On Twitter, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

“There continues to be meaningful public conversation about how we think about Tweets from world leaders on our service,” begins a post at the micro-blogging service’s non-micro-blog.

In summary, certain Super Very Important Special People (“world leaders”) are exempt from Twitter’s rules, but henceforth Regular Normal Completely Unimportant People (like you and me) are subject to new rules. We can’t like, reply, share or retweet rules-violating tweets from Super Very Important Special People.

“We understand the desire for our decisions to be ‘yes/no’ binaries,” the blog post continues, “but it’s not that simple …. Our goal is to enforce our rules judiciously and impartially.”

Well, yes, it is that simple. Impartiality in rules is the exact opposite of  dividing Twitter users into two classes, one of  them subject to the rules, one of them not.

In their great and unmatched wisdom, Twitter’s owners have over time moved to police speech on their platform in various ways.

They don’t HAVE to do that, at least in the US — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from legal liability for user-created content under most circumstances.

There’s not even any particularly good reason to police user content, since the service’s “block” option allows users to ignore (by not seeing) content from other users whose opinions or language offend.

But hey,  OK, fine — Twitter is a privately owned service, not a public square, and its owners are entitled to set any rules they care to set for its use.

On the other hand, it’s neither judicious nor impartial to make some rules, then announce exemptions from those rules for Super Very Important Special People while heaping new rules on Normal Completely Unimportant People to keep us from acting like Super Very Important Special People.

Not judicious. Not impartial. In fact, pretty [insert your preferred non-newspaper-safe expletive here] offensive.

The Super Very Important Special People already have their own bully pulpits from which to yell anything they like and be heard and obeyed. We Normal Completely Unimportant People don’t get to hold press conferences in front of news cameras on the White House lawn in Washington, or on the front stoop at 10 Downing Street in London, or on the steps of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Twitter keeps making itself less useful to most of us in order to curry favor with a few. That’s not just injudicious and partial, it’s a bad business plan.

Open This Content

You Get the Political Circus You Voted On

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, and all the rest of you, too! Welcome to the Big Top. Yes, that’s right: the Impeachment Circus, with its dancing elephants and prancing donkeys, is coming to town.

It has been announced amid much fanfare. The flyers have been tacked to telephone poles all over America and I think I hear the parade of animals coming up the street. Grab your manure shovels from the tool shed and be ready to start scooping.

If only it were this exciting or momentous. I’m already bored with it and it hasn’t even started. It has become a tedious political ritual.

These days the show promises to kick off once per administration or so, but it usually gets canceled for lack of interest. This time it seems it will actually happen.

It would save a lot of time and strife if impeachment proceedings were automatically begun upon each new president’s oath-of-office. This way the opposition party could skip the saber-rattling theatrics and just get on with collecting the president’s offenses as they find (or imagine) them.

Or they could if the theatrics weren’t the whole point. They are performing tricks for their voters. It’s a shame it still works.

Every president does something — and usually many things — the political opposition feels deserve impeachment. So they keep testing the waters, trying to gauge how much support for impeachment they could get from the rest of the congressvermin in their own party and from their supporters in the population.

Unfortunately, before they get so caught up in impeachment fever, they normally manage to pass some new legislation. I’m firmly against this development. Seeing as how there are only two kinds of legislation — the unnecessary and the harmful — I would rather they spend their time trying to politically crucify the president they hate. It’s a much less harmful way to earn political points. Better to sacrifice every president than the people’s lives, liberty, and property.

Since it’s a political circus, I’m inclined to say “Not my circus; not my monkeys;” but I know a lot of people are very attached to this circus and to its monkeys — or elephants and donkeys as the case may be — claiming them as their own.

I hope you enjoy the show. As long as you keep buying tickets — by casting votes — you’ll keep getting the government you deserve. It’s what you voted for no matter who you voted for.

Open This Content

Politicians: A Necessary Demystification

Politicians are people with jobs and with bosses.

On its face that seems like a relatively uncontroversial statement, but I’m always surprised at how much time people spend looking for high principle in the decisions politicians make instead of considering the mundane dynamics of political employment.

In a recent column, I pointed out that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) finally opened a formal impeachment inquiry versus President Donald Trump because she’s good at counting votes, not because  she’s personally keen on the idea. Pelosi wants to keep her party’s top job in the US House of Representatives. Sometimes keeping that job involves running to the front of parades she didn’t plan.

When I write things like this, some accuse me of being overly cynical. Agree or disagree with a particular politician on a particular issue, they’re convinced that politicians in general are more like painters or musicians who create art for the sake of art than like fry cooks or janitors who work for paychecks and in hope of promotion.

I don’t think I’m too cynical. I’m not saying that politicians lack principles or beliefs. I’m not saying they never act on their principles or beliefs. But they’re people with jobs and with bosses.

