Potpourri 6/20/17

  1. Education, liberal and vocational
  2. Erasing women
  3. Commenting on not commenting
  4. Julius Donald
  5. Bringing a knife to a gunfight
  6. Identifying the “critical shift”
  7. Cure worse than the disease
  8. Clarence Thomas, Civil Libertarian


The liberal arts seem on the defensive in the United States. University study, the public increasingly feels, should be a practical thing. A recent Washington Post essay put it sharply: “Instead of ‘Follow your passion,’ the mantra [for many colleges] has become more like, ‘We’ll help you get a job.’” A father explained why “practicality” is so important for him: “Education for education’s sake is a luxury that middle-class families like us don’t have anymore.”

The idea that education should be useful is not new in the United States. “The Americans,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, “can devote to general education only the early years of life. At fifteen they enter upon their calling… If it is continued beyond that point, it aims only towards a particularly specialized and profitable purpose; one studies science as one takes up a business; and one takes up only those applications whose immediate practicality is recognized.” The key question … is: Useful for what?

(Miguel Monjardino) Savor that “key question” for a minute.

Is financial profit self-evidently the ultimate good in life? Is wanting truly better things for your children and grandchildren a “luxury that middle-class families … don’t have any more”?

[T]he politically inconvenient reality is that not every kid is cut out for traditional college, and those who struggle in high school may be better off learning a trade. Many without academic inclination or preparation often spend years (and thousands of dollars) taking remedial classes to compensate for their lousy K-12 education.

The six-year graduation rate for four-year colleges is 60% while the three-year graduation rate at community colleges is a paltry 22%. The Obama Administration response was to push even more subsidized student debt to force feed even more kids into college. Student debt doubled in the Obama years to $1.3 trillion, which will burden workers and taxpayers for decades.

Another problem is that few colleges and high schools teach vocational skills. The Labor Department Jolts survey of national job openings found more than six million in April—the most since Jolts began tracking in 2000. The vacancies include 203,000 in construction, 359,000 in manufacturing and 1.1 million in health care. These are not jobs that can be filled by Kanye West English deconstructionists. They are also typically jobs that can’t be supplanted by lower-wage foreign competition.

Perhaps the most important message is that there’s dignity and purpose in all work, college degree or not.

(Wall Street Journal, 6/19/17) See also Shop Class as Soulcraft.

It’s a pretty tough time to be 17 or 18, a so-so student, planning for the future.


It was not that long ago that this Court [sorry: the subject of “this Court” is unclear in the original — Tipsy] noted approvingly that married women had a limited independent legal existence apart from their husbands:

The identity of husband and wife is an ancient principle of our jurisprudence. It was neither accidental nor arbitrary and worked in many instances for her protection. There has been, it is true, much relaxation of it but in its retention as in its origin it is determined by their intimate relation and unity of interests, and this relation and unity may make it of public concern in many instances to merge their identity, and give dominance to the husband.

Women may have … achieved their independent legal existence, but that status is now threatened by redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity”.

Worse than enabling men to help themselves to women’s bodies and women’s remedial or protective programs, that redefinition poses a truly existential threat: An administrative ukase decreeing that there really is no such thing as a woman. When the law requires that any man who wishes (for whatever reason) to be treated as a woman is a woman, then “woman” (and “female”) lose all meaning. With the stroke of a pen, women’s existence – shaped since time immemorial by their unique and immutable biology – has been eliminated by Orwellian fiat. Women, as they have been known forever, will simply be no more.

(Transgender laws threaten to erase women, an unusual joint statement by Women’s Liberation Front and Family Policy Alliance, organizations that may be Australian, emphasis added.)

This transgender fad (and most of it is a fad engaged in by limelight seekers) brings to mind James Howard Kunstler’s current wry theory of history: “Things happen because it seemed like a good idea at the time” — and I’d modify that to “seemed like a good idea to the “right people” at the time.”


For the record, I’ve not been commenting on the Bill Cosby trial because it’s pretty painful. I and my high school buddies adored Cosby, and used many of his stand-up comedy lines as banter. I don’t want to believe the charges. But I can’t just dismiss the multiple similar accusations, and at age 68, I still catch occasional glimpses of the darkness of my own heart, and empathic appreciation for how such darkness coupled with a combination of wealth, celebrity and power could lead one to very bad places.

I’ve also not commented (or not very much) on Senator Ben Sasse, whose book is getting a lot of attention and who talks like a different kind of political animal. I’d like to think he’s a rising star, with a fresh vision, but (1) his voting record reportedly is that of a conventional Movement Conservative and (2) Bobby Jindal also seemed like a genius policy wonk and subsequently drove Louisiana into the ground with rigid ideology. Best wishes, Senator, but once stung, twice cautious.


I will, however, venture to comment on Shakespeare in the Park with a Donald Trump-like Julius Caesar:

  1. In concept, it’s unobjectionable and not an incitement to assassination.
  2. From commentary I’ve read, it’s an artistic failure, and one so blatant that only Trump Derangement Syndrome could have carried it far past the brainstorming stage. Specifically, the traits that make Trump so Trumpish don’t map plausibly to Shakespeare’s Caesar.

I offer this comment mostly because nobody else pulled these two obviously relevant observations together. Our popular press seem generally stuck in the debate over whether this is theater business as usual or Eees Outraaaage! (Yeah. They help feed the polarization because it sells.)


I was surprised to learn that Jay Sekulow is now functioning as a personal attorney for Donald Trump. Sekulow is a guy who enters my radar field every year or two, kind of a B-Team religious freedom and “conservative cause” lawyer who apparently has a knack for self-promotion in Evangelical circles. I was also amused to see this account of his emergence, which I hadn’t known:

Sekulow made his first big Washington debut in 1987 in the U.S. Supreme Court when he helped the evangelical group Jews for Jesus defeat a measure that banned the distribution of religious literature at Los Angeles International Airport.

