Can One Teach College Students How to Write?

Forty-three or so years ago, I had lunch in my residential college at Yale with Donald Kagan, with whom I had three years before taken a couple of courses on ancient history. I had won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and I was considering getting a Ph.D. in history in due course and teaching college for a living. Don was encouraging, but he urged me not to underestimate the downside. Half of what you end up doing, he said, will be no more interesting than driving a truck.

I am not sure whether Don got the proportion right, but his basic point was correct — and I was reminded of his remarks yesterday and again today as I graded the first batch of freshman papers to come my way. I have been doing this, I realized, for four full decades now. I have graded something like 8,000 undergraduate essays, I thought, and what does anyone have to show for it?

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A Shameful Confession…

I admit to writing this essay with a great deal of trepidation. As a Conservative, and as an American, and moreover as a Male, a Husband, and a Father, I feel that I have failed in fulfilling my moral, familial, and community obligations. I have gone back over this confession many times, have rehearsed the words in my mind and aloud in the confines of my garage many times, yet still my fingers tremble as I type this. I apologize to you all and beg for your forgiveness.

For I have been harboring a shameful and dark secret now for many years, and while I would, for your sakes and for your peace of mind, gladly continue to live this lie, I am driven to confess for the sake of my own sanity. I cannot even look my own wife or our own dear, sweet daughters in the eyes any more, concealing this festering wound as I do. I must unburden myself and throw my fate upon your mercy.

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Obamacare Architect Thinks We Should Die by 75

Ezekiel Emanuel, former White House Special Adviser on Obamacare and current Director of Clinical Bioethics at NIH, has decided the optimal age for death: Seventy-five.

Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

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Aye or Nae, Smaller Nations on the Rise

Today’s vote in Scotland, no matter the result, continues the trend of smaller and smaller nations. Scotland raises the question of how big a state should be. We are living through a period of the collapse of large nations into smaller, more homogenous, parts. There were 74 independent states at the end of World War II. There are about 195 today. Nation-states could be broken up into even smaller and smaller pieces, even into city-states like the ancient Greek world or Renaissance Italy.

Where does it end? Not now.

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Your Prompt For the Day — Is Physical Discipline Bad for Children?

The editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times is out with a piece today praising the fact that the Minnesota Vikings have decided to bench star running back Adrian Peterson until his child abuse case is resolved. In the course of doing so, they take an immoderate stance on the topic at hand:

We’re hoping … that the most important reason for Peterson’s benching doesn’t get lost in the shuffle: It’s never okay to hit a child — even if your parents did it to you and you turned out all right. Not only can it be harmful to kids, but it doesn’t change children’s behavior for the better. In other words, it doesn’t work. That includes a well-intended swat here and there.

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The Making of a FiCon

My teenage daughter, who is very keen on astrophysics and space exploration, came to me in a huff. She had watched a video that claimed a manned Mars mission was now only a matter of money, not engineering. “According to the video, if everyone in the country paid something like only half a penny, NASA would have the money they need for the mission!”

I don’t know enough about the science to evaluate the truth of the engineering claim without further research. But we had a fruitful discussion of whether money is truly the only obstacle in government bureaucracies, who pays taxes, how much they pay, where the spending goes, and what the disincentive effects are of taxes on the labor supply.

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Why the President Doesn’t Want Boots on the Ground

Polls rule this White House. Other Presidents have relied upon public opinion, but no previous administration has been as poll-driven as the current one. Their use of high-tech is astounding and, in some respects, to be admired. They’re good at it—better than all of their predecessors.

They focus group concepts 24/7, rounding up targeted demographic groups and questioning them both in person and digitally as to their attitudes regarding major issues of the day. From “What do you fear most about the new healthcare law?” (answer: that they’d lose their insurance and not be able to keep their doctors—hence the President’s famous fumble) to whether or not D.C. should become the 51st State, folks are polled in a variety of ways. They have their finger on the pulse of the people like no other White House in history. 

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What Will the Scots Do?

About independence, that is. Right now, no one has a clear idea of how the referendum vote today will go. The latest polls suggest a slim lead for the ‘no’ vote. There are some indications that support for the ‘yes’ vote may have peaked too early last week. But there’s no clear picture on the horizon.

What is clear is what a ‘yes’ vote will bring. Scottish “independence” (the quotation marks are necessary, as I’ll explain in a minute) means the dissolution of a 307-year-old political union between the then-kingdom of Scotland and the then-Kingdom of England, Ireland, and Wales into the United Kingdom. Proponents of the referendum, like Scottish premier Alex Salmond, point out that Ireland left the union some time ago and has prospered since. So will Scotland, goes the argument, especially once the newly independent nation sheds the livery of London and takes on that of Brussels and the European Union instead.

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The Shocking Lack of Historical Knowledge in Today’s America

This is a verbatim transcript of a conversation at work last night:

Colleague: Dennis Rodman is going to meet with ISIS. [This was a rumor going around the internet]

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Snowden, Eminem, and New Zealand’s Election

402px-Edward-Snowden-FOPF-2014In his relentless drive for relevancy, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden has injected himself into New Zealand’s politics on the eve of its general election. Appearing on Monday via video link at an event hosted by fellow fugitive Kim Dotcom – who is wanted by U.S. prosecutors on piracy charges — Snowden alleged that Prime Minister John Key and senior government officials lied to the public about the activities of New Zealand’s spy agency, the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB).

Snowden — who was joined by the reporter-activist Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame — claimed that the GCSB was planning to implement a system of mass surveillance of its citizens with the help of the NSA. According to Snowden, the GCSB “is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, sattelite, radio and phone networks”.

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If the Scots Secede, Who’s Next?

