Thursday, December 30, 2004

New Year's Break

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:52 PM |  

I will be spending New Year's weekend at a secure undisclosed location. Blogging will resume on Monday.

Have a great new year, all.


READER RESPONSE -- President authorizes school voucher program

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:46 AM |  

No, not George W. Bush, but President Jed Bartlet of the NBC series The West Wing. Reader Dave Vogel provides a summary followed by some good insight.

While watching the West Wing last night, I could hardly believe that they actually took up the issue of vouchers in schools. The Mayor of D.C. comes in to talk to the President on getting his support for vouchers in schools. The usual objections are made (political support from traditional Democratic sources like teachers' unions and how it is unfair for children). The Mayor relates his personal experiences with what he has seen firsthand, and how there is lots of support for it not from the rich and powerful but the poor kids who want a chance at a decent education.

The President calls in one of staff members who is a young black man. He asks him where he went to school, and he replies one of the public schools. Thinking he proved a point that you can succeed at a public school, he then asks him where he would have preferred to go. The response is a private school he names, and that the education was much better, hardly any violence and the kids that went there all were focusing on getting into college. When he asks why he wasn't able to go, he said he couldn't afford it. The President weighs the testimony, and actually goes ahead for financing a pilot program.

It was pretty impressive, and hopefully something like that will help those who automatically oppose an idea simply because it comes from a Republican look at the issue in a different light. I imagine a large chunk of the audience is center to center/left in nature, so the people exposed to this idea might not have ever heard the debate framed in these terms. The case is argued from a Democratic black Mayor, supported by a Democratic black staffer, and is given a thoughtful response from a Democratic President. I can only hope that stuff like this can move the debate forward.
And sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction --

Let D.C. Try Vouchers -- By Dianne Feinstein

READER RESPONSE -- There is a Santa Claus, but . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:58 AM |  

Overshadowed in yesterday's Star Tribune by the clamour over Nick Coleman's latest use of newspaper pages for personal vendetta was the lead Letter to the Editor from a frequent commentator on this site, Jerry Ewing.

I've learned a lot from the insight in his comments on education posts and his views on a "Universal Voucher" are interesting. I've enjoyed the strong defense he made in debating "The Doctor" on the school choice issue. His comments in the Star Tribune on the morality of the state budget are right on target.

Nice job, Jerry!

Not quite, Virginia

I'm sorry, Virginia, but your little friends are wrong ("State budget is a moral document," Dec. 27). There is a Santa Claus, but state government is not he.

Where is the separation of church and state when liberals want government charity? It is not a moral act to steal from one to give to another, nor is it charity -- no matter how much you care.

The authors give to faith and charity, but then want the state to use its power of taxation to force the rest of us to give even more. Do you ever wonder why these "charitable" people do not voluntarily pay more taxes than they owe? Nothing prevents that, except perhaps the certain knowledge that government "charity" is the moral equivalent of extortion on the one end and prostitution on the other. Perhaps if taxes were lower, we could all be more charitable.

Jerry Ewing, Apple Valley.

PUBLIC SERVICE -- Are you under stress?

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:34 AM |  

Stress is scientifically proven to contribute to a number of health problems for ordinary Americans. The danger is that stress is becoming so common that we have just assumed that the perpetual state of stress we live in is "normal." That does not mitigate the health hazards.

There is, however, a simple self-administered test to discover if you are living with residual stress fatigue (RSD). Click here to view a photo used in an extensive study of stress levels of patients at Our Lady of Subtle Joy Memorial Hospital.

Look at both dolphins jumping out of the water. The dolphins are identical. A closely monitored scientific study revealed that, in spite of the fact that the dolphins are identical, a person under stress will find differences in the two dolphins. If there are many differences found between the dolphins, it means that the person is experiencing a significant amount of stress. Look at the photograph. If you find more than one or two differences you may want to take a vacation.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

FROM THE ARCHIVES -- The Adventures of Captain Fishsticks

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:43 PM |  

Posted on Sun, Jan. 05, 2003

Island getaway still a chance to kick back, tell lies with the locals

Community Columnist

I was drinking beer with a fellow expatriate-for-two-weeks at Captain Jack's, a harbor's edge watering hole in Hope Town on Elbow Cay in the Bahamas.

"How many years you been coming down here, Willie?" I asked.
Willie turned to one of the locals at a nearby table. "Ay, Maitland," he called in his Boston accent. "How big was that hammerhead we got out by Lubber's Cay?"

" 'Bout t'elve fe't," came the Bahamian's reply.

"Eight years," answered Willie, finishing off his beer. "First year I was here, Maitland and I caught this hammerhead shark. A little one — about 4 feet — but every year we add a foot. Makes a better story."

Willie called the barmaid, ordered another round of Kalik, and we joined the locals drinking beer and telling lies.

Picking up a little something for dinner

Today that hammerhead is approaching Jaws-like proportions; "Progress" is transforming this Minnesotan's winter retreat into Amity Island.

Elbow Cay is a tiny Bahamian island a goose-bumpy 55-minutes in a six-seat prop plane from Ft. Lauderdale. Twenty-five "feet" ago, Elbow Cay was home to a couple hundred local families and five surnames. Reflecting its settlers' heritage, Hope Town resembled a New England fishing village, its small wooden saltbox houses in varying states of surrender to the salt air.

Every house had a name. We've stayed in a number over the years — the most colorful was "Dickie's Little House," a converted barge that in a previous life had been a waterfront brothel, which bequeathed to its reincarnation red shag carpeting, an electric fireplace and a mirror over the bed.

It was more than a decade ago on the beach in front of Dickie's Little House that our kids landed a "15-foot" lemon shark. This snowman-skinned Minnesotan felt like Ernest Hemmingway. I filleted some steaks. I cut out the jaw. I'm writing about it.

For a traveler from Minnesota, Hope Town was refreshingly authentic — a living entity where "community" was a way of life, not an enforced concept. Anyone could be welcomed, but not everyone was. Respect was earned, not legislated. Holding one's liquor and lying with panache were social assets. The Golden Rule was a given.

Hope Town was a place where boys wanted to grow up to be like their daddies — and that was actually OK with the moms. The fathers were roguish fishermen and sea captains one generation removed from wrecking and smuggling, a heritage very much a part and a pride of the local people. Father really did know best — Robert Young with a rum and a tan.

Today, Hope Town draws more tourists than travelers. They roll in and out on the tide like flotsam and jetsam — nearly 1,200 washing ashore in peak season.

Every visitor is warmly greeted at the docks by those once aspiring sea captains and fishermen who rent freshly painted tourist houses (with phones and satellite TV), manage restaurants and bars, dive shops and gift shops, or run out an occasional fishing charter (but only when the weather is fair). Their sons are off at college in the States, pursuing opportunities their fathers never had.

I miss the old Hope Town — but nostalgia is the price of progress and not always a bad investment.

The fishnet of circumstances we call "progress" enables today's islanders to live in far more security and physical comfort than imagined by even one generation past. For casual tourists with a low tolerance for surprise, progress provides a taste of island life, albeit less Hemmingway and more Sunday supplement.

As for me, well... I'm a little more Sunday supplement too.

Yes, this will make some mighty fine eatin'

I don't spear fish and lobster or dive for conch as well as I once did, nor half as well as my teenage son does, but youthful hubris has been replaced by a fatherly pride watching him dive. The conch are not as big as they once were, but it's not the size of your conch that counts, but whether or not you still enjoy diving.

I no longer press up and over the side into a boat — I swim to the stern and climb the ladder. I can afford both the indignity of the climb and the cost to rent a boat with a ladder.

For this aging traveler Hope Town is a metaphor on a myth. It's a testament to man's irrepressible drive to improve his lot, even in paradise — and yet, it's still a place where an old man can sit by the sea, drink a little beer and tell a few lies, and nostalgically "dream of young lions roaring on the beach."

Nick Coleman -- A rich man's Jim Styczinski

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:56 PM |  

What can I say? Nick certainly has that argumentum ad hominem down.

So I read his column about Powerline. Now in the interest of full disclosure, Nick has written that my reading comprehension is poor because I was unable to infer from his column on Maxfield Elementary that “books in the classroom” did not mean “textbooks” or that “Your schools are burning!” is a proper description for a school that is succeeding, so forgive me if I have trouble understanding a paragraph like this --
My ancestors came here as Irish sod busters in the 1850s, and they would be spinning beneath that sod if they saw powerful people trying to tear down what they built. But they'd enjoy how the Extreme works now: How it hammers all its opponents in the Mainstream as limousine liberals.
So would Nick’s ancestor’s approve or disapprove of Powerline? What does that paragraph mean? Okay, so he’s a bad writer. But what really irks me is that despite an exchange of emails, and dueling columns and multiple blog posts on the Maxfield issue, Nick can still write this --

But Extreme bloggers don't tell truths. They tell talking points. Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism.