Many people seek particular jobs out of what we might consider selfless, or at least highly principled, motives.

A kid dreams of becoming a veterinarian because he or she loves animals.

Decades later, is that kid still spaying, neutering, smooshing stool samples, etc., solely from pure love of animals, or does paying the mortgage and building a profitable practice (or remaining employed in one) perhaps also play a role?

The average elected official probably answers to more  bosses than the average American worker. Voters. Campaign contributors. Party officials. Fellow politicians up and down the ladder of power.

Those bosses have conflicting goals and priorities, which means conflicting pressures on the politician. Pressure to move slowly on something he supports. Pressure to move fast on something she has doubts about. Pressure to sacrifice his goals to the group’s goals, just for now, we’ll get to your thing soon, pinky promise.

Politicians aren’t ethereal creatures of pure principle, operating on a higher moral plane than the rest of us. They’re people with jobs and with bosses, just LIKE the rest of us. And that’s more than sufficient reason to not give them much power OVER the rest of us.

Open This Content

Glad to See Space Escape Government

I admit it: I’ve always been a bit of a space geek. Or, would that be “space nerd?”

Whatever the term, I love space flight, and am especially excited to see it beginning to escape the stagnant, innovation-crushing monopoly of government.

I’ve enjoyed watching the recent rocket launches and the tests of the experimental vehicles. I am pulling for humans to walk on Mars in my lifetime; thinking it’s looking more likely all the time.

I resent government agencies pretending to have some political authority over space flight and the companies practicing it, but the nature of government is to get in the way. Government offices are filled with hordes of people unqualified to do anything but issue or deny permits, and they are going to keep asserting control — fighting the future — as long as they can get away with it.

I also realize when people move to another world — whether a planet or a moon — they’ll probably pollute the place with some sort of government.

I wish they’d establish a society instead, but since most people mistakenly conflate society and government they’ll probably make the wrong choice.

The most foolish thing they might do would be to accept an Earth government’s attempt to govern a colony on another world. And you know they’ll try. Gotta keep milking those “tax cows” and make sure the Earth laws are being enforced. Can’t allow liberty to get a foot-hold anywhere, or it might give Earth inhabitants dangerous ideas.

I’ve thought for decades that unless a new, attainable frontier opens up soon, the human race is doomed. Some people are fine with being jammed together in a politically controlled environment, but some of us aren’t. This is why humans have always journeyed over the horizon.

The first church steeple or courthouse was enough to make some frontiersmen decide it was time to pack up and move to freer spaces. This option has been closed off for too long now, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

I doubt I’d go to Mars or the Moon, even if I had the opportunity. Especially not for a one-way trip. I like uncultivated plants, wild animals and free air too much.

Will space, “the final frontier,” open soon enough to salvage humanity? Will it be a place of liberty or oppression? I don’t know for sure, but it’s finally looking a little hopeful for the first time in decades. We aren’t there yet, but we’re going. It’s just a matter of time.

Open This Content

Rights as a Human Construct

Are rights a human construct? Yes, obviously. As are ethics and empathy and many other things humans value to some degree. You might see those constructs expressed in similar ways in some other animals, especially among the Great Apes, but they only truly reach their human form in humans.

Rights are a human construct in that they only matter between humans, or between humans and something humans want to treat in a human-like way.

Rights don’t exist apart from sentient beings. They only exist within the brain, while still having consequences, with regard to interactions between those bearing the brains, in the physical world. The Universe doesn’t have rights or respect rights otherwise.

A rock will never respect anything’s “rights”, nor will a mosquito. The rock has no consciousness or will (free or otherwise) and a mosquito just does what it must to survive long enough to reproduce– it doesn’t concern itself with anyone else.

Being a construct doesn’t mean rights are imaginary. They are real– at least when you are speaking of human interactions. Life doesn’t turn out well if you don’t respect the rights of others at least a little bit. If you didn’t, you’d be worse than the worst psychopath, and you wouldn’t survive long. You’d be everyone’s enemy and everyone would be doing all they could to end you.

So, rights are a useful construct. And as long as I’m dealing with other humans (or creatures I want to treat humanely) I will respect rights and will expect mine to be respected by other humans as well.

Open This Content

How Government Programs Ruined Childhood

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “We Have Ruined Childhood” offers disheartening data about childhood depression and anxiety, closely linked to school attendance, as well as the disturbing trend away from childhood free play and toward increasing schooling, standardization, and control.

“STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music,” says the writer Kim Brooks, who is the author of the book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

While many of Brooks’s insights are spot-on, the undertones of her article make clear that she is focused on the collective “it takes a village” narrative of childrearing. Indeed, her book praises “the forty-one industrialized nations that offer parents paid maternity leave—to say nothing of subsidized childcare, quality early childhood education, or a host of other family supports” (p. 50).

