Wonderful Wal-Mart

     I was wandering around my local Wal-Mart today thinking about how wonderful it is to have a place where people of limited means can buy high quality products (food, clothing, medicine, and just about anyting else you can think of) at very low prices. 

      So, why do so many people oppose having Wal-Marts in their neighborhoods?  I can understand the opposition from all those who own the overpriced businesses the Wal-Mart will put out of business, but why would any consumer be opposed to having such a terrific place to shop? 

     People talk about how local shops that give individual service will be put out of business.  But if these shops are actually providing a service that Wal-Mart does not, and people value that service, people will continue to shop in these smaller places and the shops will continue to thrive.   If they are forced out of business, it will be because their service wasn’t that valuable after all.

     I love having Wal-Marts near to me and shop in them every week.  How do you folks feel about them, and what has been your actual experience with them?  Anyone actually work there and can shed any light on the gender discrimination charges?  As to that last point, I speak in total ignorance, but suspect the charges are more trumped up than real.  But, I’d love to hear from folks who actually know something about the facts behind the charges.

Is Hate a Crime?

     Bookworm is taking the weekend off, so  I’m hoping in with one of my questions.  I’ve been thinking a lot about hate speech and hate crimes since the Imus nonsense and the whole idea puzzles me. 

     Is hate a crime?  Senators Kennedy and Smith are introducing a new hate crimes bill.   NOW is all excited.  But does it really matter whether, when a person commits a violence act against another person, the criminal is motivated by hate of an individual or a group?  Isn’t the violent act punishable enough?

     Colleges all over the country are trying to ban hate speech.   One would think that college campuses would be bastions of free speech of all kinds, even hate speech, but not so.  To its credit, even the ACLU opposes such bans.  What does it say about what our kids are learning that so many schools support such bans anyway? 

     While we’re at it, should Imus have lost his job?  I don’t think he necessarily should have lost his job simply for making a bad joke, however crude.  But, just as he has a right to his speech, his sponsors have a right to decide not to sponsor his speech.  And his bosses have a right to fire him, rather than lose revenues or listeners because of his speech.  And, by the way, I have no problem with people calling on him to be fired (or not fired).  They are only exercising their free speech rights as well. 

     Anyway, what do the readers of the Bookwormroom think about hate crimes and hate speech?  Is hate a crime?  Should it be?

Fighting back

I have too much on my plate today and too little time, but I just had to take a few minutes to follow-up on a theme that started with the British Marines and ended, so sadly, at VTech: passivity.

Two of the best writers out there have written about the fact that our Western culture has made a virtue out of passivity in the face of violence.  Mark Steyn views the problem as an infantilization of society that has us completely conditioned to wait for others to rescue us. After explaining his viewpoint, Steyn looks at a Canadian massacre of a few years back (and doesn’t Canada have gun control?) with some of the most frightening facts I’ve ever heard — not because of what the killer did, but because of what the male bystanders did (or, rather, didn’t do):

The cost of a “protected” society of eternal “children” is too high. Every December 6th, my own unmanned Dominion lowers its flags to half-mast and tries to saddle Canadian manhood in general with the blame for the “Montreal massacre,” the 14 female students of the Ecole Polytechnique murdered by Marc Lepine (born Gamil Gharbi, the son of an Algerian Muslim wife-beater, though you’d never know that from the press coverage). As I wrote up north a few years ago:

Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate — an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The “men” stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.

Apropos the men in Canada, I read somewhere on the blogosphere, and I can’t remember where, that when the Titantic sank, the men truly abided by the age-old adage of women and children first:

First of all, if you were a man, you were outta luck. The overall survival rate for men was 20%. For women, it was 74%, and for children, 52%. Yes, it was indeed “women and children first.”

The other post I read today on the same these was at Big Lizards, where Dafydd wrote about the peculiar virtue our Western culture has made of not fighting back:

I see the circumstances of the Virginia Tech shooting and of the British hostages as betraying the same very poignant — and dangerous — perspective: helplessness as a virtue.

But the two circumstances also differ in a way that at first appears vast, but upon reflection seems not so great after all. When a soldier, by inaction, renders himself helpless, we call it cowardice; but civilians do not seem to be under the same duty as a member of the military, one who has voluntarily assumed responsibility for protecting and preserving his society.

