Category Archives: Reason

Child Hysteria Bingo Board, by way of Lenore Skenazy


Lenore Skenazy, who spends her time debunking the more absurd anxieties of helicopter parents at her website Free Range Kids, passed on this inspiration from one of her readers

Welp, I think I’ve finally read enough of Free-Range Kids to make a Bingo board. Make a 5×5 grid, put Free [Range] Space in the middle, scatter the other options randomly over the grid, and play along!


And so forth. You should go look at the whole thing. It’s hilarious. Except… every once in awhile when Lenore is making fun of such things, I pause and think, well… I DO worry about that one a bit… although none on this list jump out at me.

I would never have the nerve to be Lenore Skenazy, and here’s why: I have this superstitious dread — related to the old superstition of “naming calls,” whereby mentioning a thing you fear could make it happen — that if I mock people for having a certain irrational fear for their children, that very thing might happen to one of my kids. As a sort of cosmic justice thing for engaging in hubris.

Silly, I know. But have you ever heard that saying, “Making the decision to have a child… is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” Well, my heart walks around in five pieces, spread from here to Thailand. And then five more pieces for grandchildren.

And a condition like that can sometimes overcome one’s resolve to be calmly rational…

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.

In speaking about race and justice in America, Obama makes good use of bully pulpit, only without the ‘bully’ part

This story about the speech in the WSJ this morning summed up the challenge:

The remarks, delivered without a teleprompter, were a striking example of America’s first black president seeking to guide the country’s thinking on race without inflaming racial tensions or undermining the judicial system.

He managed to do that, and he did it just right. While the topic was a sensitive as all get-out, the president didn’t make a big deal of it. He wasn’t making a pronouncement, or proposing policy. He wasn’t speechifying at all. He started out by lowering the temperature, reducing expectations, making the whole thing as casual as possible without making light of it. It came across this way:

This isn’t really a press conference — we’ll have one of those later. Today, I’m just this guy, talking to you, sharing a few thoughts that I hope will help help black and white people understand each other a little. Not that I’m some oracle or something, I just have some life experiences — just as we all have life experiences — that might be relevant to share…

It was the president using the bully pulpit, only without the bully part. No-drama Obama. Just talking, not speechifying. Thought, not emotion, even though some of the thoughts were about deep, visceral feelings, and the way people act as a result of them. Just, “I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit…”

He had said earlier, on the dispassionate level — what needed to be said: The jury has spoken, and that’s that. He repeated that (read the whole speech here):

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.

Going beyond that, he downplayed any expectations that his administration would somehow take up the cudgels against Zimmerman as a way of undoing that verdict:

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels…

This speech Friday was about trying to explore, just as calmly, the emotional reaction that causes such dissatisfaction with the verdict, appropriate as it may have been given the case:

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

In other words, look, a lot of white folks don’t understand why a lot of black folks react to this thing the way they do, and here’s my take on that:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Furthermore, a lot of whites may be laboring under the impression that black folks are blind to the fact that young, black men are statistically more liable to be dangerous, especially to each other:

Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context…

I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different…

Oh, and in case you think he had some pompous, trite notion of launching something so grand as a “national conversation on race,” he deflated that:

You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

Again, and again, his manner, his verbal cues, kept the intensity on the down-low: “watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit… And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but…” Throughout, he interjected the phrase “I think,” to make sure you knew he was just this guy talking, and not The Man, speaking ex cathedra.

Another thing that a lot of whites say about blacks is that they “talk about race all the time.” Well, Barack Obama certainly has not. He’s been the president, not the black president. But it’s a fine thing for America that when he does, on rare occasion, decide that OK, in this situation, maybe he should say something about the topic, he does it so deftly, so thoughtfully, so well.

Barack Obama, like any other presidents, has his strengths as well as weaknesses. Some of his strengths were on display Friday.


The Boston Globe’s endorsement of Huntsman

Huntsman in South Carolina in August.

The Boston Globe‘s endorsement of Jon Huntsman was strong, particularly in the way the paper set the scene and explained what was at stake (something most of the candidates have failed to do):

DISSATISFACTION WITH the economy, expressed in spasms of anger toward Wall Street and Washington; the dashed hopes of many who believed that Barack Obama’s election would create a new spirit of unity; and genuine uncertainty about Democratic health care reform – all of these have created an historic opportunity for the Republican Party. Just three years removed from a Republican administration that was roundly judged a failure, the party has a chance to renew itself – to blaze a path to bipartisan action on the budget, to introduce market-based solutions to health costs, and to construct a post-Iraq War network of alliances to promote global economic strength, knowing that true security comes from both peace and prosperity.

So far, Republican presidential contenders have shown little awareness of this opportunity. Far from promoting bipartisan unity, the GOP candidates have even abandoned Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment” (“Though shalt not speak ill of another Republican”), shattering the party’s customary internal unity in an electric storm of name-calling and accusations. Rather than compare creative policy solutions, the candidates have vied for meaningless titles like “true conservative.’’ Rather than outline a vision for a safer world, they’ve signaled a return to Bush-era posturing and disdain for allies who don’t blindly serve American interests…

Then, there is the reasoning presented for Huntsman himself:

With a strong record as governor of Utah and US ambassador to China, arguably the most important overseas diplomatic post, Huntsman’s credentials match those of anyone in the field. He would be the best candidate to seize this moment in GOP history, and the best-prepared to be president.

Huntsman governed Utah as a clear conservative who nonetheless put the interests of his state ahead of ideology. He delighted right-wing supporters by replacing a graduated state income tax with a flat tax. Strong economic growth put Utah in the top five in job creation during Huntsman’s tenure, while he gave tax credits to companies developing solar energy. He offered a sweeping school choice plan, and joined the Western Climate Initiative, which set goals for reducing greenhouse gases.

When the national economy fell into recession, some Republican governors made a show of rejecting federal stimulus money on ideological grounds; sensibly, Huntsman took the money. While he endorsed the notion of a federal stimulus, he also offered a credible critique of the way the Democratic Congress had structured the plan. Then, when Obama offered him the post of ambassador to China, Huntsman accepted. Other Republicans, such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, couldn’t bring themselves to accept entreaties from a Democratic president. Huntsman did. It attests to his sincerity when he vows to lead in a bipartisan spirit.

Serving as ambassador to China, the largest economic and military competitor to the United States, is a deeply meaningful credential. Notably, Huntsman’s nuanced foreign-policy vision of economic and strategic alliances stems from his time in Beijing. While other candidates point toward Cold War-style rejection and isolation of China, Huntsman promises deeper engagement. But he had the courage as ambassador to walk among protesters, drawing the ire of repressive Chinese authorities…

Now watch as Republican partisans dismiss the endorsement as worthless because it came from a “liberal newspaper.” Which to an intelligent person should be irrelevant, of course — either the endorsement shows wisdom or it does not. This one does, and that fact that partisans will dismiss it is further testimony, as if we needed any, to the distortions partisanship causes to the human mind.

A person free of such handicaps, an person with a penetrating, unfettered mind, can see that Huntsman has presented himself as the most serious, least desperate candidate. Even in small things: The Huntsman ad that I embedded here on the blog a few days ago shows a perspicacity, a discernment, a seriousness that no other candidate has either been able, or has dared, to show. A 30-second ad is a pathetic thing upon which to judge a candidate. But the tragedy of this nation is that so many voters base their judgments on so little. And it says a lot about Huntsman that he can pack more meaning into such a medium.

As The Globe says, Romney comes next in this regard, but his desperation to pander, to stoop to conquer, means he falls far short of Huntsman. And of course, The Globe knows Romney far better than I do.