Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for July, 2008

Jewelry, religious freedom, and education

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2008

A tale of two court cases in Britain. The British High Court ruled today in favor of a 14-year old Sikh girl who was supended when she refused to remove her bracelet in compliance with a school policy forbidding jewelry. The court ruled that the bracelet, a thin steel bangle called a Kara, is part of the observance of Sikh religion and that the application of the ban in this case unreasonably restricted the girl’s freedom of religion.

This stands in contrast to a ruling a year ago upholding a school’s jewelry ban as applied to a teen girl who wore a “chastity promise” ring to class. There the court found that wearing such a ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith.

I think the court made the correct decision in both cases. But it raises the question in my mind: Why do schools in the UK feel the need to ban jewelry to begin with? I don’t have any children in the schools, so for all I know this may be common here in the US as well. But I’m not sure I see the reason for it. I have never been a particular fan of school uniforms, either. School dress codes should focus on protecting students’ safety, maintaining a respectful atmosphere and eliminating excessive distractions in the classroom. Now if a student felt the need to, say, wear a giant swastika around her neck, or a T-shirt with inflammatory or vulgar language on it, I think one could reasonably ban those items to maintain order. But I hardly think simple jewelry items would create major distractions in the classroom.

For girls (and increasingly for some boys) jewelry is a form of personal expression. I think that young people should be encouraged to develop and express their own style as individuals, provided they remain within reasonable norms of decency. Not to mention how much money the schools would save by not having to defend against these kinds of lawsuits.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Let’s use children to fight our political battles for us…not.

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2008

I can’t say I’m surprised that somebody is calling for students in Chicago to skip the first day of school as part of an ill-conceived protest. It’s a little disappointing, though, that the call is coming from a state legislator (Sen. James Meeks):

Briefly, the protest centers on the fact that per-pupil spending in wealthy suburban school districts is much higher than in the Chicago public schools. (This is true in pretty much every major metro area in America.) The protesters see this as discrimination against poor communities, but particularly against ethnic minorities.

So on the first day of school, these numb-nuts want to bus thousands of Chicago kids to affluent, lily-white Winnetka where they will attempt to enroll in the New Trier School District, on the basis of a dubious interpretation of a provision in state law allowing transfers if a student’s “safety” is at risk.

New Trier is something of a legend in education circles. It consistently ranks among the top public school districts in the country. People come from foreign countries to tour the schools there and see how they do things. I don’t blame any inner-city family for wanting to send their kid there, which is why I support school vouchers and school choice.

However, asking schoolchildren to skip school as part of a political protest is a very bad idea. Granted, kids never learn anything important on the first day of school anyway. But you set your habits for the academic year, you learn where you’re going and who your teachers are and what time the buses pick you up. Kids who miss the first day of school have a much higher truancy rate, which is a real issue in urban schools.

Children do not, for the most part, understand issues of school funding, nor do they get a vote. It is irresponsible to ask or expect them to engage in political protest on behalf of adults who don’t seem to be able to act effectively themselves. You shouldn’t put your kid on a picket line and you shouldn’t make them hold a sign for Obama or McCain. Let them do what kids are supposed to do: Go to school, and enjoy themselves when they’re not in school. If your political cause requires the manipulation and exploitation of children in order to succeed, that’s a good reason why it doesn’t deserve to.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The federal budget deficit: Let the disinformation begin

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2008

The White House Office of Management and Budget released some new numbers yesterday regarding the federal budget deficit. (In simple terms, the deficit is how much more we are spending than the revenue we take in.) The big news in this announcement was that for 2009, the deficit is projected to be at $482 billion, a record amount.

Mainstream media outlets were quick to pounce on this information and spin it as “Bush Administration Announces Record Budget Deficit.” You can expect to hear the phrase “record budget deficit” over and over in the next three months as part of the election campaign.

However, let’s look at what this “record” actually means. It’s true that in real dollars, the deficit has never been so high. But that’s essentially meaningless because the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has also never been so high, and federal revenue collections have never been so high. In order to evaluate the deficit in a meaningful way, we can’t look at the dollar figure. We have to look at the size of the deficit as a percentage of GDP. Looked at this way, the $482 billion figure represents 3.3% of GDP. This is far from a record. In fact, it’s less than 2004 (3.6% of GDP) and far less than the record deficits of the 1980s (6% in 1983.) To their credit, some media outlets such as the LA Times do mention this in their reporting, although it usually comes across as an afterthought.

This chart, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office, shows the change in the deficit as a percentage of GDP over time. (The chart is used by both the liberal Brookings and the conservative Heritage Institutes, which is a pretty good sign that it’s relaible.)

As you can see, except for a spike in 2003 when the Iraq war began, we have been well within normal range for the past three years and are on track for surpluses in the next decade. The long term outlook 20+ years from now, however, is bleak because at current rates of spending, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare will balloon out of control.

My point is not to suggest that we shouldn’t be concerned about the budget deficit. We can and should take steps to reduce it. However, it is not unreasonable to run a deficit when you’re fighting two wars and haven’t been able to rein in domestic spending. In the meantime, don’t buy into the hype that the sky is falling. Next time you hear someone mention the “record deficit”, don’t let that statement go unchallenged. We can have different opinions over federal spending and revenue policies, but spreading misinformation is not helpful to a principled public debate.