Surely, however, adult civilians are not completely bereft of any such responsibility; in fact, assuming personal responsibility for the lives and freedoms of others is, by my reckoning, exactly what separates the child from the adult. When a boy or a girl freely accepts that he has a certain duty towards his fellows, even when nobody will ever know whether he fulfilled it or not, that is when boy becomes man and girl becomes woman.

The epiphany is usually a series of small revelations that mount up over time, but it can also strike like the fangs of a diamondback in the dark night of the soul. Either way, dawn can begin at any age past puberty and can take a number of years, or a few short days… or else a lifetime can pass without the change completing.

The epiphany is this: Each one of us is a foot soldier for civilization; when evil threatens, we must do our utmost to thwart it.

Your utmost may be as simple as snitching on your best friend when you discover he has systematically looted the company you both work for… or as profound as Virginia Tech Engineering Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, who gave his last full measure blocking the doorway to his classroom, allowing his students time to escape out the window.

Steyn and Dafydd are both absolutely right about the way in which Western culture has emasculated itself.  It’s confused the cultural virtue of avoiding bullying (a good thing), with the cultural death knell of becoming helpless.

As for me, when I heard about the Marines being led onto waiting Iranian ships, and when I heard about the VTech students lined up to be shot, all I could think of was the Jews passively getting round up by the Nazis. When Israel says “never again,” she means that her citizens will never again allow themselves to be taken without a fight. What the country realized collectively is that, if you’re going to die anyway, take the others down with you — and you may discover that your death toll isn’t as great as you thought.  Professor Librescu, having survived the Holocaust, understood this and willingly sacrificed himself that others could live.  The passengers on United 93 understood this and, through their sacrifice, may have saved the Capitol.  Every member of the armed forces who fights a battle or goes on a rescue mission understands this.

And lest you think that this line of reasoning holds true only in extreme situations of battle or terrorism, it also applies in a microcosmic way to every assault or rape in this country — or so I was told during a long-ago self-defense class. The teacher said that studies about attempted rapes show that women who fight back are more likely to get hurt but (and here’s the kicker) less likely to get killed.

Feed the monster

Last week, when I paid my taxes, I had three thoughts jostling for primacy in my brain:  1.  I hate funding pork.  2.  I’m glad I live in a well-functioning country and my tax dollars help.  3.  Even though I’m scrupulous in obeying the law, I hope the IRS doesn’t hassle me.  Turns out I’m not alone in these thoughts.  Rick Moran, at Right Wing Nuthouse read an utterly fatuous Matt Stoller post about the joys of paying taxes (and the evil of those conservatives who rail against excessive taxes), and proceeded to savage Stoller’s thinking.  It makes for very good reading, as well as (yet another) compelling argument for tax reform.

Two wrongs can make a right

One of my clients made a very foolish mistake.  I was somewhat upset, although philosophical, because the consequences weren’t as bad as they could have been.  I learned yesterday that the opposing party made an even bigger mistake that completed negated what my client had done.  In twenty years, it has never happened before that something stupid on my side got wiped out by something more stupid on the other side.  What could be better?

The partial birth abortion decision

One doesn’t even have to read the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion decision to know that it is entirely consistent with the Left’s beloved Roe v. Wade.  Contrary to most people’s assumptions about Roe v. Wade, that case does not create an unfettered right to abortion.  Instead, it does a balancing act, looking at the State’s interest versus the woman’s interest over the length of the pregnancy.  In the first trimester, when the fetus is not viable outside the womb, the balancing favors the woman’s right to choose how she wants to handle her pregnancy.  In the second trimester, as the fetus nears viability, the balance begins tipping in the State’s favor.  And, in the third trimester, when the fetus is viable, the State’s interests may triumph:

With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

So, although today’s decision is being played as a landmark ruling in favor of conservatives (“The Supreme Court’s conservative majority handed anti-abortion forces a major victory Wednesday in a decision that bans a controversial abortion procedure and set the stage for further restrictions.”) it is, in practical fact, nothing more than a recycling of principles already articulated in Roe v. Wade — and I say all this not having read the opinion itself, but being in the enviable position of actually having read the seminal 1973 case.  So, no matter how Kennedy phrased the case (and I have no idea how he did phrase it), he didn’t take away any rights  already granted in Roe v. Wade, a case which more than 30 years ago ensured that, near the end of the pregnancy, the State’s interests, not the woman’s, can be given primacy.

