proclivity to be distressed by others’ suffering confirms the ancient Greek philosophers’ belief that nature intended for human beings to be friends. But compassion is neither all-important nor supremely important in morals and, especially, politics. It is nice, all things being equal, to have government officials who feel our pain rather than ones who, like imperious monarchs, cannot comprehend or do not deign to notice it. Much more than our rulers’ compassion, however, we deserve their respect—for us; our rights; our capacity and responsibility to feel and heal our own pains without their ministrations; and for America’s carefully constructed and heroically sustained experiment in constitutional self-government, which errs on the side of caution and republicanism by denying even the most compassionate official a monarch’s plenary powers. Kindness may well cover all of Barack Obama’s political beliefs, and those of many other self-satisfied, pathologically altruistic liberals. It doesn’t begin to cover all the beliefs that have sustained America’s republic, however. Nor does it amount to a safe substitute for those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further.

– William Voegeli, Senior Editor, Claremont Review of Books 

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Learning to evaluate ‘fake news’

February 24th, 2017 No comments

We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” Former President Barack Obama said at an innovation conference in Pittsburgh last October.

“There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” Obama added during the White House Frontiers Conference on Oct. 13.

It’s a curious proposal that the press, and by extension free speech, be curated in the USA with its constitutionally recognized right not to be infringed by government.

Such “curating function” would require an entity to ‘select, organize, and present (information, etc.) typically using professional or expert knowledge,’” according to the OED. And that raises the question: who is to perform such filtering and validation? By what criteria will information be evaluated?

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” wrote Roman poet Juvenal.

Translating the Latin literally, that’s “Who will guard the guards themselves?” or “Who will watch the watchman?”

As an American citizen, I find this concept suspect, calling to mind a quote from noted American journalist and skeptic H. L. Mencken:

“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

So is “fake news” a new phenomenon that’s uniquely threatening in our current society? A review of journalism history includes the “yellow” variety, i.e., news that isn’t based on research, facts and reliable public sources, instead offering sensationalism to sell newspapers and drive up media ratings/clicks.

Should we, therefore, trust media organizations to be unbiased sources of information? A Pew Research Center poll conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 10, 2016, before Election Day, found that the majority (59 percent) prefer news media to present facts without interpretation.

Consider what Jim Rutenberg, media reporter for the New York Times, wrote in an opinion piece last year:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

“Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.

“If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional.

“That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”

Mr. Rutenberg then proceeds to argue that one candidate in the election is unique and journalists therefore have a duty to do more than report facts, contrary to the preferences of most news consumers.

Is it any wonder that just 28 percent of American adults believe journalists contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being in a 2013 Pew poll?

How, then, does one evaluate news for veracity? Do it yourself! Draw from a range of disparate sources to avoid confirmation bias.

Take advantage of forums, such as those sponsored by The Signal, to gather information directly. Attend in person or via web video Santa Clarita City Council sessions.

Engage with those whose opinions vary from your own to consider fresh perspectives. Do your own research online or at your local library.

That’s what it takes to evaluate “news” objectively. Otherwise, you accept that others, who may not share your values, will “interpret” news according to theirs.

 Published in The Signal 2/24/17

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Monsters due on Maple Street

February 12th, 2017 1 comment

“Maple Street, USA, late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice cream vendor.

“At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 p.m. on Maple Street. This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street — in the last calm and reflective moment — before the monsters came.”

That’s the opening narrative to a memorable episode of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” television series. The story centers on neighbors in an idyllic suburban setting who see and hear an unidentified object flash overhead and subsequently experience inexplicable events that disrupt their peaceful coexistence.

Power and outside communication are lost, automobiles won’t start and then inexplicably do so while unoccupied, lights flicker, etc., causing disruption to the certainty all expected in their daily lives.

A boy details a wild story about mysterious forces that plant a seed in increasingly fearful minds that begin to entertain outlandish thoughts. In turn, each resident is accused of suspicious collaboration with an unseen enemy.

Hysteria and accusations fly, there’s a murder by the most conspiracy-obsessed man lashing out in fear, resulting in mayhem, each set against the other.


To the relief of many, a long and grueling presidential election season is over. In the Santa Clarita Valley and across a diverse and populous America, most would consider it a contentious one with “deplorable” polemics and emotion expressed by candidates, surrogates, media and potential voters alike.

All were focused on candidates’ character, personalities and antics rather than specific issues in the circus-like atmosphere the media whipped up to drive the viewer ratings competition.

The finalists were widely considered unfit for office, each with a record of highly unfavorable ratings.

Added to this dynamic was an ongoing FBI investigation into mishandling of classified data on unauthorized servers, compromised political party and campaign servers/accounts that revealed the unsavory machinations of machine politics and clandestine media collaboration.

On Nov. 8, American citizens made their decision and voted. While the election is still being analyzed, already it’s being considered a change election due to an outcome that surprised the political class in the Beltway, professional pollsters and other “experts,” accompanied by an often comical reaction by a media that had shed any pretense of impartiality.

Historically, the USA has experienced raucous elections starting with the inception of political parties in the contest of 1800, featuring but not limited to character assassination, calumnies and yellow journalism.

Duels with fatalities were fought over political differences, and the Civil War began because an election result favored an abolitionist.

Was this year’s election unprecedented in its negativity or unique in colorful candidates? From the perspective of history: decidedly not.

Whether you’re personally elated, devastated or cautiously sanguine about the election results, understand that we have surely experienced change and overcome adversity in our nation’s history. Our constitutional republic is robust and has completed a peaceful transfer of power over a 200-plus-year history. No one person or party has dissolved our union.

Does America face significant challenges domestically and abroad? Assuredly we do. Our economy is in the doldrums, and for the first time during a presidential term our economy hasn’t had a single year of 3 percent growth.

Too many have been left behind or are struggling to adapt to the disruption that automation and global trade present. Our K-12 education system is a calcified monopoly that’s failing to teach our children critical thinking, and higher education is a dysfunctional morass of overwrought social activism, spiraling tuition and a failure to adapt to a changing career marketplace.

Health care is in disarray due to misguided partisan legislation. Outside our borders, once-reliable allies question our leadership, a multipolar world is chaotic, and vanquished foes again challenge world order.

As we focus on these challenges at the local, state, national and international levels, let’s not forget the reasons our union was formed.

Whatever our differences, we are still neighbors and Americans. Be considerate of your fellow citizens as we share our wonderful SCV community.


Closing narration: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men.

For the record, prejudices can kill — and suspicion can destroy — and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own — for the children — and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is — that these things cannot be confined — to the Twilight Zone.”

Published in The Signal 11/28/16

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