Let’s Play Another Game of "Spot the Connection," Shall We?

First, allow me to present the two news items under consideration:

  1. Are Educators Showing a ‘Positive Bias’ to Minority Students? “A major study, led by Rutgers-Newark psychology professor Kent D. Harber, indicates that public school teachers under-challenge minority students by providing them more positive feedback than they give to white students, for work of equal merit. The study, which is currently available online in the Journal of Educational Psychology (JEP), involved 113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other more working class and racially mixed.” (Emphasis mine.)
  2. Chronicle of Higher Education Fires Blogger for Challenging Seriousness of Black Studies Departments.”Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s lively and horribly-named “Brainstorm” blog, contributor Naomi Schaefer Riley has been fired for a post questioning the intellectual seriousness and validity of black studies departments (…) What did Schaefer Riley, the author of two books about higher education, do to warrant getting canned? Her primary offense was writing a post titled, “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” Keying off a recent Chronicle story touting Ph.D. candidates in black studies, Schaefer Riley notes in part: ‘If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them…’ “

The first case features a group of white teachers from the very blue New York City metro area who apparently feel uncomfortable raising the bar for their minority students. The second case involves a group of professors from the very blue world of academia — who apparently feel uncomfortable raising the bar for their minority students. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations!

I haven’t read the dissertations that were the focus of the blog post mentioned in the second story, so I can’t pass judgment on their quality or utility. However, I think the response to said blog post is quite telling. If these rising stars in the field of Black Studies were in fact genuine scholars – and not coddled thugs – then they would’ve launched a spirited, intellectual defense of their work instead of demanding in loud, hyper-emotional voices that their critic be silenced.

Stupid Kill-Joys

They’re banning bake sales on school grounds in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts:

Bake sales, the calorie-laden standby cash-strapped classrooms, PTAs and booster clubs rely on, will be outlawed from public schools as of Aug. 1 as part of new no-nonsense nutrition standards, forcing fundraisers back to the blackboard to cook up alternative ways to raise money for kids.

Everything in moderation, people. The occasional cupcake or slice of pizza is not going to kill our kids.

You want to know why our children are getting fat? I can think of two main reasons:

  1. We live in an anti-child culture in which the adults are so busy with their own “self-actualization” that they don’t have time to teach their little ones proper eating habits.
  2. Also, today’s parents are wusses. They’re too afraid to let their kids walk a few miles to school or – gasp! – play outside, and they’re definitely too afraid to say no to their precious little snowflakes.

If you want to stamp out obesity, maybe you should work on healing the family instead of growing the Nanny State.

Mormons Are Awesome

Now that Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, we’re going to hear a lot more about “those crazy Mormons” and their “magic underwear.” So if you don’t mind, I’m just going to use this post to share my undying love for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — a love that persists despite my Catholic skepticism with regards to some (but by no means all) of their religious beliefs.

You see, I recently took a short trip to the Salt Lake City metro area to attend my maternal grandfather’s funeral, and the difference between northern Utah and northern Virginia is akin to the difference between night and day. Forget the different climates. Forget the different landscapes. Forget the different elevations. What sets Salt Lake apart is the social capital. While I was there, an unfortunate medical incident (which has since resolved, thankfully) necessitated hailing the ambulance, and the commotion attracted a flock of concerned neighbors who were, to a man, ready to drop everything and come to our aid. In contrast, when an emergency vehicle pulls up to a house in Dale City, VA, people keep their distance.

And what accounts for these divergent responses? Mormonism, in large part. The Mormons are very big on maintaining family and community ties. Indeed, when my grandmother’s Mormon friend heard that a few of the neighbors hadn’t yet brought over comfort food in response to my grandmother’s loss, she threatened to punish them in some way for not living up to The Code. Said Mormon friend, you see, takes it as a given that her co-religionists are obligated to care for others. And by the way, my grandmother is not a Mormon, so it isn’t just a Mormons helping Mormons thing.

Amusingly, the Mormons will jump at any excuse to have a block party. Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, a wedding — regardless of the reason, Grandmom’s Mormon friends will cheerfully spend an entire day rolling up hundreds of taquitos, baking tater-tot casseroles, and/or preparing big bowls of fruited green Jello to share with the residents of their ward. And no — I don’t think that’s creepy. I think that’s charming. I also think it’s charming that, in Utah, your plumber is likely to come to your funeral. True facts!  