First, he tars all bloggers with a single brush. For students of logic, it’s the fallacy of “converse accident” or for Nick, “hasty generalization.” However you define it, it’s a hack technique. Then, for over a month, Nick has been the one refusing to acknowledge that when it comes to educating the “downtrodden,” he’d rather see a kid stagnate in a government school that have the opportunity provided by a public education system based on choice -- that includes the choice to stay in the government school.

Who's sticking up for the downtrodden?

To be precise, I should say that’s what I believe he thinks because he has never addressed that question directly. Instead, he felt that like “Big Trunk” and "Hind Rocket” I should have a “fantasy name” and so he dubbed me “Captain Fishsticks.” I believe, as one reader noted to me, he purposely excluded me from his Christmas card list.

Second, he calls himself a journalist, but to carry out yet another personal vendetta, he misses the story -- the interrelationship between blogs and the mainstream media. That’s a discussion that takes a little more intellectual firepower than attempting refutation of a logical argument by reference to the illustration on a box of fishsticks, which why perhaps it’s a topic at journalism schools where people are more interested in learning stuff than flaunting stuff they think they know.

Enough about Nick. I agree with Peg at What If? "Never wrestle with a pig; you'll both get dirty and only the pig will enjoy it." The thrill is gone.

FILE CABINET -- Maxfield School Controversy

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:29 AM |  

Among the many differences between Nick Coleman and the blogging community is that bloggers link to Nick's work so that readers can judge for themselves whether bloggers are accurately reflecting his views -- decide for themselves the knotty issues like whether or not "books in the classroom" can be inferred to mean "textbooks." Nick merely misrepresents.

Below are links to all of the articles that make up "The Maxfield Controversy," including all of Nick's original columns and Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley's Pioneer Press OP-Ed piece. To Principal Wiley's credit, she posted my column along with her response on the Maxfield web site -- a far more honorable and admirable handling of disagreement than Nick's blatant misrepresentation of my e-mail in response to his criticism. It's all posted below, so you can judge.

Bloggers: I'd urge you to post your links to comments on Maxfield in the comments section. I've linked to some in my posts, but there are many great ones that I missed.

The ball's in Nick's court on the Maxfield issue; personally I hope he moves on to other rants. But school choice is still very much a front burner issue. I hope readers who may have been drawn to fisking will keep coming back to analyze the issue.

Best --

"Captain Fishsticks"

Nick Coleman: School's lack of books draws donors, dismay November 14, 2004 Star Tribune

COLUMN -- Moral imperative for school choice @11/24/2004

Nick Coleman: As politicians fiddle, schools do slow burn December 4, 2004 Star Tribune

Zelma Wiley: Maxfield Elementary is succeeding December 7, 2004 Pionner Press

Maxfield principal takes exception to column @12/10/2004

Nick Coleman responds to Maxfield controversy @12/11/2004

READER RESPONSE -- Privatization Zealots @12/13/2004

WARNING -- Bladder-busting humor @12/14/2004

Cutting Nick some slack @12/15/2004

READER RESPONSE -- Fisking the Nickster @12/17/2004

Nick Coleman: School-bashers are absent from school December 19, 2004 Star Tribune

Fire on the roll and target the rigging @12/19/2004

An extra ration of grog for King @12/20/2004

Tell me again, who is part of the problem? @12/21/2004

COLUMN -- Public Education: Is it about the system or the kids? @12/22/2004

A note of appreciation @12/22/2004

Great Debate! @12/23/2004

COLUMN -- Government's fiscal landscape different

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:13 AM |  

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

With the word count of a good-sized novel, the daily Pioneer Press is a pasticcio of thought and observation. The hands of many writers and commentators plant themes that vine throughout its pages. A case in point appeared Thursday.

The seed catching my eye was the lead editorial, which headlined Wisconsin's proposed Taxpayers Bill of Rights as wrongheaded. The amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution calls for capping state spending increases based on population gains and changes in the consumer price index.

The editorial interpreted Wisconsin's proposal to mean "that the bottom of a recession, in which state government rightly constrains spending, would become the new baseline for state budgeting in future years, artificially depressing spending as the state struggles to recover" [emphasis added].

The editorial expresses the common mistake that government budgeting is like household finance: Cut back when times are tough; spend more when things are looking up. Contrast that view with one that holds government always operates only within specified limits and always strives to operate more efficiently. When times are good, responsible government resists temptation to exceed its authority, even for a "good cause," and continues to efficiently operate within its authorization.

How do those two views have impact on life outside the editorial ivory tower? The vine runs to a story in the Washington County edition of the Pioneer Press reporting the pros and cons of closing a Forest Lake elementary school to help reduce a $2 million gap in the district budget.

According to the story, school board member Karen Morehead isn't ready to think about a school closing. She's "hopeful" state legislators will give schools an inflationary increase in funding this spring, and that Forest Lake voters will approve a revenue-boosting operating levy in November.

Morehead is quoted: "I'd rather focus on talking with the community about how we spend money and what the district's needs are." Her comments reflect the editorial position don't "artificially depress spending" if it's not necessary.

School board member Keith Dunham expresses the contrasting attitude, saying maybe closing an elementary school would be a good idea regardless of the outcome of the operating levy referendum.

"It would only be prudent to do a financial analysis," Dunham said.

Whatever that financial review turns up (it might prove necessary to keep all the elementary schools open), Durham is acting as the responsible government official. Even if money is available to keep a school open, if it doesn't make sense to do so, it shouldn't be done.

Leafing out to the front page of Thursday's Pioneer Press, we read that Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed a constitutional amendment that dedicates all Minnesota motor-vehicle sales taxes to road construction and mass transit projects. Currently, motor-vehicle sales taxes help pay for other state "needs" through the general fund.

Besides removing money from the general fund, Pawlenty is being attacked for failure to consider raising the gas tax. He stands by his Taxpayers League of Minnesota "no new taxes" pledge.

"A good CEO does not limit his options or flexibility," Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said of Pawlenty's fiscal stance. He echoes the editorial's assessment that "Legislators cannot govern smartly when they paint themselves into a corner."

But Johnson confuses the job of governor and corporate CEO, when in fact the two are very different. A CEO plans for product and service expansion, which increases company profits. Waste and failure are byproducts of corporate growth. For every product success, a company funds multiple false starts anticipating the profits from a big winner.

A governor necessarily operates within the limits of the state constitution. His agenda is funded by forced taxation, not risk-reward investment. It is not a governor's role to experiment by expanding government "services." Enabling (not building and operating) a statewide transportation system is a legitimate government function. It's fiscally responsible to provide it with a dedicated source of funding.

This brings us back to the Pioneer Press editorial and the root error. "Rightly constrains spending" and "artificially depressing spending" are meaningless phrases that stand in "wrongheaded" opposition to efficient, effective limited government. A Taxpayers Bill of Rights and a "no new taxes" pledge may not be the best answers, but they certainly reflect the right attitude. "Painting legislators into a corner" just might be the only way to force "hard decisions."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Yet another reason to turn our lives over to experts

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:15 AM |  

Over 1,100 Christmas Day flights were cancelled by Delta Air Lines feeder carrier Comair because of computer problems. In search of answers, AP reporter Harry Weber, turned to Terry Trippler, “an airline industry expert in Minneapolis.”

What exactly makes Mr. Trippler and “airline industry expert” is not stated (in fact, he appears to be a glorified travel agent), but it certainly can’t be gems like this -- “Obviously, the airlines have become way too dependent on computers.”

What would he have the airline do -- go back to roomfuls of math nerds working with blackboards and chalk? (Mr. Trippler still prefers a paper ticket, but is being slowly convinced to go to e-ticket).

Then somebody woke up “Norman Y. Mineta,” the “Y” clearly identifying the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Taking decisive action, Mineta shot a letter to the agency’s inspector general calling for a government investigation and advising that people “must learn from the situations to preclude their recurrence.” Duh! That’s a gem worth my tax dollars.