By the way, I seem to have the advantage over Hillary, whose press release shows that she’s more influenced by popular perceptions than actual Constitutional law:

Washington, DC — “This decision marks a dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings that upheld a woman’s right to choose and recognized the importance of women’s health. Today’s decision blatantly defies the Court’s recent decision in 2000 striking down a state partial-birth abortion law because of its failure to provide an exception for the health of the mother. As the Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade in 1973, this issue is complex and highly personal; the rights and lives of women must be taken into account. It is precisely this erosion of our constitutional rights that I warned against when I opposed the nominations of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.”

Just to make Hillary’s error clear, let me reiterate that, as the quotation from Roe v. Wade itself shows, there is no absolute Constitutional right to abortion in the third trimester.

The unintended consequences are beginning

At the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer explains that, while we don’t know how deleterious global warming might be, we do know already how damaging, for the poor, efforts to stop global warming already are.  This is especially true for ethanol, which turns food crops into fuel.  Turns out the remedial steps might not just damage the poor either:

If ethanol ever gains widespread use as a clean alternative fuel to gasoline, people with respiratory illnesses may be in trouble.

A new study out of Stanford says pollution from ethanol could end up creating a worse health hazard than gasoline, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

“Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution,” Mark Z. Jacobson, the study’s author and an atmospheric scientist at Stanford, said in a statement. “But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage.”

The study appears in today’s online edition of Environmental Science & Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society. It comes at a time when the Bush administration is pushing plans to boost ethanol production and the nation’s automakers are required by 2012 to have half their vehicles run on flex fuel, allowing the use of either gasoline or ethanol.


Nice killers

Most of us envision mass killers as stone cold nut jobs, like Cho Seung Hui, who carried out Monday’s Virginia Tech carnage. By all accounts, he was an angry, lonely person, obsessed with violent death. Small wonder that, given the means and the opportunity, he would act out his vengeful fantasies. The same held true for the Columbine killers, boys whom their school mates could easily see in the terrible executioner’s role they’d assigned themselves.

So many killers aren’t actually like that. If they were, more of us could see them coming and avoid them. In other words, like some snakes, their rattles would give them away.

Robert Spencer is concerned with another type of killer, the happy one who kills not because he is crazy or even angry, but because he is ideologically driven. As he points out in the opening paragraphs of his article about nice killers, many of these killers (or their money men) are described as really nice guys, people who are friendly and happy. Nevertheless, they kill, and they kill in staggering numbers. As often as not, their niceness can be ascribed to the fact that they view their killings as a good thing that they’re doing for the greater good of humanity, a humanity that will benefit from their fascist, totalitarian view of the ideal society:

It was the Nazi genocide mastermind Heinrich Himmler who told a group of SS leaders: “Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet — apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness — to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and shall never be written…”

Were these SS mass murderers really decent fellows? To their friends and family, they probably were. After all, they weren’t interested in undifferentiated mayhem. They were adherents of a totalitarian, genocidal ideology that convinced them that the murders they were committing were for a good purpose. As far as they were concerned, their goals were rational and good, and the murders were a means to that goal. It was not just a noteworthy achievement, but a necessity, for them to remain “decent fellows,” for they were busy trying to build what they saw as a decent society. That their vision of a decent society included genocide and torture did not trouble them, for it was all for – in their view – a goal that remained good.

Today’s jihad terrorists are likewise the adherents of a totalitarian, genocidal ideology that teaches them that murders committed under certain circumstances are a good thing. And those murders, here again, are not committed for their own sake, but for the sake of a societal vision hardly less draconian and evil than that of Hitler, but one also that portrays itself as the exponent of all that is good – as the Taliban showed us. But the continued reference to such people as “terrorists” pure and simple, and the refusal of the media and most law enforcement officials to examine their ideology at all, only reinforces the idea that these people are raving maniacs, interested solely in chaos for its own sake. The society they want to build, and the means besides guns and bombs that they are using to build it, so far remain below the radar screen of most analysts. These people are just “terrorists,” interested only in “terror.” And so we’re continually surprised when they turn out to be nice guys after all. Decent fellows. Like the SS.

