Crybaby Students

I attach below a portion of the editorial from the Washington Post written by Kathleen Parker on November 24th of last year. It should provide a sense of what I have been complaining about for years on my blog and elsewhere. It is a problem we cannot simply ignore.

“It would be easy to call protesting college students crybabies and brats for pitching hissy-fits over hurt feelings, but this likely would lead to such torrents of tearful tribulation that the nation’s university system would have to be shut down for a prolonged period of grief counseling. Besides, it would be insensitive.

Instead, let me be the first to say: it’s not the students’ fault. These serial tantrums are a direct result of our Everybody Gets a Trophy culture and an educational system that, for the most part, no longer teaches a core curriculum, including history, government and Bill of Rights.

The students simply don’t know any better. . . .

The first sign of the epidemic of sensitivity we’re witnessing was when parents and teachers were instructed never to tell Johnny that he was a ‘bad boy,’ but that he is ‘acting’ like a bad boy.

Next, Johnny was handed a blue ribbon along with everyone else on the team even though he didn’t deserve one. This had the opposite effect of what was intended. Rather than protecting Johnny’s fragile self-esteem, the prize undermined Johnny’s faith in his own perceptions and judgment. It robbed him of his ability to pick himself up when he fell and be brave, honest, and hardy in the face of adversity.

Self-esteem is earned, not bestowed.

Today’s campuses are overrun with little Johnnys, their female counterparts and their adult enablers. How will we ever find enough fainting couches?

. . . Concurrent with  these episodes of outrage is the recent surge on campuses of ‘trigger warnings’ in syllabuses to alert students to content that might be upsetting, and ‘safe spaces’ where students can seek refuge when ideas make them uncomfortable. It seems absurd to have to mention that the purpose of higher education is to be challenged, to be exposed to different views, and, above all, to be exhilarated by the exercise of free speech — other people’s as well as one’s own.

The marketplace of ideas is not for sissies, in other words. And it would appear that knowledge, the curse of the enlightened, is not for everybody.

The latter is meant to be an observation, but on many campuses today it seems to be an operating principle. A recent survey of 1,100 colleges and universities found that only 18 percent require American history or government, where such foundational premises as the First Amendment might be explained and understood. . . .

Such is the world we’ve created for young people who soon enough will discover that the world doesn’t much care about their tender feelings. But before such harsh realities knock them off their ponies we might hope that they redirect their anger. They have every right to despise the coddling culture that ill prepared them for life and an educational system that has failed to teach them what they need to know.”

 

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Parker — except to say that American history and government ought to be taught in all our high schools, along with a good stiff course in logic and critical thinking. This might lessen the number of fools who lap up the drivel that spews from the mouths of so many of the politicians seeking national offices. This is especially true since many of our citizens never go to college. But, in any event, what started out as a sincere desire to alleviate suffering among society’s victims has brought about an era of entitlement in which everyone claims to be a victim. There aren’t enough fainting couches to go around.

 

 

Who’s The Traitor?

Despite a Congress that seems unable to function we can still count on its members to issue forth with unsettling remarks from time to time. Their hands may be tied by their unwillingness to cooperate, but you can’t tie their tongues. Unfortunately. The latest profound utterance comes from House Speaker Boehner:

House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.

“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.

You may recall that Snowden is the man who decided that it was in his country’s best interest to know what sorts of shenanigans their government is up to. And from what we read more revelations may be forthcoming. The man is consequently regarded as a traitor by this hard-line Republican who apparently knows what constitutes loyalty to one’s country — even though he is part of the contingent that has brought government to a virtual halt and seems to be bound to party, rather than the common good.

There are several problems with this story, of course. We might begin with the fact that this Republican leader is siding with a “liberal” Democratic president — strange bedfellows, indeed. Only a tad stranger is the fact that Democrat Dianne Feinstein has joined Boehner in calling Edwards a “traitor.” Talk is cheap.  If only they would cooperate on such vital issues as the economy and climate change. But more important is the fact that this sort of comment by Feinstein and Boehner clouds the issue of what constitutes true patriotism, loyalty to one’s country. When one is privy to information that one is convinced his fellow citizens are better off knowing — such as information about what their armies and navies are doing in the name of “Iraqi freedom”  — as in the case of Bradley Manning — or, as in this case, what their government is doing in the name of “national security,” then they feel a responsibility to tell what they know. And this despite the fact that they know they will be pilloried by people like John Boehner. Or they might even be court-martialed as is the case with Manning.

It is a tough call to determine what sort of information should and should not be made available to ordinary citizens who are probably better off being shielded from most of the ugly things the government is forced to do. And it may turn out, as Matt Miller suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post, that Snowden has a private agenda and is simply “indulging his precious conscience.” But as a general rule I tend to side with those who show the courage of their convictions and are willing to suffer serious consequences because their “precious” consciences demand that they do what they regard as the right thing. Given the stench that so often seems to come our way from the halls of government, one suspects that this country can withstand the fresh air that has been sent its way by the revelations about phone-tapping in the name of national security. Is it indeed the case that our nation is not secure? Really? After all, who is it exactly we fear? One senses that our leaders, not to mention self-styled “centrist” journalists like Matt Miller, are becoming a bit paranoid.

