Tag Archives: arrogance

Unwilling to Engage

A Facebook friend who has been following the twists, turns and votes on HJR 3 has reported on the defensive behavior of Representative Dave Ober, one of the “yes” votes for that measure.

Apparently, Rep. Ober is unwilling to engage in discussion about his position or his vote–according to my correspondent, he has “de-friended” people posting  contrary positions, no matter how respectfully, eliminated critical posts from his official Facebook page, and refused to defend or even discuss his vote.

Ober isn’t the only legislator hiding from public debate and scrutiny: when a reporter friend of mine asked for an accounting of the letters and emails generated by the HJR 3 debate, she was told that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to the legislature, and they didn’t have to respond.

Now, there might be an excuse for refusing to supply the contents of legislative emails; there really is no reason–other than potential embarrassment–for refusing to tell the media how many communications were received pro and con. ( Why do I suspect that if letters supporting HJR 3 had outnumbered those against, they’d have complied?) As it is, the legislative response to legitimate inquiries can be summarized as a collective “go *** yourself.”

Can we spell “arrogant”?

The next time one of these self-important lawmakers pontificates about how he’s “doing the people’s business,” someone should remind him that the people have a right to know how their business is being conducted, and whether the measures being passed are consistent with the people’s expressed policy preferences.

Theoretically, democracy is supposed to work like this: we elect folks, watch how they behave, and subsequently vote to retain or reject them based upon that behavior. When those we elect opt to game the system, refuse to defend their reasoning, and generally take the position that they aren’t answerable to those who elected them, it’s time to clean House.

And Senate.

The Real Blasphemy

The horrific shootings at Sandy Hook have given all the usual political opportunists an opening. It isn’t just the gun culture apologists, either–Mike Huckabee and his fellow theocrats have seized the moment to renew their attacks on separation of church and state. According to Huckabee (and a number of people posting to Facebook)  this tragedy occurred because we’ve taken God out of the classroom.

Not only is this sentiment unseemly, it’s demonstrably stupid, on multiple levels.

In this particular case, it’s wrong on its face–the deranged young man responsible for this tragedy turns out to be a product of Catholic School. A number of media outlets have used a photo of him taken when he was a student at St. Rose Middle School.

More significantly, the “cutesy” sayings that have been posted to Facebook in the wake of the tragedy betray an embarrassing lack of understanding of the First Amendment religious liberty clauses. (A sample: “God, why didn’t you stop this shooting and save those babies? ‘I would have, but I’m not allowed in school.’) God and “his” bible have not been “ejected” from public schools, as these pithy sayings suggest: students who wish to pray over the cafeteria meatloaf or before a math quiz, to read their bibles during study hall, or to “meet at the flagpole to pray” before classes are not only free to do so, that conduct is constitutionally protected under the Free Exercise Clause. What is forbidden is the imposition of religion by public school employees–the Establishment Clause prohibits teachers from proselytizing–from preaching or otherwise religiously indoctrinating the captive audience of children in their classes.

Despite the resolute obtuseness of the theocrats among us, truly voluntary prayer has not been removed from the public schools. What has been removed (imperfectly, given the number of school officials who simply ignore the constitution) is involuntary religious devotions imposed by school personnel.

Okay–so the whining here is doubly wrong: this kid didn’t go to one of those “godless” schools, and the schools aren’t quite as godless as the extremists would like us to believe. But there’s a deeper and far more troubling aspect to this recurring complaint, and it goes to the smallness of the God these people evidently worship.

Theologians and clerics who believe in a personal, intentional God are fond of describing Him (most ascribe gender–almost always male–to deity) as omnipotent, unknowable. God works in mysterious ways, etc. Yet despite giving lip service to His greatness and mystery, we have people thanking God for letting them win football games (God evidently didn’t like the players on the other team); we have starlets thanking God for giving them talent (!), and preachers on my flat-screen TV promising that God will make me rich if I just follow His ways–beginning, usually, with a nice contribution to that preacher. We have ostentatiously pious scolds who assure us that they know what God wants, and we’d better fall in line or suffer God’s vengeance.

We have Mike Huckabee telling us that this senseless human tragedy occurred because America didn’t do things God’s way.

The arrogance is overwhelming.