Obama exposes himself

Give Obama twenty years and, with his native intelligence, he may yet prove himself.  Right now, though, he’s callow.  How callow?  Read Richard Baehr’s analysis of Obama’s “official” comments in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy to see.  I wouldn’t trust as ill-formed as Obama with the job of leading our country.

Funnily enough, one of the most decent tributes I saw from someone who had a job to do was Jay Leno’s.  He opened Monday’s show by acknowledging the shooting, by talking about what a tragedy it was, and by offering his condolences to the victims’ families.  But, he said, the purpose of his show is so that, at the end of the day, people can come home and relax and laugh a bit.  He then gently swung into his stand-up and the humor went from there.  It was masterfully done, and Obama could learn from it.

Not sudden jihad — unless proven otherwise

News is coming that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, had written ISMAIL-AX on his arm, which may have been a reference to the story of Abraham’s son Ishmael who, in Muslim Arab mythology, is believed to be the progenitor of all Arabs.  While that may well be true, it will take a whole heck of a lot more to convince me that this was a sudden jihad syndrome killing. 

What’s much more likely, based on the news trickling in about how profoundly disturbed this young man was, is that his insanity reflects the angst of our time.  In the medieval era, delusional people thought they were possessed by the Devil; in the mid-20th Century, aliens possession took over as the delusion of choice.  It wouldn’t be surprising that, in this day and age, a delusional man with no connection to Islam nevertheless incorporates that cultural awareness into his insanity, and Islamic possession becomes his manifestation of a broken mind. 

Finally, the teachers and administrators have gotten something right

Little Bookworm used to leap out of bed every morning, anxious to go to school and work on whatever project was engaging her attention at the time.  After six months in public school, I struggle to wake her up as she pleads “Do I have to go to school today?”  It turns out that the one thing public schools teach children really well is how to hate learning. 

Turns out, too, that public school teachers and educators, although not realizing how complicit they are, have in fact figured out that a disproportionate number of students don’t want to learn:

More than a quarter of teachers in urban school districts across the country say they don’t believe their students are motivated to learn, according to a survey by the National School Boards Association.

Of the 4,700 teachers polled in 12 urban districts, including San Francisco, about 1 in 10 also don’t look forward to going to work each day.

(You can see a news report summarizing other survey results here.)

As I’ve been hammering away here, students don’t want to learn because the educational system has sucked the meaning out of learning.  Facts and skills are presented without any context.  So much of what children learn takes place in an informational vacuum — and facts without context are boring and meaningless.

I checked out two books from the library last week that were both reminiscences by former jeopardy champions:  Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan : A Decade in Jeopardy and Ken Jenning’s Brainiac : Adventures in the Curious, Competitve, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs.  Both are delightful books that I can highly recommend, and both are books that deal with our ability to take in and retain information. 

And as to the latter point, both men absolutely concur that we learn best when we find the information engaging and can relate it to things we already know.  You can use brute force memorization for a lot of things, but the effortless, joyful learning comes when a fact triggers all sorts of little synapses, and makes us excited. 

That was one of the points of the Mission post I did yesterday.  My daughter learned about milk cartons, plaster of Paris and kidney beans, with a little time taken out for adobe brick composition and a random fact thrown in about Indian slaves.  She never got a story.  She never heard about adventurers, and warriors, and men of faith.  She never heard about God, and gold, and disease.  She never heard about the clash of two ancient cultures, one armed with arrows, and one equipped with horses, guns and germs.  She never heard about wide open spaces, and men of God creating lodgings for horseback travelers.  She got some facts, but learned nothing.  There was no joy, no interest, no curiosity.

Public school can be summed up into two question and answer cycles in our household.  In the evening, I ask “What did you learn?” and my kids, in one form or another, answer “Nothing.”  And in the morning, they ask “Do I have to go to school?” and I, reluctantly, answer “Yes.” 

The administrators and teachers have figured out that there’s a problem, but I’m betting that they’ll never figure out that they’re the cause.  Nor will they see that, by changing their mindset, by changing their fundamental lack of respect for children’s innate inquisitiveness and joy in the stories of our world, they could actually effectuate a solution.