“But Stephanie,” some may object, “you are only one person. How do we know your experiences are trustworthy?” In response, I shall direct you to John C. Wright’s Shout Out to the Latter Day Saints:

Once upon a time, my middle son flushed a toy down the toilet, and the toy, with a power far beyond that of ordinary toys, managed not only to clog the pipe running under my front yard, but break the pipe during the attempt to remove it, so that my front tree had to be hewn down as if [b]y the cruel Orcs of Orthanc, and all my yard ripped up and despoiled.

Next, the Home Owners Association sent a legal notice saying we had to restore the lawn to good and proper condition forthwith, or face legal penalties. At this point in time my wallet had moths in it, and echoes, but no money. I could not hire a landscaper no[r] do the work myself.

My wife prayed to her God (I was an atheist at the time) and within the same day, two young men, dressed soberly, and with good manners, approached her and said that they were walking the neighborhood looking for good works to do. At first she thought of turning them away, but then realized they were an answer to prayer.

Since they were conservatively and soberly dressed, and spoke politely, and had a shining of grace and good favor about their faces, I knew at once that they were either Agents of the Machine from the movie THE MATRIX or that they were elders from the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Or, if you’d like, you can trust my mother, whose childhood in Salt Lake resulted in an intimate acquaintance with the Latter Day Saints. Though she knows the darker bits of Mormon history – and I’m going to speak to those in a minute – her attitude regarding Mormons is still overwhelmingly positive. She’s a freshly minted convert to Catholicism (and was both a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian earlier in life), but she considers the Mormons to be our allies in the culture wars. She deeply respects their conservative family values and their dedication to community service — and by the way, so do I. Mormonism is a peculiar “Made in America” heresy, but its adherents often behave more like Christians than do their more orthodox brothers and sisters.

Which is not to say that the Mormon church doesn’t have its questionable facets — like every other human institution on the planet. As recently as the 1970’s, Mom couldn’t bring her black friend over to a Mormon household. But in that same time period, there were probably many towns in the (overwhelmingly Protestant) rural South in which people refused black visitors. Racism is a human curse, not a Mormon one. And as for the polygamy thing? That – like the claim that darker skin is demonic – is no longer endorsed by the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (though, yes, it still exists in off-shoot groups like the FLDS).

Now, having said all of the above, I can understand to a certain extent why some people are wary when it comes to the Mormons. They are kind of mysterious. We who are not Mormons are not allowed to visit their temples and observe their most important rituals. But isn’t it the point of small-l liberalism to rise above our reptilian brains? If you’re confused as to why Mormons do the things they do and believe the things they believe, the proper course is not to mock them out of ignorance. The proper course is to turn to a Mormon and politely ask, “Hey, friend. Can you explain?” I’m sure any Mormon would be happy to engage in a good-faith discussion of his church and its traditions. 

An Apology

I’m sorry I’ve not kept this blog active lately. Truth is, I’ve been battling a moderate depression that, oddly enough, has nothing to do with the abysmal state of our country. Consequently, I’ve not been inspired to write on politics. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. I do, however, plan to get back into the swing of things starting tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Another Movie Plug:

This one is coming out in June, and it tells the story of the Cristero Rebellion, which took place in Mexico in the 1920’s after the radical Marxist government of the era began to actively persecute the Catholic Church. Should be pretty awesome!

On Santorum’s Lack of Message Discipline

Forgive me, but I need to get something off my chest:

I agree with SABR Matt below when he remarks that Santorum gets caught flat-footed distressingly often. But here’s what bothers me: Santorum is often right and nobody recognizes it. (SABR Matt excepted, of course.) Yes, yes, yes, we need to be aware of electoral realities. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard that a thousand times, and it’s starting to make me bitter and resentful. Why? Because the way I see it, that argument is a form of giving up. It’s basically conceding that we can never win the war against the mainstream media and their mendacious reporting. It’s putting the truth aside for the sake of winning. It’s saying that we shouldn’t even try to convince the middle – that, instead, we should just let certain folks continue to believe things that don’t hold up to careful scrutiny.

Consider, for example, the belief that everyone should go to college. As SABR Matt mentions in his post, the statistics would seem to suggest that a college education leads to higher earnings and greater happiness. The problem here is that such studies are always correlative. They show a positive relationship between a college degree and certain measures of success, but what about all the potential confounding variables? Are the people who go to college and graduate sociologically similar to those who don’t? Are they psychologically similar? That proposition seems very unlikely to me. Isn’t it therefore probable that college graduates are successful for reasons other than their educational attainment? That perhaps they earned their degrees due to their intellectual capacity, ambition, work ethic, persistence, etc.? That absent a college education, they still would’ve found some way to succeed? A study of our history seems to support the idea. Back when going to college was not a common experience for people below a certain income bracket, many people still managed to rise out of penury to establish wildly successful businesses — or write intelligent, trenchant books. The self-made man is an American icon for a reason.

