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Works and Days

Liberalism—a Strange Thing Indeed

April 7th, 2008 - 1:39 pm

Where Art Thou Democrats?

With the release of the Clintons’ combined $109 million post-presidential aggregate income (cf. Hillary’s call for the creation of a poverty czar), we are a long way from clips of Harry Truman strolling around Independence, Missouri in his retirement. John Edwards’ 30,000 sq ft. castle (apparently part of one of his “Two Americas”) is a far cry from the hole in Adlai Stevenson’s shoe. And John Kerry’s various mansions are not quite like Hubert Humphrey’s tract house in the DC suburbs. But then the Rev. Wright’s gated estate and the Obama income aren’t quite like Martin Luther King’s either.

The point? In the general enrichment of the United States over the last quarter-century of globalization, it is hard to ascertain one’s politics by one’s financial circumstances. Being a Democratic leader now does not suggest any greater intimacy with poverty than a Republican’s, or any greater reluctance to indulge in the rarified good life. If anything, the Democratic party (cf. the Obama nexus) is increasingly an alliance of those who want federal entitlements, combined with the elite who are willing to hand them out—precisely because their own financial circumstances mean that tax increases hardly affect their standard of living.

Indeed, whereas indulgences in gambling, sex, or drugs may have embarrassed conservative Republicans, the hypocrisy for Democrats lies in the combination of high living and condemnation of the present economic system. Al Gore leaves a bigger carbon foot-print than most of those he condemns. Rev. Wright disdains the middle class—perhaps because he lives as if he were in the upper-class. The Clintons talk ad nauseam about “fairness,” but weren’t about to stop at $50 million when $100 million could buy so much more.

The Academic Morass

One can collate all the various reasons that have embarrassed the current university—the politically correct curriculum, the relaxation of standards, the political imbalance, the intolerance for diversity of thought, etc. But the one charge that proves the most lethal is this same hypocrisy, or the notion that well-paid tenured professors, with life-time assurances of employment of being on the job only 30 weeks a year, and usually accountable for only 6-12 hours of teaching a week on campus, harangue cash-strapped, working students with sizable loans, about the unfairness of society.

I have never quite encountered an intrinsically less fair institution than the university, at least in liberal terms of egalitarianism and respect for the underclass. A full professor may damn Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart would never get away with the two-tier system that the university in built upon: the PhD part-timer has no job security, sometimes no benefits, no privileges, and earns usually about 25% of the compensation that is paid to the full professor to teach the identical class.

When one factors in the use of graduate assistants not merely to TA courses, but to teach them in their entirety, then you can appreciate the level of exploitation that the university is built on. And add to the notion that tuition has climbed higher than the annual rate of inflation, and the picture is complete of an institution that is entirely immune from public scrutiny.

I have a modest prediction—just as the bloggers, talk-radio, and cable news began to make irrelevant the grandees at the New York Times and the likes of Dan Rather at CBS, so too online colleges, web-based data archives, and junior colleges are starting to question the notion that one pays $40-50 thousand a year for university training—and often gets biased professors, part-timers and TAs, and a curriculum imbued with popular culture and politically-driven therapeutic courses. Learning and the university are not any longer synonymous, and the divide is ever widening.

The Morality of Environmentalism

The idea that we were going to devote 25% of America’s prime corn acreage to ethanol (while supplying millions of dollars of subsidies to large farms) was always absurd. And now we see the wages in increased prices for meat, rice, soy, corn, and wheat, as food for fuel means less food for eating. At some point someone is going to say that an oil well in a tiny patch in Anwar is a far more humane proposition than taking out hundreds of acres of food land to produce the same amount of energy, or sending millions over to terrorist-sponsoring nations for comparable oil production, or allowing Russia or Nigeria to desecrate planet earth through far less careful protocols of extraction to produce the same amount of petroleum.

Who’s What?

Close your eyes and imagine. You hear one party demand tariffs and an end to free trade. Its supporters talk in terms of racial values and racial separateness, as it leaders calculate the white versus black vote state-by-state. It denounces the idea of protecting a democracy abroad from thugs and terrorists. And it has out-raised its counterpart over 3-1 in cash donations for political campaigning. Its nominating process is Byzantine and ultimately determined by the undemocratic votes of unelected Superdelegates accountable to no one. And this is all deemed “liberal.”

Airline absurdities #3

In two past postings I listed the sort of craziness that follows when you cram dozens of people on transcontinental flights, from cell-phoning in the aisle to smashing two gigantic carry-ons into tiny overhead compartments.

I noticed three others today flying back from New York.

1. The seats are so small and Americans are so large that it is almost impossible to walk down an aisle without hitting a knee or ankle. The stewards have a strange solution: they simply slam their mega-food carts full speed ahead and hardly worry how many bruises they inflict on the way, the theory being that once your foot is run over by a stainless steel cart you won’t put it out there again.

2. Boarding is a joke. A huge crowd assembles in a circle. The various zones are announced, and then everyone feeds his own self-declared line into the fray, from all sides–the duration one has been there waiting mattering little. The poor ticket gatherer sometimes rejects a Zone-4er trying to get into Zone 1, sometimes not. The theory is that the crowd swarms to ensure claim to the rare on-board carry-on space above the seats?

3. I don’t understand the protocol of “lounge” position of the seats. I try never to use it, since the person ahead of me almost destroys my computer or knees when he goes into full “relax” position and leans back, and I wouldn’t wish to do that to those to my rear. I thought, to paraphrase Aristotle about land alienability, that while it is legal, “it is not done” out of deference and manners? True or not?

4. I think airline pilots should be hired by politicians. With a simple mike and ad hoc, they can so spin and reconstruct terrible delays due to mechanical slips, weather, incompetence, or simply traffic that one hardly objects. Usually a calm, slightly southern male voice comes on, notes a sense of frustration at the incompetence of others that has made us all late, and then in JFK-fashion assures us of a terrible, but necessary “10 minute delay” or “15 minute hitch”—and then one hour later we still are not mad when the voice returns to comfort us that “we are now on our way” (10 more minutes follow). These are pros and natural press secretaries—at least far better than a Scott McClellan.

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