OMB announcement:

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The time has come: Stop serving alcohol on planes

Posted by sanityinjection on July 28, 2008

We have all read the news blurbs about a plane flight that has to make an emergency landing because of an unruly passenger. When you get to the part about what set the passenger off, it’s almost *always* the same thing: “The rampage occurred when a flight attendant denied the women alcohol because they were visibly intoxicated, police said.”

Why do we continue to put up with this foolishness? Not only is it a safety issue, but the massive inconvenience to everyone if a plane has to be diverted must be considered. It should not be the job of a flight attendant to make decisions about whether someone is drunk or not. If we can ban smoking and a whole host of carry-on items for safety reasons, then we can stop serving alcohol on airplanes. Let people buy their own nip bottles from the duty-free shop if they are so desperate for a drink in the air.

Unfortunately, selling alcohol to the coach class passengers is profitable for the airlines, so they are in no hurry to take up my suggestion. I wonder if anyone has stopped to calculate how much of that profit is offset by the losses every time this stupidity occurs.

Here’s the latest example:

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Remembering Randy Pausch – for the first time

Posted by sanityinjection on July 25, 2008

I must admit that until today I had no idea who Randy Pausch was. Apparently I should have been paying better attention, because Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, is currently atop the best-seller list for nonfiction.

Pausch died today of pancreatic cancer at the age of 47. Reading about his life and work, I was struck by the fact that this man, whose lifespan was cut unnaturally short, seems to have lived more fully than some people would in 100 years. One doesn’t normally conjure up a computer science professor as the image of a cool guy with a well-rounded life. But how many of us can say, as Pausch did, that we have fulfilled almost all of our childhood dreams? How many of us face the challenges in our lives with cheerfulness and a positive outlook? How many of us turn our own adversity into something that helps others?

I don’t know if Pausch was rich, and until the last year of his life, neither was he famous. But based on the little I have learned, there is no question in my mind that Randy Pausch was a success, in every possible way.

This is worth a few moments of your time to read:

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

I don’t mean to pick on Barack Obama, but…

Posted by sanityinjection on July 25, 2008

…this is just too funny not to share:

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

File under “With friends like these…”

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

In his last statement before being executed, death row inmate Dale Bishop urged opponents of the death penalty to vote for Barack Obama:

Apparently, Mr. Bishop’s deep-seated philosophical opposition to capital punishment had not yet fully formed when he helped his buddy beat their victim to death with a claw hammer, or when he requested the death penalty at his sentencing. The article indicated that Mr. Bishop was mentally ill, but all the quotes attributed to him sound pretty lucid to me.

In any case, I will wager you won’t be finding this endorsement on Senator Obama’s web site anytime soon.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Respected astronaut says aliens are real

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

Apollo 14 veteran astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who shares the record for the longest walk on the Moon in 1971, said in a  radio interview that Earth has been visited by aliens multiple times and that the governments of the world have been covering up this information for decades.

I’m willing to leave room for the possibility that aliens exist and may have visited Earth. But doesn’t it seem odd that Dr. Mitchell would have waited until now to speak out, and chosen an entertainment radio program as the forum to reveal this great truth to the world? Furthermore, after zealously guarding this great secret for 60 years, does it seem likely that the great government conspiracy would let itself be so easily brought down by a 77-year old retired astronaut?

How about the interesting “coincidence” that this comes out just as the new “X-Files” movie is about to open? Now *there’s* a conspiracy for you…Calling Agents Mulder and Scully!

If you want to see a great movie about an alien visitation and a government cover-up, go rent Close Encounters of the Third Kind– the film that established writer/director Steven Spielberg as more than just a one-hit wonder horror specialist. The reason this film still works 30 years later is that the movie is less about the aliens and more about the various ways in which people deal with the possibility that we are not alone.,23599,24070088-13762,00.html

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Where is the outrage about *this* type of voter suppression?

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

After the 2000 and 2004 elections, we heard a lot of whining about alleged voter suppression and disenfranchisement. The big bad racist Republicans, we were told by the earnest media, had conspired to keep minorities from voting by insisting on discriminatory restrictions like having your name actually present on the roll of registered voters. However, attention to these claims inevitably faded, because while every election involves some isolated shenanigans (ask Chicago Mayor Daley), there has never been any credible evidence of organized, widespread vote suppression.

Bob Novak points out, however, that there *is* a population whose votes are routinely undercounted, and that population is America’s military men and women serving overseas. The problem is not a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise the military, but rather the inability or unwillingness of the Pentagon to devote the necessary resources to ensure that soldiers receive their ballots and are able to have them returned in time to be counted. As Novak points out, “A combat officer has enough to do without handling the votes of troopers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The good news is that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) have agreed in principle to try to work together to find a solution. Let us hope that this effort is not impeded by one party or the other’s concern about who the military votes are likely to go to (So far I have read interviews with military personnel planning to support both Obama and McCain), because that would indeed be voter suppression. I fear, though, that any legislation will come too late to impact the 2008 election which is only four months away.

The full column is not too long and is worth the read:

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Democratic Party – Who are they and where are they going?

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

Joel Kotkin has a brilliant piece out in The American describing the changed demographic of the Democrats’ base voters, and what that change means for the future of the party:

I found the article very insightful and containing little in the way of partisan sniping in either direction.

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