I imagine that there’s also an “expert” somewhere that can explain how the Commerce Clause justifies investigating a private airlines computer snafu. And another with suggestion how the airlines can fix the problems. And yet another to draw up the regulations that will ensure people “learn from situations to preclude their recurrence.”

Or we can just consult Mr. Trippler who said “more government oversight might be necessary to prevent such severe computer problems.”

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Funny hat tip to Fraters Libertas

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:09 PM |  

Indeed, I must humbly tip my funny hat to “the Elder” and the Fraters Libertas crew for a solid trouncing of my one-night Keegan’s coalition of wife, daughter and her beau. Their trivia strategy prevailed. While I drilled my team on the more obscure Irish myths, the fundamentals of the Federalist papers and the details of proposed military weapons systems, the Fraters obviously sat entranced by the classic animated “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and pondered the secret desires of Lucy.

Congrats guys. I confer upon you the highest compliment of the MSM -- You know stuff!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Great Debate!

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:55 AM |  

Check out the comments section of the post "Tell me again, who is part of the problem?" There's a great debate going there that illustrates the role reversal between the liberal and conservative perspectives when it comes to education.

Although the “fix the public schools” supporter labels him/herself a “conservative,” the point of view is the one supported by most liberals. In the case of education, liberals tend to support the status quo. On the other side, we have a conservative in favor of school choice -- willing to take the risks involved with change to fix a failing system.

That perspective is significant beyond the education debate.

For too long, conservatives have been the political entity without an agenda. At best, the conservative “agenda” was “not what the liberals want.” Conservatives considered any compromise a “victory” when the liberals didn’t get as much as they asked for. They never realized or acknowledged that every such compromise moved the country a little more to the left and toward the welfare state.

Now we are seeing conservatives actually putting forth a real agenda. School choice is one example, choice in social security and health care are others. Conservatives are becoming the “yes” force in society; liberals, the feet-dragging nay-sayers.

What’s even more exciting, is that with a little education to overcome preconceived prejudices, conservative responses to issues like the Achievement Gap, Social Security Reform, Health Care Reform can be shown to be better for the constituencies and more in keeping with traditional liberal philosophy than the stand-pat policies of today’s Democrat Party.

Conservative/Libertarian “choice” programs -- what President Bush refers to as the “Ownership Society” -- seek to empower the poor; Democrat party programs want to domesticate them, perpetuating them as wards of the government and breeding stock for their voting blocks.

Read the debate at this post in that context. It opens up a world of insight.

UPDATE: Same debate taking place at Minnesota Education Reform News. Check it out.

UPDATE: Check out this great post at SCSU Scholars that takes the distinction between "public education" and the delivery system for "public education" to the next logical, economic level. Also read the comments posted. Another great discussion underway.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A note of appreciation

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:40 AM |  

I sent the following e-mail to this morning to Art Coulson, Opinion Page Editor of the Pioneer Press. Any so inclined, express your opinion as well.

Art --

I can't express how proud I am of the Pioneer Press for running my column today including the oblique references to Nick Coleman and the Star Tribune. I do not intend to make such references a practice, but this was a case where he was abusing his position to turn public discourse away from debate and reason into a mud-slinging contest -- something the Pioneer Press would call a politician or other public figure to account for.

Read the blogs -- some of the media’s harshest critics -- and you’ll find a definite change in attitude toward the Pioneer Press. That change is not based entirely on point-of-view, but also a recognition that the Opinion Page of the Pioneer Press puts an emphasis on logical, factual argument, not blatant partisan rhetoric.

As I’ve passed along, I get many comments from people in Minneapolis who would like to subscribe to the daily paper. I understand the economics of why that doesn’t work, but you may want to consider a higher-priced weekly “best of” edition that compiles non-time sensitive features and opinion pieces for distribution in Minneapolis and contains Minneapolis advertising. Just a thought.

Again, my compliments for your integrity and courage to present different points of view. My thanks for including me among that group.

Have a great holiday --


COLUMN -- Public Education: Is it about the system or the kids?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:28 AM |  

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004

The easiest battles are against those enemies created by one's own arrogant imagination.
So it comes as no surprise that in response to my column, "The moral imperative for school choice," the newspaper columnist who first tarred St. Paul's Maxfield Elementary as "a school with not enough books" resorts to abusive ad hominem attacks instead of dealing with fundamental issues raised by the concept of school choice.

As a citizen journalist, a position I hold because of the integrity and courage of the Pioneer Press in publishing views not found elsewhere in Twin Cities newspapers, I am keenly aware of my obligation to reward the newspaper's trust and readers' expectations by providing substance (not slander). Frankly, were I to use my column inches on personal vendetta, I would not only betray the integrity of my newspaper and the trust of its readers, I would be strikingly unprofessional.

That unpleasantness out of the way, let's look at the essence of what school choice is all about. With the issues on the table, debate and discussion replace invective and innuendo.

Consider what is meant by "public education."

Public education is a necessary ingredient of a democratic society. It is fundamental to making informed decisions about public and private affairs. It is necessary to ensure a vital work force with the imagination to create new industries and new jobs and the adaptability to staff the jobs of the future. Public education is essential to preserving the fundamental values that make America a unique nation while integrating new influences that will keep her vibrant into the future.

In short, "public education" is education in the public interest. It is a "public good" in the sense of "benefit to all." It is worthy of tax dollars. But "public education" is NOT the private fiefdom of the tenurial few. "Public education" is NOT equivalent to a government monopoly. It is NOT a specific institution.

"School choice" is committed to the concept of "public education" in the public interest, not to any specific method of delivering knowledge and skills. A vital "public education" system consists of a diversity of educational options — government-run schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools and a plethora of other options.

Furthermore, "school choice" means that when any educational institution is not meeting the needs of any individual student, that student has an actionable alternative — a choice. A public education system has a moral obligation to both provide that alternative and make it actionable — for all students.

There will always be good schools and bad schools — public and private, secular and religious. School choice simply asserts that all parents, regardless of income, ought to have the freedom and the means to seek out the good schools and escape the bad.
A reasonable person will immediately note that well-to-do people who send their children to private and religious schools and select schools by choosing where to live already have school choice. Who does not have a choice in education? Low-income kids in inner city schools — the very kids that for some unfathomable reason the education establishment insists must stay in schools that are fighting for "survival."

Former Milwaukee Superintendent of Public Schools Howard Fuller, who spoke recently in St. Paul (sponsored by the Partnership for Choice in Education and various civic organizations), is a bit more aggressive on this point than I would be, but then as a black man that for the better part of his life has "bled" to free minority kids from failing schools, he is entitled to a little anger.

"We have to ask why people do not want low-income parents to have choice," he says. "The hypocrisy on this point is phenomenal. We have teachers teaching in schools that they would never put their own children in and then demanding that somebody else's children stay there. We have public school teachers putting their own children in private schools. … The argument always comes down to 'If we let these poor parents out, it will destroy the system.' I have a question: Is it about the system, or is it about the parents and the children?"

In "The moral imperative for school choice," I asked the question — Is it ethical for "public" education to deny children and parents the choice of a school that meets their needs regardless of their economic situation? This citizen journalist's question was ignored by the "professional" in favor of the epithet "Captain Fishsticks" — an imaginary enemy less daunting than logical, reasonable debate.

He misses the point; this issue is not about him. It's not about the system. School choice really is about "the children."

UPDATE: Check out this great post at SCSU Scholars that takes the distinction between "public education" and the delivery system for "public education" to the next logical, economic level. Also read the comments posted. Another great discussion underway.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Saying kaddish for long-departed messenger

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:07 PM |  

Yes, Virgina, it is possible to write about the homeless with dignity and compassion.

Tell me again, who is part of the problem?

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:18 PM |  

Flash, Centrisity, offers this take on the Maxfield controversy by asking the “right Wing Axis” to step up and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
When a local columnist writes an article on literacy, and the local Right Wing Media machine chews it up, spits it out, and changes the whole intent into their own little focused message, it is nothing more the a perfect example of being part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The focused message, according to Flash. “is nothing more then the systemic disassembling of the public school system,” although to his credit he does pay a back-handed complement to “Captain Fishsticks” with a link --
There are no fewer then a half dozen members of the Right Wing Axis and their surrogates bashing away at this issue, and only one who is making any reasonable attempt to focus on the kids, albeit his goal is still the same as the rest.
If I were the local columnist in question, I might at this point impugn Flash’s reading comprehension, but that would be unfair. The distinction between “public education” as a concept and the delivery system for public education has been so confused -- benignly and maliciously -- that it is not as self-evident to grasp as it should be.