Truth To Tell

In an interesting half-page in the current ONEARTH magazine published by NRDC, there’s a lesson in telling it like it is. The author, John Walke, who is director of NRDC’s clean air project, corrects a number of mistaken statements in a letter written to the Washington Post by the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Now we know by this time that “clean coal” is a misnomer: there is no such thing. There is just “cleaner coal” — which is to say, coal that is cleaner than it was a few years ago. This is thanks to the EPA which has forced the coal industry to a higher standard, though the coal industry would like us to think it was their idea.

The letter claims, for example, that the coal industry has cleaned up its act and would dearly love to take credit for pulling their hand out of the cookie jar, though we can see them hiding another cookie behind their backs!  Walke points out that the EPA has brought the cleanup about and while the coal industry claims that coal is “almost 90 percent cleaner than it was 40 years ago,” in fact it has been forced by the EPA to be 90 percent cleaner by 2015: it hasn’t reached that benchmark yet, and it is moving in that direction only because of federal legislation, not the desire to be good citizens. The coal industry also claims credit for “more than a dozen clean coal technologies” when, in fact, they have lobbied for 40 years against clean air safeguards and they are still fighting — along with Big Oil, of course. In the final paragraph of the letter, the coal industry correctly points out that energy demand will increase in coming years (duhhh) “and that demand cannot be met without coal.” Walke points out that in the U.S. “renewable energy, natural gas, and simple economics have steadily reduced demand for electricity generated by coal. California is on track to use no coal-based electricity by 2025. Clean energy technologies can produce both good jobs here and energy for export.”

The letter by the coal industry commits what logicians call the “neglected aspect” fallacy. They simply ignore alternatives to coal, especially clean energy alternatives like solar and wind, in order to scare people into thinking that they are the only alternative to an otherwise bleak future without adequate energy for teeming populations. And, of course, they ignore the alternative of population control which would go a long way toward solving not only this country’s energy problems, but the planet’s as well. But that’s another story for another day — though it is not much talked about, sad to say.

In a word, we know that corporations are not beneath making public statements that not only stretch the truth and wallow in half-truths, but actually state bald-faced lies — all in order to hoodwink the public and sell their products. We must always consider the source and never forget that the name of their game is “profits,” and when they start to spout data to prove their innocence they are not above saying what they think we want to hear rather than what we ought to hear — since the latter might interfere with the bottom line. A healthy skepticism is always in order.

Mitt’s Energy Plan

Mitt Romney recently revealed the energy plan he would pursue if elected President. From an environmental standpoint it is a disaster, which is no surprise. After all this is the man who just raised $7 million in one day from Big Oil. Bearing in mind that this plan was revealed in a speech by a politician running for public office, we can take it with a grain of salt. None the less it reveals his mindset at present.

His plan involves opening federal lands to oil and gas exploration — leaving drilling permission to local states (thereby reducing considerably the effectiveness of the E.P.A.); it will allow drilling for oil off the East Coast of Virginia and the Carolinas; it will promote the Keystone Oil Pipeline, which Mitt has pledged to complete if he “has to build it with [his] own hands.” As a recent article in the Washington Post put it:

Getting there, Romney argues, will require three big things. First, the United States will need to open up more federal lands and waters to oil and gas drilling. President Obama, he says, has been far too sluggish on this front. Second, the federal government will need to give states more power to approve permits, in order to speed up the rate of drilling. And third, Romney would focus on building pipelines like Keystone XL and partnerships with Canada and Mexico to take fuller advantage of those countries’ oil resources. (Remember, Romney is promising “North American energy independence,” not U.S. energy independence.)

The plan, which touts “energy independence” for North America makes no mention of clean energy. In fact, it would eliminate subsidies for wind and solar energy, thereby discouraging alternate energy development. And there is no talk whatever of such cutting-edge projects as research into nuclear fusion or harnessing energy from the ocean tides. Mitt’s plan is all about “jobs.” He claims that his plan would create 3.6 million jobs. Here we go again.

To begin with, this plan commits the fallacy of bifurcation: either we create jobs or we save the planet, we can’t do both. Bollocks! We can do both. As I noted in a recent blog, The Union of Concerned Scientists has proposed  “a national renewable-electricity standard that ensured that utilities obtained at least 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, and bioenergy by 2025,” insisting that this would “create 297,000 new jobs, $13.5 billion in income to rural landowners, and $15.3 billion in new local tax revenues.”

But more importantly it is generally agreed that the 3.6 million jobs promised by this politician is an inflated figure. The actual number of jobs would be much lower. Further, jobs created during an oil boom are temporary and are almost always created at the cost of jobs elsewhere: people leave lower paying jobs to take the high-paying, albeit temporary, oil jobs. So the word “create” is being used in a very creative way here.

The truly disturbing thing about this plan is that it is completely out of tune with the times. For one thing, as the Bloomberg News reported recently, the U.S. is closer to energy independence at present than Romney would allow.

The U.S. is now closer to energy independence than anyone who waited in 1970s gas lines could have imagined. As Bloomberg News reports, oil imports fell to about 45 percent of U.S. demand last year and are expected to fall to about 42 percent this year, down from a peak of 60 percent in 2005. More than 80 percent of the country’s demand for power is now met by domestic sources. . .

Furthermore, this plan focuses on “jobs” and “energy independence” at the expense of the planet at a time when we should be concentrating on ways to protect the earth from further deterioration at the hands of greedy humans — while we might at the same time actually be creating jobs in the clean energy industry. Thus it would appear as I suggested in an earlier blog, this election is not about choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Despite the fact that Barack Obama has been somewhat disappointing, he has not mounted an attack on the environment and he has not targeted social programs that benefit the poor. We do have a real choice.