The assertion is that most parents are desperate and alone and they must rely on government programs to help raise their children. She writes in her article:

The work of raising children, once seen as socially necessary labor benefiting the common good, is an isolated endeavor for all but the most well-off parents. Parents are entirely on their own when it comes to their offspring’s well-being…No longer able to rely on communal structures for child care or allow children time alone, parents who need to work are forced to warehouse their youngsters for long stretches of time.

This narrative is backwards. It was the expansion of government programs, particularly in education, that weakened the family, led many parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and caused them to increasingly rely on government institutions to do the job for them. These institutions, in turn, grew more powerful and more bloated, undermining the family and breeding contempt for parental authority. What may seem like a charitable endeavor to help families ends up crippling parents and emboldening the state. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Brooks knows better than many of us the terror associated with granting the state more power: Her book details her harrowing ordeal of being accused of child neglect and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service for leaving her child alone in a car for five minutes while she ran a quick errand. The village shouldn’t be in charge of raising children; parents should.

So how did we get here? While the seeds of mounting state power and institutionalization were sown in the 19th century and spread throughout the 20th, it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who dramatically accelerated these efforts in 1964-1965 with his “Great Society” legislation. One of the most consequential effects of Johnson’s Great Society proposal was getting Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) which gave unprecedented control of education to the federal government, mainly through the funding of a variety of government programs. In fact, expanding the government’s role in education was a stated goal of the Great Society plan. As Johnson himself stated: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.” (Heaven forbid a child be unschooled!)

The result of Johnson’s plan was the establishment and enlargement of programs such as Head Start, which was initiated in 1965 to provide government preschool and nutrition programs to low-income children. Despite billions of dollars spent on the federal Head Start program over the last half-century (the annual Head Start budget is over $10 billion in 2019), the results have been disappointing. As researchers at the Brookings Institute noted, the most in-depth studies of Head Start show that any initial gains disappeared by the end of kindergarten. More troubling, by third grade the children in the Head Start program were found to be more aggressive and have more emotional problems than children of similar backgrounds who did not attend Head Start.

Not only are these outcomes concerning for the children involved, they also indicate how government programs can strain family relationships. Notably, it was the parents of the Head Start children who said their children were more aggressive than non-Head Start children of similar backgrounds, suggesting that parental bonds could be compromised at the same time that government early learning programs could foster maladaptive social behaviors. When parents, not government, are in charge of determining a child’s early learning environment they may rely on informal, self-chosen networks of family and friends, thus building social capital in their communities, or they may choose from among various private preschool options where they retain control over how their child learns. If parents are not satisfied, they can leave. When government increasingly controls early childhood programs, reliance on family members, friends, and other private options fades. Grandma is no longer needed, and she becomes less of an influence in a child’s life and learning and less of a support system for her daughter or son.

Sign-Up: Receive Kerry’s Weekly Parenting and Education Newsletter!

Johnson’s Great Society plan had other consequences that served to weaken family roles and strengthen government. The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 greatly expanded the National School Lunch Program, allocating additional funding and adding school breakfasts. While no one wants a child to go hungry, relying on government programs to feed children can cause poor health outcomes, strip parents of their essential responsibilities, weaken informal family and community support systems, and lead parents to hand over even more control of childrearing to the government.

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact on education of Johnson’s Great Society was the lasting legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that paved the way for ongoing and amplified federal involvement in education. It was the ESEA that was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that led to the standardization of schooling through Common Core curriculum frameworks, as well as regular testing. No Child Left Behind morphed into the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, again a reauthorization of Johnson’s ESEA, that tried to shift some curriculum standard-setting to states but retained regular testing requirements under federal law.

In her weekend op-ed, Brooks laments the increasing role of regimented schooling in children’s lives. She writes:

School days are longer and more regimented. Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful.

She is absolutely correct, and the culprit is increasing government control over American education through the ongoing reauthorization and expansion of federal education programs. Longer, more regimented, more standardized, more test-driven schooling is a direct consequence of the government’s education policy.

The inevitable result of these expanded government powers is less control over education by parents. As parents lose this control, they cede more authority to government bureaucracies, which in turn grow more powerful and more bloated while parents get weaker and more vulnerable.

I agree that childhood is being ruined, as children play less, stress more, and find themselves in institutional learning environments for most of their childhood and adolescence. I also agree that the problem is getting worse. The solution, however, is to weaken government and strengthen families, not vice versa. Put families back in charge of a child’s education. Grant parents the respect and responsibility they rightfully deserve. Remember that the government’s role is to secure our natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not to determine what those pursuits are.

Childhood is being ruined and parents are the only ones who can save it.

Open This Content