Here’s the point -- “public education” as a concept is what any reasonable person desires education to be -- education in the public interest, education that turns out independent citizens able to not just function but thrive, people who live vital and worthwhile lives. Government schools are just one delivery system for that type of education.

If by “disassembling of the public school system” Flash means ending the virtual government monopoly on “public education,” I plead guilty. What I want to see is a diversity of educational options open to all parents regardless of income level -- including government schools as we now know them, but supplemented by charter schools, private schools, religious schools, cyberschools, home schools and educational formats not yet imagined. I want children in failing schools of whatever type to have an immediate option to move to schools that offer them better opportunities and not have to wait for “education reform” and a new “five-year-plan.”

It’s been 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education and today we are discussing the “achievement gap” as a crisis. How many generations of kids have we sacrificed waiting for a single-provider education system to get it right? How many more?

Flash argues that such performance is not entirely the fault of the government monopoly view of “public schools.” He writes of us --
They talk about 'accountability' of the district and school staffs, but place no accountability on the parents. . . . I don't think we should give the districts and their employees a free pass, but I don't think we should give the parents one either.
Indeed, lack of parental involvement is part of the problem. So are poverty, racism, and physical and mental disabilities. But being part of the problem, such factors must be addressed, not used as excuses. If parental involvement is an insurmountable problem, then let’s stop throwing money at education. I'm a hard-hearted conservative; seems to me it makes more sense to fail cheaply than to spend a great deal of money to fail.

Fortunately, that’s not the choice.

Even in the worst environments, some schools -- government schools -- manage to succeed in educating even the most disadvantaged students. And that, Flash, is the point. In a “public education” system based on choice, all families, regardless of income level will have the opportunity to find schools and send their kids to schools that work -- government schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools or whatever.

My question, which continues to go unanswered, is how is it ethical for the educational establishment to prevent low-income kids from moving out of a failing school and into a school that would provide them a better opportunity for a first-rate education? To steal Howard Fuller’s questions -- Is education about the system? Or is it about the parents and the kids?

By its silence on those questions, the education establishment has spoken. It, more so than its critics, is the problem.

Update: Flash Responds

“"My question, which continues to go unanswered, is how is it ethical for the educational establishment to prevent low-income kids from moving out of a failing school and into a school that would provide them a better opportunity for a first-rate education?""

First, the system allows for that. My understanding is that, through open enrollment, you can move your child.

I am waiting for someone to tell me why they believe it is best to destroy the current system, instead of effecting change from within. My kids are doing well in the SPPS environment. Don't I have as much right to see that environment remain.
Reasonable questions. First open enrollment allows me to move my child from one government school to another. If I am well-to-do, I can, of course, also move my child to a private or religious school. However, if I am a low-income parent, I am effectively denied the opportunity to remove my child from the government school system. In a true “public” education system, state money follows the child and a low-income family can use state funds to educate their child at any school.

Some might, but I am certainly not advocating destruction of individual government schools -- only removing the government’s monopoly power. Like anyone and everyone else, you should have the ability to select the school your child attends. You do not have the ethical right to demand that other parents must keep their kids in a system that doesn’t meet their needs strictly for your convenience.

Thanks from Spirit of America

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:22 AM |  


Our Blogger Challenge ended at midnight on Wednesday. Nearly 200 bloggers joined the effort and, as I type, raised $90,247. Incredible!!! There was a great flurry of activity in the final hours and, in amazing come-from-behind effort, Iraq the Model, jumped into the lead. Iraq the Model has raised $17,140 . The leading team is the Northern Alliance of Blogs. The Alliance has raised $12,135. Thanks to the bloggers we now have more than 11,000 contributors. A 10% increase in 2 weeks.

We are still accepting checks and will have a final total and rankings next week. Thank you to all the bloggers that participated. It is an enormous contribution. Woooohoooooo!! We even had two foreign teams (that I know of) - from Canada and Spain. Please click here to see all the bloggers that joined the effort and thank them, too.

Why I love Andy Borowitz

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:52 AM |  


Could Cause Users to Become Ho's, Company Says

The makers of the popular drug crack issued a safety warning today, advising crack's millions of users that habitual use of the stimulant could cause them to become ho's. A spokesman for Pharmacia Cranque LLP announced the safety warning from its corporate headquarters in Brussels, causing its shares to plummet on Wall Street.

"Clinical studies have shown that continued use of crack may, in some rare instances, cause the habitual crack user to become a crack ho," said spokesman Jean-Luc Van de Velde. While not every crack user becomes a crack ho, Mr. Van de Velde added, "the occurrence of crack ho's per one million crack users was high enough to warrant this safety advisory."

In Kansas City, crack user Shelly McTaggart said she felt "betrayed" by the drug giant's announcement: "I've been smoking crack every day for the last eight years and there was no warning label indicating that I was in danger of becoming a ho - which, by the way, I am."

Drug industry experts said that the safety warning was particularly bad news for Pharmacia Cranque, which earlier this year was forced to issue similar warnings for two of its hottest-selling street drugs, China Girl and Chiba Chiba.
Dexter Tolan of Credit Suisse First Boston said that the company's latest woes may cause investors to look elsewhere to put their drug money to work: "Right now I've gone from 'neutral' to 'buy' on crystal meth."

Elsewhere, former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik said that due to the holiday-shortened week, there would be no embarrassing revelations about his past this Friday.

Monday, December 20, 2004

An extra ration of grog for King

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:55 PM |  

Over at SCSU Scholars, King Banian has an excellent post on the Maxfield controversy that reminds us why we sailed on this voyage in the first place -- accountability.

Citing data from the Minnesota Department of Education report card for Maxfield [Note: Yes, King I had the data], King concludes that “there’s plenty of money in the St. Paul School District. He goes on --
The accountability problem that Westover describes is what I would call an allocation problem. In what do you invest these funds? The debate over textbooks or reading materials misses a key point -- books themselves do not produce education. They must be complemented with other inputs. Textbooks must be complemented with teachers . . . . Reading materials for students to take home require a parent to be sure the material is read. . . . . Here's the question then --

What is Coleman assuming in thinking a book drive for extra books for kids to take home will accomplish? If the parents do not supervise, if the child's social pressures are such that academics is denigrated (Bill Cosby, call your office!), and if teachers cannot find creative ways to use those books, they may simply collect dust. Again: Just handing a child a book to take home and read does not guarantee better reading scores. A book requires a structure within which it is read, understood and discussed to help with comprehension, and along with it the development of a culture of learning. Otherwise it's no more effective than free condoms.
The excellent point King makes is my departure point for advocating school choice. It’s not just the money that goes into a school, the variety of classes and extra-curricular activities or the “diversity” that is important. If parents see that a school is simply not working -- that is not providing the kind of support for materials that King describes -- those parents should have the real option of choosing another school, regardless of family income.

“Accountability” is more than assigning blame without consequence. School choice provides instant accountability in that if parents at any school aren’t happy -- which is infinitely more important than whether Mr. Coleman is or I am pleased -- they should have the immediate option to transfer to a government school, charter school, private school or religious school of their choosing.

Give King the last word --

I come down squarely with Westover then that the question is one of accountability. Asking for it is why Maxfield Principal Zelda Wiley screamed bloody murder to the PioneerPress and gave the StarTribune a free pass . . . And Coleman has swung and missed three times now on the question. If Maxfield is burning, money isn't the answer. Indeed, it might be the fuel.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Fire on the roll and target the rigging

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:18 PM |  

Photo used on my blog that prompted the nickname "Captain Fishsticks"

Thanks to “LearnedFoot” of “The Koolaid Report” for being the first one to the beach on Nick Coleman's column today in which he blasted me not attending a party to which I was not invited.

Today Nick pulled the veil from the threat contained in his December 12 e-mail that “I will be addressing this [Maxfield controversy] in more detail.”

A tip of the Sou’wester to Brian “Saint Paul” Ward at Fraters Libertas for a couple of calls. First, he nailed the essence and the form of Nick’s response with syllogistic precision:

Westover is a blogger
A blog is the “first refuge of scoundrels”
Westover is a scoundrel

(or a “snake,” but the Nick never is very tight with his metaphors, precise with his word selection or accurate in his reporting, which leads to Saint Paul‘s second hit -- Nick‘s “Clintonian parsing of language.”