His performance was unimpressive, The American Lawyer wrote at the time. Sekulow was “rude and aggressive,” the publication said, “so nervous that at times he appeared nearly out of control.”

Fortunately for Sekulow it was an easy case to win. The ordinance literally barred “First Amendment activity” at the airport, presenting clear constitutional problems. And win Sekulow did — in a unanimous decision striking down the measure.

“I left the courtroom feeling like the Beatles must have felt leaving Shea Stadium,” he wrote in 2005.

(Washington Post) Apparently, he’s about as well-suited to this kind of defense work as Trump is to the Presidency. Trump’s foes apparently haven’t got nuthin’ on collusion with Russia, but they’re playing for keeps, wearing brass knuckles, following some variant of this script:

  • Martha Stewart was convicted for how she reacted to an insider trading investigation, not for insider trading.
  • Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to a grand jury investigating leaks, not for leaking.
  • Retired Marine Corps general James E. Cartwright was convicted of lying to the FBI during their leak investigation, not of leaking.
  • Clinton-era housing secretary Henry Cisneros was convicted of lying to the FBI about money he gave a girlfriend, not for the wide-ranging subject of the independent-counsel investigation into him.
  • New York state senator Thomas Libous was convicted not of the corruption he was accused of but for lying to the FBI in the course of the investigation.
  • House speaker Dennis Hastert was investigated for misuse of public funds, and was proved to have engaged in horrendous child abuse, but was ultimately convicted of lying to the FBI about the money he used to pay his victim and of structuring those payments in a way designed to evade detection.
  • Rapper Lil’ Kim wasn’t convicted for participating in a gunfight; she was convicted for lying to a grand jury about one.
  • Baseball star Barry Bonds was convicted of a federal felony — not for involvement in the doping that was the subject of the federal grand jury investigation, but for lying to the federal grand jury about it. (His conviction ultimately was reversed.)

Who will be Trump’s Scooter Libby? Or will Sekulow play his hand so badly that they’ll get the top guy?

Trump would be better off with Popehat (the source of this list, writing this time for National Review) for his lawyer.

I hate the thought that even Donald Trump should get strung up because he hired an inadequate lawyer. But fat chance he’ll listen to anyone as long as Sekulow plays sycophant to his vain-but-insecure client.


In our politically polarized moment, even affable E.J. Dionne sounds unhinged at times, but not Monday in his Washington Post column:

The harsh feelings in our politics arise from a long process — the steady destruction of the norms of partisan competition that began more than a quarter-century ago. Well before President Trump took political invective to a new level, Newt Gingrich was pushing his side to extreme forms of aggressiveness. Journalist John M. Barry cited an emblematic 1978 speech Gingrich gave to a group of College Republicans in which he warned them off “Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire, but are lousy in politics.”

“You’re fighting a war,” the future House speaker said. “It is a war for power. . . . Don’t try to educate them. That is not your job. . . . What’s the primary purpose of a political leader? . . . To build a majority.”

Gingrich won his majority in 1994, but the cost was high. This is not to say that Democrats were pacifists. But I’d argue that the critical shift happened on the Republican side. The turning point came when President George H.W. Bush was punished by members of his own party, including Gingrich, for agreeing with Democrats on the need for a tax increase in 1990. It was a watershed for the GOP. Republicans would never again repeat what they saw as the elder Bush’s “mistake.”

I think he’s wrong about “the critical shift” in harsh feelings — that likelier would be the Senate hearings on Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, wherein the Democrats were the norm-breakers — but he’s pretty plausible about the source of the GOP mania for adding “no new taxes” and constantly cutting the old ones.


A Bay Area bookseller sued the state in federal court in San Francisco … to challenge a law that requires extensive documentation for autographs on collectible items, including books.

(Bay Area Bookseller Challenges California Autograph Law In Federal Court) I caught this story on Monday’s All Things Considered, which doesn’t have a transcript us as I write.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing the bookstore for free, anticipating a civil rights attorney fee award, no doubt. Among the allegations of the complaint are these, which caught my attention on the NPR story in a reworded form:

61. The autograph law will chill the First Amendment rights of Book Passage’s customers by discouraging them from attending author events and obtaining autographed books.

62. The autograph law will chill Book Passage’s customers’ rights to purchase and sell books anonymously, and that will burden Plaintiffs’ and others’ ability to obtain signed books for resale.

Although I can’t find a requirement in the law that the book dealer keep a record of who bought an autographed book, it clearly requires keeping a record of the third party from whom the dealer bought it and makes the customer wait around while the dealer collects information about the sale — both requirements that chill the free flow of printed material.

I think Pacific Legal’s got a winner here.


Be it noted that Justice Clarence Thomas (also known as “the black man the left most likes insulting as a stupid [fill in the racial epithet, generally implied rather than uttered]”) emerged as a subversive, suggesting that violators of civil liberties may be getting away with it too readily because of the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” and that maybe (Wink! Wink!) someone ought to ask the Supreme Court to revisit the boundaries of that doctrine.

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Administrative comment: I have added a category for transgenderism, which has burst into prominence since this blog was born, and have renamed the “Free Speech” category as “Speech & Press,” which seems better to fit how I use it.

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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

One thought on “Potpourri 6/20/17

  1. Mercatornet is Australian, but Women’s Liberation Front and Family Policy Alliance, whose surprising — but probably temporary — cooperation Mercatornet reports, are both US organizations: Family Policy Alliance is based in Colorado Springs, and although I cannot find a physical address for Women’s Liberation Front, it is suing the US govt., so it must be a US-based organization.

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