I have no idea whether God exists, but if She does, those who anthropomorphize Her have to be the ultimate blasphemers.

Defining “Merit”

Ross Douthat had a thought-provoking column in yesterday’s New York Times.

He traced the social change that has elevated “capable, hardworking, high IQ” people into positions of power and authority–the quintessentially American belief in rewarding talent rather than social class–and he notes that it is precisely these “high IQ” people, at least in the financial arena, who have taken us off the economic cliff. He attributes the problem to “pride”–the belief entertained by many successful “self-made” people that they are invincible, that the rules that apply to others don’t really apply to them.

Douthat says that the rest of us have responded to that arrogance by embracing ignorance. (Hint: this is probably not a good idea.) And he attributes the current Republican primary field to that rejection of meritorious arrogance. He says the field can be attributed to “a revolt against the ruling class that our meritocracy has forged, and a search for outsiders with thinner resumes but better instincts.”

As Douthout points out, it won’t do America any good to “replace the arrogant with the ignorant, the overconfident with the incompetent.”

It may be time to redefine “merit” to include self-awareness, and to recognize that “intelligence” is more than IQ points. A bit of humility is the beginning of wisdom–and what America desperately needs right now is less self-assurance and bluster, and a lot more wisdom.



The Things You (Sometimes) Learn from the Newspaper!

This morning’s Indianapolis Star had a bit of real reporting amid the multiple sports and “human interest” stories. Apparently, a bill being shepherded through the legislature would give sole authority for establishing new toll roads to the Governor. Well, not to just any governor–the measure would remain in effect for only four years.

As many of us recall, a couple of years ago Governor Daniels unveiled a plan to build a toll road around Indianapolis–outside I465. The public response was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. City planners pointed out that “ring roads” of this sort suck traffic away from city centers, and that such a project would likely deal a blow to the resurgence of Indianapolis’ downtown. Environmentalists argued that the billions expended on such a project would be better spent on rail and mass-transit. The general public opposed it for a variety of other reasons.

Our Governor may be small, but he’s determined. And he’s serenely confident that he knows better than the public what the public needs. Hence, a bill that will let him do things his way, without the distractions of that pesky “democracy” thing.

What lessons might we take away from this morning’s article?

  1. Jefferson was right: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. People in power may give lip service to democracy and the “will of the people,” but given half a chance, they’ll dump democratic processes for unrestrained power in a heartbeat.
  2. Citizens need journalism. We need to know what our public officials are doing, what they are proposing, how they are conducting themselves in office. Increasingly, in our internet age, we need to know who is telling the truth, and who is lying to us. That need is particularly acute at the state and local level. But real reporting costs money, so our local newspapers are thinner and thinner, and more and more of what’s left is fluff: recipes, fashion, weight-loss advice and, of course, sports.

This morning’s story reminded us why “the press” has constitutional status. It is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the public–our watchdog. When it does its job–like this morning–we the people have at least a fighting chance.

Customer Disservice

It must be nice to be Apple.

I keep hearing that the economy is still depressed, but the news clearly hasn’t reached the purveyors of cool. Like many others, I have been waiting for the release of the IPad 2. I was not sufficiently techno-crazy to line up on the first day they were released, so I figured I’d wait until the middle of the following week. Today was the day.

Now, I live downtown, and the only Apple store in Indianapolis is on the far north side, so I did what any prudent person would: I called. And called. And called. Fifteen times, as a matter of fact. The phone was never answered. So (despite my husband’s prediction that they wouldn’t have any in stock) we drove the 86 blocks to the bedlam that is the Apple Store.

When I finally found one of the numerous clerks to help me, he confirmed my husband’s prediction: No IPads in stock. When would they get another shipment? “We get stuff every day, but we don’t know what’s coming–sometimes there are IPads, sometimes not.” Could I order one? No, all orders needed to be handled online. Was there some reason no one was answering the phone?  “We only have one operator, and when new products come out, she can’t keep up. Happens all the time.” Has it ever occurred to you to put extra operators on duty when new products come out? No.

I think Apple’s marketing strategy is: make them beg for it. The more arrogant we are, the more they’ll want it.

So I came home and–like the consumerist sheep I have become–I ordered online.

It will be four to five weeks for the IPad to be delivered. No estimates on when I’ll regain my self-respect.