A second tip of the Sou’wester to Saint Paul for this call --

But, there is another outlet for Nick Coleman criticism that may not have such a positive consequence for his career. Because that outlet has the potential to threaten the monopolistic news cycle of abuse that sustains him. I speak of the Pioneer Press. . . . A Westover editorial in today's Pioneer Press provides a great example of this. Better yet, it directly refutes a Nick Coleman column. Apparently, newspaper professional courtesy prevents him from naming names, but the references are undeniable. . . .The ability of this column to expose Nick Coleman, not for being a blithering leftist apologist, but for being a lazy researcher and lousy writer, well, it's like a miracle. Bravo Westover and Pioneer Press management for publishing it.
I admit, I enjoyed reading that, but deep down I feared it false flattery. The idea that a journalist of Nick Coleman’s “stature” (not to be confused with gravitas) would bother to flick this little once-a-week gnat at his spurned former-employer seemed more than a little unlikely to me. But I think LearnedFoot might be on to something. He posted today --

He [Coleman] doesn't seem to recognize that by acknowledging our [bloggers] arguments, he validates them. Do you ever feel threatened by those whose arguments are completely meritless?
That I do take as a compliment and return in kind to everyone who has checked in on the Maxfield controversy. We are making a difference, and I ask now for your continued support.

Later tonight I will be sending a column in response to Coleman to Art Coulson, opinion page editor at the Pioneer Press. It is the policy of the Pioneer Press not to respond to anything directly that appears in the Star Tribune. My proposed column pushes the envelope of that policy.

Changing precedent is never easy. My response to Coleman, like my post here, focuses on the issue of school choice, not his insults. Nonetheless it is impossible to do the former without a mention of the latter. That’s where I may be in trouble.

As you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate any support you’d care to send to the Pioneer Press in favor of keeping the Maxfield issue out in the open. As I wrote to Nick, which he blatantly ignored, this isn’t a pissing contest between him and me. We’re talking about kids and education policy not who lives where.

Let’s hope the Pioneer Press has the courage that Saint Paul gives it credit for.

And now for some fun, me rum-swigging hearties.

First, let’s give Nick credit where credit is due -- Captain Fishsticks is pretty funny, but then remember it was my favorite Trollette that first made the connection between these ruggedly virile guys (Thanks to my brother, Grandpa of Gracie, for the artwork).

Separated at birth; United in spirit

As for fisking Nick’s column, frankly I’m a little tired and frustrated at the prospect. In response to his unprofessional and discourteous e-mail to me, I sent him a well-thought out and courteous response. He ignored and misrepresented everything I wrote, which is posted here for all to read and judge. Here’s the one lowlight for his column that really goads me --

I should thank him for helping me understand the extent of the campaign against public school funding, as well as the strategy of the pirates who want to plunder education funds and use the money for schools that will teach young men how to tie a proper bow tie.
Here’s what I wrote that I can only assume prompted that comment --

What you should immediately pick up on is that the well-to-do people who send their children to private and religious schools and those who select schools by choosing to live in districts with the better programs have such [school] choice already. Who doesn’t have a choice in education? Low-income kids in inner city schools -- the very kids that for some unfathomable reason the education establishment insists must stay in schools that are fighting for “survival.”
Seems to me that it’s a much larger jump from what I wrote to what Nick inferred than it is from “books in the classroom” to “textbooks.” But, hey, I’m only a "semi-pro newspaper columnist."

[BTW -- my worn out “Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary” defines “textbook” as “A book used as a standard work or basis of instruction in any branch of knowledge.” Can we now get past the red herrings and deal with substantial issues?]

Nick also says that if he were Zell Miller, he’d challenge me to pistols at 30 paces -- an interesting supposition for a gun control advocate not to mention an exceedingly long distance for a duel. Nonetheless, Nick had the opportunity for a somewhat less bloody encounter, but he declined Mitch Berg’s offer to appear on the Northern Alliance Radio Network (as did Zelma Wiley) with me to discuss the Maxfield issue. I’ll give him that NARN is not exactly Coleman friendly, but for a man who would, were it not for journalistic courtesy, be priming his flintlock right now, that hardly seems too daunting. If he’d rather debate from behind the skirts of Kerri Miller on MPR, hey, I’m up for it.

He also writes --
Captain Fishsticks was reproved in print by Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley. Since then, Fishsticks has gone back to his boat and confined his tirades to the first refuge of scoundrels, his personal Internet blog, where he is toasted by other rum-swigging hearties daily.
Nary a mention of this from my e-mail to him --
As Art [Coulson, opinion page editor] is painfully aware, I am dying to carry on this dialogue in the newspaper. Art is a more judicious man than I and more journalistically cognizant. Therefore, rightly the call is his.
As for Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley, in my letter to her, I offered to visit Maxfield after the holidays when I’ll be visiting other schools with demographics similar to Maxfield to see how they manage to keep their kids in books. I have yet to hear from her. My invitation to “family night” must have been lost in the mail.

Principal Wiley gets the final words in Nick’s column -- “I wish they’d [school choice advocates] just leave us alone.” Apparently she stands by Nick’s original less-than- flattering portrayal of her school, and she wishes that no one had challenged her accountability for it. Nick’s tirades would indicate he’s harboring much the same longing.

I have some sympathy -- I wish that every time Nick felt guilty for being a rich white guy, he’d leave the rest of us alone, but -- what can I say? -- redemptive liberalism is a tough addiction to beat.

“Captain Fishsticks” -- hell, Nick can call me anything that bails his boat as long as it keeps school choice in the public consciousness. After all, that’s what the debate is all about.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Not guilty

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:20 AM |  

A personal note to Jim Styczinski: I have an alibi.

Fishing Hat Bandit strikes 23rd bank

The Fishing Hat Bandit struck his 23rd bank Friday, this time in Northfield.

The man demanded money at the U.S. Federal Credit Union on Jefferson Road at 9:25 a.m. and left in a maroon, four-door 1990s Chevrolet Lumina.

He is considered the most prolific serial bank robber in Minnesota. The string of robberies dates to June 2003 and has involved banks mostly in the Twin Cities area.

The robber is a white man, about 50 years old, 6 feet tall, with a thin build. He was wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt on Friday, but his moniker is a reference to the fishing hat he often wore during his earlier bank robberies.

Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at 612-276-3200. A reward is being offered.

MPR knows best

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:13 AM |  

There’s so much inherently wrong with MPR’s purchase of WCAL from St. Olaf College that it’s too much for a Saturday morning post, but if one wants to get quickly to the core of the issue, it lies in this quote from the AM’s Pioneer Press --
"When MPR or most nonprofit institutions take on some sector of community service, they get in it for the long term," said Sarah Lutman, MPR's senior vice president for cultural programming.

"MPR has a value about the kind of community we want to live in and how we want to treat each other," Lutman said.

"In that way, we're like the BBC. Our motives are very different from commercial radio. It's about the content itself, about reflecting where we live and how we want our community to be."
So, let me understand -- we’re using tax dollars to enable a handful of people at MPR to inflict on the rest of us their “value about the kind of community we want to live in and how we want to treat each other . . . . [about] how we want our community to be”?

Even this doesn’t make up for that kind of arrogance from the chardonnay charlatans. This just reinforces the danger.

READER RESPONSE -- Ernie comes down from the mountain

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:47 AM |  

Ernie Melby is a faithful reader of (and commenter on) my columns. He has a letter in today’s Pioneer Press that captures the feelings of many. As you’re so inclined, keep those letter flowing to the Pioneer Press -- they do make a difference!

Nice going, Ernie.

Lawn-sign silliness

The article regarding lawn signs still being displayed was quite interesting. Most indicated that they were making a statement, but what is that statement? To me, put in Bible language, it is:

Thou shalt not have any other God than the DFL.

Thou shalt not be tolerant of any opposing views.

Thou shalt not allow fundamentalist Christians to vote.

Thou shalt not love thy neighbor if he/she is not DFL.

Thou shalt not accept the will of the people.

We are supposed to be a democratic republic, not a Democratic republic. There is a major difference. It seems strange that the political party I remember as most open to divergent ideas has become hateful and opposed to anything not on their agenda.



Friday, December 17, 2004

A note of thanks

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:48 PM |  

Just a quick note to say "thanks" to the many people who have commented on posts and linked to posts on this site over the last week or so. The kind words and support are much appreciated.

Next to last minute shopping and decking the halls, the Northern Alliance Radio Network program tomorrow (12-3:00 AM 1280 the Patriot) is best bet for a Saturday afternoon. Rumor has it, more than chestnuts will be roasting over an open fire.

