Tocqueville and the Tube

Tocqueville And the Tube
by Ben Berger @ NRO

The hunger for stimuli may result in our favoring visual media over print, and spectacle over depth. Print makes us translate words into mental imagery and sounds, which exercises our minds. Television is less taxing; it does all of the work for us. The late media theorist Neil Postman found in TV an inherent bias toward the shallow, and not just for sit-coms and the like. Eventually, programmers feel pressure to make even the news and other serious programming more entertaining, if only to compete with alternatives. When we are constantly bombarded with spectacular images, we find it harder than ever to face the weighty and comparatively dull issues of public life.

My students definitely struggle with this effect. They’ve had more “screen time” than any other generation, and their competencies in reading and writing have suffered as a result.

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The Recovery That Wasn’t

Why the Job Market Feels So Dismal
by Edward P. Lazear @ The Wall Street Journal

First, the increase in job growth that occurred over the past two years results from a decline in the number of layoffs, not from increased hiring. In February 2009, a month during which the labor market lost more than 700,000 jobs, employers hired four million workers. In March 2011, employers hired four million workers. The number of hires is the same today as it was when we were shedding jobs at record rates.

We added jobs because hires exceeded separations, not because hiring increased.

This is why you should remain skeptical whenever Obama or any other politician declares that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created under his watch. You need to keep in mind how such numbers are generated.

Say It Ain’t So!

This is exactly why I demanded universal accountability in my series on the budget:

Million-Dollar Wasteland: A Washington Post Investigation
A trail of stalled or abandoned HUD projects

The federal government’s largest housing construction program for the poor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on stalled or abandoned projects and routinely failed to crack down on derelict developers or the local housing agencies that funded them.

Nationwide, nearly 700 projects awarded $400 million have been idling for years, a Washington Post investigation found. Some have languished for a decade or longer even as much of the country struggles with record-high foreclosures and a dramatic loss of affordable housing.

Why is HUD legally unable to demand repayment when a development plan falls through? That just makes no sense to me at all.

Please Let This Be True!

How We Can Fly to Mars in This Decade—And on the Cheap
by Robert Zubrin @ The Wall Street Journal

SpaceX, a private firm that develops rockets and spacecraft, recently announced it will field a heavy lift rocket within two years that can deliver more than twice the payload of any booster now flying. This poses a thrilling question: Can we reach Mars in this decade?

It may seem incredible—since conventional presentations of human Mars exploration missions are filled with depictions of gigantic, futuristic, nuclear-powered interplanetary spaceships whose operations are supported by a virtual parallel universe of orbital infrastructure. There’s nothing like that on the horizon. But I believe we could reach Mars with the tools we have or soon will.

As Glenn Reynolds might say: Faster, please!

Medicare and Social Security Outlook Worsens

Medicare and Social Security Outlook Worsens
by Siobhan Hughes @ The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—The Medicare trust fund will be exhausted five years earlier than previously thought, trustees for the program said on Friday, in a projection that puts pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to deal with the program’s long-term financial strains.

The Medicare program that covers hospital stays will be exhausted in 2024, the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees said. The shortfall is due to higher projected health-care costs and lower payroll taxes, a symptom of the recent recession that reduced contributions from workers and employers.

Social Security reserves will be exhausted in 2036, one year earlier than previously estimated, mostly because people are living longer. But lower levels of immigration and weaker earnings as unemployment remains relatively high also played a role.

SABR Matt and I won’t hit the current retirement age until the 2040’s. If our leaders can’t suck it up and fix these programs, I guess we’re screwed.

In related news:

The Millionaire Retirees Next Door

Typical retired couples will collect $1 million or more in Social Security and Medicare. This is more than they paid in, and the cost will fall on today’s workers.

Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State

Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State
by Fr. Robert A. Sirico @ NRO

To jump so seamlessly from the Magisterium’s insistence on the fundamental and non-negotiable moral obligation to the poor to the specifics of contingent, prudential, and political legislation is wholly unjustified in Catholic social teaching.

But Fr. Sirico, there are so many advantages to maintaining a large welfare state. For one thing, we can be “compassionate” and “Christian” without even lifting a finger!

An Artist’s Primary Responsibility

Don’t be shabby, be inspiring instead!
Brad Torgersen

You might be a fiction writer — perhaps, even a brilliant fiction writer — but there can be nothing positive said about a story that is told strictly for the sake of putting off, putting down, duping, fooling, or insulting the audience. You’re lying to your readers when you do that, and lying to your readers is just about the worst sin there is in the creation of fiction.

I am posting this here (and not on our sci-fi blog) because I believe Torgersen’s comments apply to all the members of our artistic class. I don’t know how many times I’ve turned on the television (or walked into a movie theater) and been insulted rather than entertained. At this point, I don’t consume any cultural product unless it has already been vetted by people I trust.

The Failure of American Schools

The Failure of American Schools
by Joel Klein @ The Atlantic

If the forces behind reform seem scattered and weak, those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed. Having spent eight years trying to ignite a revolution in New York City’s schools under Bloomberg’s leadership, I am convinced that without a major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need.

This is a long and illuminating article which, among other things, details the uphill battle reformers must fight to change the way public education is delivered in this country. Go and read.

Dalrymple Classics

I have a headache at the moment, so what I’m going to do tonight is point you to two articles which perfectly illustrate why I love to read “Theodore Dalrymple’s” literary and social commentaries:

The Rage of Virginia Woolf

The Cambridge Guide to English Literature describes Three Guineas as an established classic—but a classic of what genre exactly? Of political philosophy? Contemporary history? Sociological analysis? No: it is a locus classicus of self-pity and victimhood as a genre in itself. In this, it was certainly ahead of its time, and it deserves to be on the syllabus of every department of women’s studies at every third-rate establishment of higher education. Never were the personal and the political worse confounded.

The book is important because it is a naked statement of the worldview that is unstated and implicit in all of Virginia Woolf’s novels, most of which have achieved an iconic status in the republic of letters and in the humanities departments of the English-speaking world, where they have influenced countless young people. The book, therefore, is truly a seminal text. In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf lets us know without disguise what she really thinks: and what she thinks is by turns grandiose and trivial, resentful and fatuous. The book might be better titled: How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved.

How – and How Not – to Love Mankind

It is true that Marx, like Turgenev, is on the side of the underdog, of the man with nothing, but in a wholly disembodied way. Where Turgenev hopes to lead us to behave humanly, Marx aims to incite us to violence. Moreover, Marx brooked no competitors in the philanthropic market. He was notoriously scathing about all would-be practical reformers: if lower class, they lacked the philosophic training necessary to penetrate to the causes of misery; if upper class, they were hypocritically trying to preserve “the system.” Only he knew the secret of turning the nightmare into a dream.

In fact, the hecatombs his followers piled up are—to the last million victims—implicit in the Manifesto. The intolerance and totalitarianism inhere in the beliefs expressed: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interest separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”

In other words, there is no need for other parties, let alone individuals with their own personal quirks: indeed, since the Communists so perfectly express the interests of the proletariat, anyone opposed to the Communists must, by definition, be opposed to the interests of the proletariat.

“Dalrymple’s” unique melding of erudition and sarcasm is such a treasure.