Yes, I know — it’s weird for a professional college admissions counselor and SAT tutor to be questioning the college mystique. But bear with me here. I’m not quite finished. You see, there’s another way that the pro-college propaganda lies to our kids: It doesn’t draw any distinctions between the various degree programs on offer. Instead, we get a variation of the Underpants Gnome Argument:

1. Go to college.
2. Get a degree.
3. ???
4. Profit!

But, as everyone knows in his heart of hearts, not all degrees are created equal. If you’ve majored in Petroleum Engineering, you may be able to get a six-figure job in North Dakota right out of the starting gate. But if you’ve majored in Womyn’s Studies? Congratulations! You’ve just racked up thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Teens need to know that what they study in college does matter — yet none of the pro-college cheerleaders out there are encouraging said teens to make smart choices.

And by the way, the fact that there is such a thing as a major in Womyn’s Studies indicates that the full-scale push to universalize college has lead to an overall dumbing-down of the curriculum. And here’s another bit of evidence: Colleges have had to institute remedial programs in English and mathematics to accommodate students who are woefully under-prepared for university-level work. Freshman composition instructors in particular complain bitterly about their students’ inability to clearly communicate their ideas on paper, and they definitely have a reason to do so. Yes – all of this should move us to indict our K-12 education system. But I also believe it should prompt us to question whether college should be promoted so uncritically.

The upshot? I believe many of the facts are on Santorum’s side when it comes to college. And I think we can convince our moderate friends to at least think twice about condemning Santorum for his “snob” remark if we actually do the work and present the argument I outlined above. Similarly, there are arguments that can be advanced against the supposedly “mainstream” sexual revolution — arguments that we can back up with relatively solid social science research. Yet the pro-Romney bloggers keep urging us to put those things aside. “Stick to the economy,” they counsel. “We have to capture the middle.” “Social issues are a distraction.” To that, I say this: Social issues are inextricably connected to fiscal issues. Big government is reigning supreme precisely because our social capital is disappearing. People are looking to Daddy Obama to save them because their families and communities are no longer up to the task. If you want government to be smaller – if you want to reduce the national debt – you have to restore the family. That’s all there is to it. True — there is a right way and a wrong way to bring up our social and moral decline. True — Santorum might not be social-conservatism’s best standard-bearer. But if we can’t discuss the social issues now, when should we discuss them? Because the way I see it, you Romney fans are advocating that we kick the can down the road in perpetuity instead of dealing with what truly ails us as a country.

/rant.

The Coming Medical Ethics Crisis

The Coming Medical Ethics Crisis
by Jeffrey A. Singer

In a nutshell, hospitals, clinics, and health care providers have been given incentives to organize into teams that will get assigned groups of 5,000 or more Medicare patients. They will be expected to follow practice guidelines and protocols approved by Medicare. If they achieve certain goals established by Medicare with respect to cost, length of hospital stay, re-admissions, or other “core measures,” they will get to share a portion of Medicare’s savings. If the reverse happens, they will face economic penalties.

Private insurance companies are currently setting up the non-Medicare version of the ACO. These will be sold in the federally subsidized exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act. In this model, there are no fee-for-service payments to providers. Instead, an ACO is given a lump sum, or “bundled” payment for the entire care for a large group of insurance beneficiaries. The ACOs are expected to follow the same Medicare-approved practice protocols, but all of the financial risks are assumed by the ACOs. If the ACOs keep costs down, the team of providers and hospitals reap the financial reward: a surplus from the lump sum payment. If they lose money, the providers and hospitals eat the loss.

In both the Medicare and non-Medicare varieties of the ACO, cost control and compliance with centrally-planned practice guidelines are the primary goal. The hospital and provider networks will live or die by these objectives.

So where does all this place the medical profession with respect to its ethical credo? In a few years, almost all doctors will be employees of hospitals and will be ordered to practice medicine according to federally prescribed guidelines—guidelines that put the best interests of the state ahead of the interests of individual patients.

When the physician’s primary obligation is to satisfy the wishes of the payer—ultimately the wishes of the state—how can patients be truly confident in their doctors’ decisions?

Again, the biggest problem with the new health care law is not necessarily the individual mandate (although that’s pretty bad in itself). The biggest problem is its overall dependence on bureaucracy. “Obamacare” empowers the federal government to intrude on our personal decisions like never before — and that’s why it needs to be repealed and replaced with something better.