READER RESPONSE -- More on smoking ban affects on small business

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:23 PM |  

Mark Wernimont, a sales representative for Global Air Filtration Systems Inc. sends along this link for those interested in the impact that a smoking ban can have on small bars and restuarants. If an arbitrary law damages businesses to this extent, doesn't it make sense that the "community" that benefits ought to compensate the business owners for damages?

Will Party for Food

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:03 PM |  

I will be attending my wife's office "Hanaramakwanzmas" party this evening. I will be "homeless" from approximately 6:30 to midnight. Contributions to the Bandwidth Fund gratefully accepted during those hours.

At Last -- A good use of tax dollars

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:11 PM |  

My grandniece as pictured on the the San Francisco Bay Area PBS Web Site.

little Miss Grace Francesca
Who says this is fun?
by J. Westover
Half Moon Bay pumpkin patch. Photo of the Day for December 17, 2004

READER RESPONSE -- Fisking the Nickster

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:20 PM |  

From today’s e-mail:

At the risk of having it become a full-time occupation, I assume you will have something to say about Nick Coleman's latest column, blasting back at those offended by his "homeless" tirade. What a pompous bloviator! He has ascended to his own unique class of self-righteousness! Until last week, I made it a point never to read his column. Now I am sorry that, against my better judgment, I tried it just to see what you were talking about. I guess you were right; it really IS tripe, and not even good tripe.

You're doing great. Keep it up.
This reader sums up things up pretty well, and despite the fact that a mention of Nick does for my visitor count what a naked butt shot of Dennis Franz on “NYPD Blue” does for ABC’s ratings, I don’t intend to make him even a part-time concern. I can be bought, but not THAT cheaply.

"Butt" what is the connection?

As I mentioned in my post on homelessness, the only reason I read Coleman’s Wednesday column in the first place was because in his e-mail to me over the now “alleged” book shortage at Maxfield, he implied the threat of using the pages of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a personal vendetta against me for having the audacity to “highjack” his column to support school choice. I don’t intend to let him co-opt the school choice issue.

That does put Nick on the radar screen, I guess, but doesn’t necessarily mean I feel obligated to target him. Two facts of life -- you can’t bluff a dumb poker player and you can’t debate with someone who only wants to argue. I always thought Nick was the latter; reading him, I get the sense he might be the daily double. Ignorance and arrogance are certainly annoying, but like secondhand smoke, a reasonable person can easily avoid the contamination.

To be honest, if we weren’t talking about real people living in cardboard boxes under overpasses, Nick’s two columns and the blogosphere bashing of the same would be mildly amusing. The moral high ground is up for grabs and both sides are grappling it out in the lowland swamps.

Just because Nick Coleman writes about homelessness, doesn’t mean it’s not real. But rather than address how to deal with homelessness without involving government, taxes, bureaucracy and all the other right-wing denounced evils, all but a few conservative bloggers have taken the opportunity to blast away at Nick’s hyperbole, misuse of metaphor and and parsing of the word "homeless" ( the same way he parsed "textbooks" in his e-mail to me.) Nick, on the other hand, has long since lost sight of the homeless as people; they, like children at Maxfield Elementary, are nothing more than the means to his political end. Facing the enemy, Nick stands behind the poor, the women and the children all the way.

Frankly, there are 8,000 homeless in Minnesota, a state with a population of around 5 million. To my way of thinking it’s a disgrace that apathy (which I blame directly on a government created sense of “taxes equals compassion”) has reached a level such that a population of 5 million people is ethically, financially, and structurally unable to provide for less than .002 percent of its population without government help.

Update: [Thanks to "The Knowledge Worker" for pointing out my "fuzzy" math. The percent of the population should be less than .20 percent (precisely .16 percent) of the population. That's still an incredibly small percentage when you think about it.]

I am disappointed that conservatives and liberals would rather play tug of war with taxpayers' wallets than figure out a way to reinvigorate civil society to the point where a minimal government role in social welfare can be justified not just in principle, but in tangible results.

So, go ahead and rant, Nick. You’re preaching to the choir and no matter how loud they sing, it’s not going to house a single homeless person. If you can live with that, more power to you. And to my friends in the blogosphere, if you want to take shots at Nick, have at him (I'll guiltily laugh along with the rest of you), but remember, ridiculing the ridiculous doesn’t make the problem go away either.

My only warning -- keep away from the kids. I’m not going to let whining or whacking sidetrack the issue of school choice as the only ethical way to manage a true public education system.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Jeffersonian Lesson

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:36 AM |  

I’m only a little over a week late, but Mark Yost’s December 7 Pioneer Press column “A Republic, if you can keep it” surfaced to the top of the “to blog” pile this morning -- cream always rises to the top.

Yost leads with the irony of Sen. Robert Byrd’s insertion of a provision that would require schools to set aside Sept. 17 to teach the Constitution into a massive federal spending bill. He notes --
It shouldn't surprise anyone that some people think we need a federal law to teach the Constitution. Academic intellectuals have made it their mission to take the remarkable achievements of a small band of 18th-century Enlightenment men and denigrate them with what passes for 20th-century mores.
The effort began in earnest, Yost states, with the 1913 publication of Charles Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” and subsequently has evolved into the academic premise that the Founders drafted the Constitution to secure their own personal wealth. He writes --
Primed with Beard's treatise, history students have been encouraged by an increasingly radicalized academy to pursue doctoral dissertations that not only delegitimize the Founders, but also question the very foundation of our noble experiment in self-government. The net result is a history faculty that firmly believes that the life accomplishments of Jefferson and Washington can be summed up in one word: "slaveholder."
I find the notion of writing the Founders off, especially Jefferson, for being slaveholders as intellectually limiting. So to is the notion that Jefferson’s owning slaves is justified by the rationale “that it was okay in the context of the times.” That is also an intellectually limiting notion. Both the accusation and the response stem from asking the wrong question.

How could a man who penned one of the great statements on the equality of all men, the Declaration of Independence, enslave other men in bondage? That’s the usual question, and it yields only two possible answers: Either Jefferson was the self-interested hypocrite the “enlightened” academics claim he was, or morality is relative to the times in which we live and Jefferson gets a pass. Not much common ground there, nor much room to grow intellectually.

Now let’s change the order of the question: How could a man that was raised in a slave-owning society and owed his personal wealth to slavery pen one of the great statements on the equality of all men? See a difference?

The later question opens our intellectual horizons. It initiates a search for meaning, not a debate over “facts” (was or was not Jefferson a hypocrite) that can never be fully ascertained. It forces us to think large like a Jefferson, who answered the question for us.

That all men are created equal, he wrote, is a “self-evident” truth. Even to a slaveholder. Morality is not relative is the real Jeffersonian lesson. Interpretation may be contextual, but interpretation is always flawed in that it is incomplete. The search for moral Truth is dynamic, a constant process of thrusting what one believes into the breach of doubt, testing one’s beliefs against relentless reality. The refuge of moral relativism is a gathering of cowards.

It may take time, it may have to wait for a man with Jefferson’s vision, but in the end, self-evident Truth trumps partisan positioning. Perhaps many of the issues we struggle with today -- race, abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage -- might be more approachable if different, less limiting questions were questions were asked. It’s something to think about.

And like teaching the Constitution, we don’t need government to tell us how to do it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Cutting Nick some slack

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:22 AM |  

Wednesday is my Pioneer Press column day, and I usually rise early to make sure my new column is posted on my site. Wednesday is also the day I try to update my site -- file articles on specific topics for easy reference. (I am kind of proud that a large percentage of visitors to this site view multiple pages, some spending 15 minutes to half an hour or more.) I highlight a new post and pick a “Golden Oldie” -- another concession to vanity, a favorite post I pull out like a picture of the kids from the wallet. I also update the “Thought for the Week.”

This week I also checked Nick Coleman’s column.

Nick has been taking his shots on my site and all around the Internet this past week for his exploitation of what must now journalistically be referred to as the “alleged” book shortage at Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul. His “I will be addressing this in more detail” threat in his e-mail to me is what drew me to today’s column. He doesnt write about Maxfield. Let’s cut Nick a little slack.

Although his column today rings of Nick’s somewhere a dog is barking style, give him credit -- he didn’t overtly exploit the homeless today and, in fact, set up a justifiable contrast between the glitz of the Holidazzle Parade and the plight of the homeless that ought to give one pause for thought. “In Minnesota,” says Nick, “we should be able to celebrate the holidays -- and take care of the needy.”

He’s right. The question is why can’t we?

Although Nick would disagree, I think the answer lies in my column today and in the Charles Murray quote that is the “Thought for the Week” --

“When government takes away a core function [of communities], it depletes not only the source of vitality pertaining to that particular function, but also the vitality of a much larger family of responses” . . . . David Boaz adds, “The attitude of ‘let government take care of it’ becomes a habit.”
What Murray and Boaz are driving at, and what Nick’s column describes, is the result of and illustrative of the danger of emphasis on the “public morality” that I described in my December 1 column --

In a local newspaper article lavishly praising the documentary film "WELLSTONE!" there appeared this remarkable statement: "Like Illinois' Democratic Senate shoo-in Barack Obama, he [Wellstone] cared more about public morality (the policies that define a culture's decency) than private morality (the actions that determine an individual's character)."
As I noted in that column, collective morality is insidious. It robs individuals of the necessity of making individual moral decisions that build individual character. When government uses force to impose pseudo "public morality," it destroys authentic morality that otherwise naturally governs the voluntary interactions of individuals one with another. It robs recipients of government largess of their self-esteem. It robs coerced benefactors of their natural ability to be truly benevolent. It robs society of its moral vigor.

Quite simply, we don't take care of the homeless because we don't have to. Government will do it.

Homelessness is a real problem that conservatives can’t simply shrug off because Nick Coleman writes about it. As much fun as abusive argumentum ad hominem can be, that is a tactic best left to others. Just as school choice really is about “the children” -- giving kids from poor families a choice and a chance like children of the well-to-do have -- “homelessness” is about people not programs.

The solution to the homeless “crisis” doesn’t lie in more government, but less. The solution lies in returning to civil society the responsibility for taking care of its own. That cannot happen as long as government reinforces the attitude of “let government take care of it.” It cannot happen when government actions destroy a community’s ability to act compassionately -- witness the Bloomington smoking ban impact on charitable gambling. It cannot happen as long as we believe that more taxes equals more compassion.

Where is the virtue in A and B getting together to rob C for the benefit of D?

A real solution for homelessness can happen -- it will happen -- only when government gets out of the way, trusts the basic compassion inherent in all human beings and within the limit of its authority, enables civil society to function as it should.

To amend Nick’s Christmas thought -- It was government that made the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be taxed; it was a compassionate innkeeper that provided them shelter.

Update: With all due respect, the Big Trunk's Powerline post on Coleman's column is the stereotypical “eat your young and wash them down with the tepid tears of orphans” conservative response that plays into the hands of liberals and ultimately hurts the conservative cause. I much prefer the Elder-like response -- "The Citizens Are Doing It For Themselves." [Brian "Saint Paul" Ward also deserves a little love for "No Thanks Necessary."]

Smoking ban will crimp charitable gambling

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:37 AM |  

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

'Civil society" is the free and voluntary association of individuals in families, churches, schools, clubs, fraternal societies, veteran's organizations and the like. "Civil society" may be broadly defined in the single word "community."
Community is the natural way for society to take care its own. People in trouble first turn to family, then friends, then charitable organizations within their community. However, for a community to take care of its own, it must have funds to do so.

Ironically, it is the insatiable progressive do-gooders so infatuated with creating "pseudo-communities" who cannot recognize that authentic community is inevitable collateral damage in their misguided war on secondhand smoke.

Last week at VFW Post 1296 in Bloomington, in a conference room with ashtrays on the table, representatives from Bloomington veterans' organizations and service clubs talked about their charitable contribution to the community and how it might be affected by that city's smoking ban. Much of it will go up in non-existent smoke.

Organizations sponsoring charitable gambling donate almost $900,000 annually to Bloomington and contiguous cities. Most revenue comes from charitable gambling — pull tabs and raffles — and revenue associated with bingo. Once the smoking ban goes into effect, organization officers predict a sharp decline in charitable funds. Bloomington Eagles Club Trustee James Crary estimates revenue will decrease 70 percent.

As documented where smoking bans are in place, from the province of New Brunswick, Canada, to the states of New York and California, neighborhood bars and restaurants have seen significant declines in customers and in the time customers spend eating and drinking.

For example, a survey by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association during the first month of the province's ban that took effect Oct. 1, found New Brunswick's smoking ban was having a negative impact on establishments with bars, pubs, taverns, legions and night clubs. In this survey, 71 percent of respondents reported sharp declines in liquor sales. In small businesses the effect was pronounced, with pubs, taverns and bars reporting that liquor sales fell almost 14 percent from the same time a year earlier. At legion clubs, the survey found, the decline was almost 19 percent.

For the Bloomington organizations, such an effect would translate into fewer pull tabs and fewer raffle tickets.

Plus, added service club member Jim Algeo, studies have documented a connection between gambling and smoking. Smokers gamble more, a connection that has an even greater impact on bingo halls.

Estimates range as high as 60 percent for the number of bingo players who smoke. Crary and Jim Newcomer, commander of VFW Post 1296 predict that once the smoking ban goes into effect, bingo will die as a source of charitable funds in Bloomington and player will migrate to the Indian casino at Mystic Lake. For the VFW, which rents the attached space next to its club for use as a bingo hall, that could mean as much as $182,000 in lost revenue.

What do losses like that mean to the community? Steve Enebo, a VFW trustee, and Patty Gustner, club manager for American Legion Post 550, rattled off a number of contributions to veterans organizations and to active service men and women and their families — everything from washers, dryers and television sets for the VA medical center to "care packages" for military personnel to Cub Foods certificates for military families to honor guards for funerals to a hospice suite at the VA medical center.

Along with the Eagles and other service organizations, the VFW and American Legion contributed to the Bloomington fire department for the purchase of thermal imaging equipment, technology that enables firefighters to quickly locate an unconscious person in a smoke-filled room — three units at $17,000 each.

Groups benefiting from Eagles Club contributions include Creekside, a community center for senior citizens, the city's police department Canine Corps and Cornerstone Advocacy Services, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Algeo cited a pair of full tuition scholarships to Bloomington Kennedy and Jefferson students attending the University of Minnesota. Gustner noted that the Legion Post provides funds to purchase books for Kennedy High School. All the organizations make contributions to Bloomington youth athletic teams, scouting organizations and other youth activities. The list goes on.

Many, if not all of these community-inspired charitable contributions may well be wiped out by the smoking ban. Some will be replaced by tax dollars. Some, the most personal and most appreciated, will prove too trivial for the bureaucracy to bother with and simply cease to be.

But then the self-righteous will be able to drink and dine without the annoyance of other people's bad habits. What is value of an American flag on the coffin of a war veteran compared to a benefit like that?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

WARNING -- Bladder-busting humor

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:19 PM |  

Almost an hour after I read this post, I have finally stopped laughing enough to coherently write about it.

"Funny hats" off to Jim Styczinski for his response to Brian "Saint Paul" Ward's challenge to write the next Nick Coleman Maxfield column. I had tears running down my cheeks throughout, but had to grab my groin to prevent embarrassment at these lines --

There was once a time when Republican Governors supported public education. When I interviewed former Governor Elmer Andersen moments before his death last month, he expressed his disgust with the extremists who have taken over his once tolerant party.
It's school choice that is the main course of the delicious controversy Nick has stirred up, but sometimes giving Nick his just "desserts" is impossible to resist. Sweet writing, Jim.

Monday, December 13, 2004

READER RESPONSE -- Privatization Zealots

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:08 PM |  

My controversy with Nick Coleman certainly has upped the interest in the site. And I have no doubt that many of the those new visitors smell blood in the water and simply want to be part of frenzy feeding on the carcass of Mr. Coleman’s exhausted excuses for progressive programs. I would hope that there are many more who realize that the issue of school choice is more important that Mr. Coleman’s ranting.

And, it’s important to remember that for every partisan ideologue, there are many more very reasonable people who are concerned that “school choice” advocates are out to destroy the public schools. These are the people preyed upon by Mr. Coleman, teacher union leadership, district superintendents, state government officials -- any one in danger of losing power or acquiring accountability if the government school monopoly is questioned.

I received an e-mail from one such reasonable, intelligent person. I’ve met her. She’s a grandmother with grandkids in public schools. She’s active in educational organizations and deeply concerned with the state of education. She recognizes there are problems and struggles with solutions. She supports public education because she believes in it -- and she doesn’t understand school choice.

She recently sent me the following article, which deserves analysis, for these are the types of articles that denigrate a philosophy of school choice that is as fringe a conception as the contrived visions of a Nick Coleman. The article was written by retired University of Kentucky professor Dr. Marty Solomon. Let’s have look.

Dr. Marty Solomon

Dr. Solomon begins his article thusly --

It is clear that followers of Milton Friedman, such as Checker Finn, Bill Bennett and George W. Bush have an agenda to destroy our public schools. Friedman writes, "I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization."

Unfortunately, privatization zealots substitute agenda for facts and emotion for analysis. And it is difficult to understand how, in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, they still promote privatization as THE answer.

First, there is not any ONE answer. Even if privatization were beneficial, it could not be THE answer.
Not only is it not “clear” that mainstream school choice advocates have “an agenda to destroy public schools,” it is clearly their intention NOT to do so. At his recent presentation in St. Paul, former Milwaukee School Superintendent Howard Fuller uttered remarks that basically agree with Solomon -- “School Choice will not transform public education. No one thing will. But public education will never be transformed without school choice. Parental choice must be in a parent’s arsenal to secure for children the opportunity to succeed.”

Solomon then goes on to offer the standard excuses for government run schools (I might add using the same tactics as Mr. Coleman -- you haven’t been to the school so you don’t know what it's like).

People like Friedman have likely not stepped a foot into a public school within the past 40 years. If they have, they must have gone there blindfolded. If they had taken off the blindfold they would have seen many kids from dirt-poor families who come to school hungry, have hearing, speech, visual and dental problems. Too many come from homes with a single, working parent and receive no nurturing, support or encouragement. No school system can attend to these kinds of difficulties.
“No school system can attend to these kinds of difficulties.” How more discouraging can you get. If that’s the case, then for the love of Pete let’s stop dumping money into government schools. If there’s no hope, why bother? Fortunately, Dr. Solomon is wrong.

Jay Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute have put out a working paper on something they call the “Teachability Index.” They have quantified the problems that Dr. Solomon describes and translated them into a scale for rating how difficult a cohort of students is to teach. They go a couple of steps further. They also calculate what one might expect students to achieve based on how difficult they are to teach. A step further, they calculate a comparison of how students with similar teachability indices fare versus expectations at different public schools. And finally, they compare how that achievement is related to money spent on education.

That’s a lot of scientific jargon, but bottom line of the study is the blinding glimpse of the obvious that schools and teachers do make a difference. Given students of equal difficulty to teach, some schools do extremely better than one would expect, others fail miserably -- and the amount of money spent seems to have little correlation. In the current system, kids in those poor performing schools are trapped. In a school choice system, kids are free to move to the better performing schools. Note -- this study was done only on public schools.

Education Working Paper 6
The Teachability Index:
Can Disadvantaged Students Learn?

Jay P. Greene &
Greg Forster,
The Manhattan Institute

Dr. Solomon next goes on to debunk claims that private school kids get a better education than public school offers. When statistics don’t bear him out, he cites unfair advantages of private schools over public schools.

Privatization zealots point to several banner-ads for their agenda. First, they say that kids in private schools outperform their peers, but proponents do not understand demographics. On average, private school children do well for three major reasons. They are more often from better-educated, more-affluent families---almost perfect corollaries for academic success. The parents are generally proactive in the child’s education. And those who refuse to work hard or misbehave can be expelled. If public schools had those advantages, we would have no problems. But dozens of careful studies have shown miniscule differences between private and public school academics with the same demographics. If privatization were the answer---or even AN answer---we should see huge advantages, but we do not.
I’ve addressed this issue in detail before, which you can read here. Let me just say that it never ceases to amaze me how public school apologists continually refer to problem kids as obstacles to doing the job of educating children. Problem kids need education too! It is not acceptable to treat them as speed bumps in the road to problem-free public education. Perhaps more than any other students, these are the ones crying out for help -- and best exemplify the need for school choice.

More Dr. Solomon --

Zealots also claim that private schools cost less than government schools. But this is based on the misconception that tuitions are equivalent to costs. Most private schools in America are church-subsidized and we have no records of the costs. Thus, if a Catholic school charges parishioners $1,200 per year and the public schools receive $5,000 per year per pupil, an erroneous conclusion is drawn concerning costs.
For my column, which ignited the flammable Mr. Coleman, every Catholic school I spoke with made it clear what their cost-per-pupil was and could tell me exactly where money came from to make up the difference between tuition cost and per-pupil-cost. When Sol Stern called St. Paul Superintendent Pat Harvey and asked what the per-pupil educational cost was in St. Paul, for whatever reason she didn’t have a ready answer. Mr. Stern obtained a figure from the State Department of Education. The point is, the cost to educate a student in all but the most elite private schools is far less than in a government school.

While writing this post, I recived an email from a parent of a student at IHM-St. Luke's -- a Chatholic School mentioned in my article -- "While it may be true that only upper income parents can truly afford a private school such as SPA (12K for kindergarten last time I checked...), the thought that parochial schools are somehow elitist and out of reach of minorities or the working poor is ridiculous. They offer generous tuition assistance to lower income families. There are few behavioral problems because it's simply not allowed - what actual rules with consequences might not accomplish, peer pressure can."

Mr. Solomon’s next target is Edison Schools -- a private, school management company.

But forget about this and let’s look at actual evidence from the nation’s largest private school company, Edison Schools. Edison was formed in the image of the zealots, with the wholehearted belief that private schools could cut though the red tape and bureaucracy of government, hire competent teachers and create a true learning environment---and they could do it for less money. Edison started because the first Bush administration planned to push through a voucher plan where families would receive government money for private school tuition. And since there would be a serious shortage of private school seats, Edison would fill that bill. But the plan was interrupted when George H. W. Bush lost his re-election. Edison plowed ahead anyway but instead of building private schools, it switched gears and bid to operate “failing” public schools. This would be the test. Edison schools vis-a -vis government schools, within the same school district. The race was to begin. But Edison stumbled right out of the gate.

In an effort to keep the costs in line with government appropriations, many, perhaps most schools---lost money. For over a dozen years, Edison gradually lost money and often failed to produce on its promises to either cut costs or to boost academic performance. After reaching a high of close to $40 per share in early 2001, Edison’s share value tumbled to a low of 14 cents. In November 2003, the company was taken private. Today, instead of the thousand schools it planned to open, Edison operates 157 district partnership and charter schools. The average student achievement is claimed to be above similar public schools, but only marginally. Worse, Edison has had contracts terminated in many school districts for lack of academic performance in some cases and for costs that exceed government appropriations in others.
Okay -- how many of you have a Xerox PC on your desk? An NCR PC? The point is that the fact that these two companies failed to sustain a presence in the PC market in no way slowed the computer revolution. Edison’s story is much the same. It was created in anticipation of a market that did not develop and now operates in a market, as do private and religious schools in general, dominated by a government monopoly. That’s not a very favorable business environment for any company.

And just has we have failing public schools today, we will have failing private schools tomorrow. That’s not the point. The point is that today when a public school is failing, students have no options. In an environment of active school choice, a student has the immediate option of selecting another school. One should also consider that any failure by Edison is at its investor’s expense, not the public‘s.

If one were to use a logic similar to Dr. Solomon’s vis a vis the unfair advantage demographics give private schools, think about the unfair advantage of government schools going to the taxpayer well every time they mismanage their finances. Edison, a private company, has no such luxury.

Dr. Solomon then delivers his conclusion.

Again, if privatization were an answer, Edison Schools would be the true world-wide success story---but it is not. Now that the No Child Left Behind has gotten a strangle hold on our schools with unreasonably high goals and expectations that have never been achieved by any school system in any country, the George W. Bush administration will surely take another run at the final destruction of public schools in his final presidential term with vouchers.

But doesn't it seem reasonable to see some dramatic and notable results from privatization before we destroy the public school system that has clearly been a major factor in the tremendous success of the American dream?
Like most critics of school choice, Dr. Solomon misses the point. “Public education” is about a concept -- educating all children is in the public interest. “Public education” is not simply the delivery system. A true public education system -- one that educated all children -- would consist of government schools, private schools, public and private charter schools, religious schools, cyber schools and schools of kind not yet imagined. Government’s role would be to ensure that all children of all economic backgrounds had the ability to attend any school that parents felt best met the child’s needs.

That’s what school choice and public education are all about. If you’ve read this far, give yourself an “A” (extra credit for clicking on the links.)