In yesterday’s New York Times, Scottish actor Alan Cumming, argued in favor of an independent Scotland as follows:

This is not about hating the English. It is about democracy and self-determination. Scotland is weary of being ruled by governments it did not vote for.

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Sex And A South Carolina University

shutterstock_147828989I have a friend (who shall remain nameless), who was chosen many a year ago to edit the student newspaper at a public high school (that shall also remain nameless). Assuming the reins of power, he and his fellow editors sent out a prank survey to the rising freshman, asking them about their sexual activity. Needless to say, there were a number of irate parents who called the principal of the school, and my friend had some explaining to do.

I mention these youthful shenanigans because yesteryear’s prank is now a solemn responsibility at Clemson University in South Carolina: if you want to remain a student at the university or prosper as a faculty member, you must fill out a detailed survey — conducted on the university’s behalf by a third party — in which you are required to describe your drinking habits, sexual activity, and attitudes there toward:

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The Ricochet Podcast
Tartan Spicy


This week, the tuned-out (and checked-out) President; James Delingpole on the Scottish secession vote, UKIP, and the horror that is Rotherham; Then, who’s more unpopular, Ebola or ISIS? Also, a rare Ricochet Podcast sports topic: the NFL’s worst week ever; And which one of the guys will buy an Apple Watch? The answer may surprise you.

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Tracked and Targeted
Hillary, Hollywood & Hot Tubbing With George

Schlichter Kruiser Katz Tracked and Targeted

Are you ready for some red meat?

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Sports Scandals Are Ruining My Favorite Time of Year

GoodellWhen I picked up my kids from school today, I turned to a Phoenix sports radio station for the half-hour update.

First story: Police arrested Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer on suspicion of aggravated assault.

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An Appeal to the West from a Ukrainian Patriot

With Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko scheduled to address Congress tomorrow, we must understand that he faces both the external problem that we follow closely and an internal problem about which we hear little. The external problem is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which has led to over 3,000 deaths. The internal problem is Ukraine’s political crisis which Irina Gokieli addresses below.

The Maidan revolution was a popular uprising against Russian domination, against a corrupt political class, and against a society that lacked a rule of law. In her essay, Irina describes Ukraine’s hard road in fighting both an external and an internal conflict with a parliamentary election looming in the near future. As Mikhail Gorbachev before him in Russia, Poroshenko faces a parliament that reflects the corruption and abuse of the ruling elite that has held sway over Ukraine since independence. She issues an urgent appeal to the West to pressure Ukraine to deal with its internal problems, without which Ukraine has little hope of prevailing over Russian aggression.

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What is the Scent of a Liberal?

Yesterday’s Pravda-on-the-Hudson reported that the political science profession has done it again. It has come up with something that you desperately need to know:

Conservatives and liberals do not smell the same to potential mates. According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Political Science, people can literally sniff out ideology — and this may explain why so many couples share political beliefs. Or, as the study’s title says, “Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues.”

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The National Fatty Registry

Yes, we have one, and apparently I’m on it.

Today I went to see a doctor to clear up his misconceptions about whether or not I am required to seek a sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment to maintain my physical qualification for a commercial drivers license. During the paperwork (which takes more time than the actual physical) he said, “I wonder if I put you on the registry?” He flipped through a notepad and declared me one of the first he had reported to the government for having an above average BMI and/or other risk factors for obstuctive sleep apnea and stated that he would have to update the information.

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The Tiny Little Problem with Carbon Taxes

Economists frequently offer carbon taxes as a market-friendly policy for dealing with climate change. It’s pretty simple: Tax what you don’t want (or as an economist would put, tax unwanted externalities). And if you want less fossil fuel consumption and the carbon emissions that go with it, make coal, oil, and natural gas more expensive with a levy. But there is a slight– I feel embarrassed even to mention it — problem with carbon taxes, according to Jesse Jenkins of the Breakthrough Institute:

There’s only one hitch: people generally want their energy to be cheaper, not more expensive!  In July, Australia repealed its carbon tax, ending a brutal, decade-long fight over climate policy. The repeal is just the latest and most glaring example of the extremelyuphillpolitical battle facing any effort to put a hefty price on carbon—i.e., a price sufficient to fully internalize the social costs of CO2 emissions and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The Libertarian Podcast: Classical Liberalism and the GOP

After finishing a taping of one of our recent Libertarian podcasts, Professor Epstein — who, as many of you have noticed, is not much prone to partisan loyalties —began an impromptu soliloquy (as if he could do any other) on his hangups with both Democrats and Republicans. It was that conversation that prompted a new two-episode series in which Richard is examining each party — both today and over the past 100 years or so — and analyzing their relative strengths and weaknesses from a classical liberal point of view. Today, the GOP installment. Next week, we’ll release the version with the Democrats. Listen in below:

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Happy Constitution Day!

Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, 40 men from 13 states signed the constitution produced by the Philadelphia Convention. On June 21 of the following year, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, thereby activating it. New York and Virginia quickly followed suit and North Carolina and Rhode Island limped in by the the end of 1789.

While there’s credit to go around, the true heroes of the day were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington. In a little-known part of the tale, the three of them hijacked the Annapolis Convention of 1786 — convened to help settle trade disputes and reduce tariffs between the states — and used it to call for a second convention to consider amending the Articles of Confederation. Largely through their leadership, that meeting overstepped its mandate and proposed an entirely new form of government. What Adams did to the Continental Congress in 1776, they repeated twice in the decade that followed.

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A Debate on War Powers and ISIS

On Monday, I debated Bruce Fein of the Committee for the Republic (which I think supports an isolationist foreign policy) in Washington, D.C. on war powers and the Obama campaign against ISIS. For those interested, you will see a good back and forth on the constitutional and legal issues involved. But what deeply surprised me was Fein’s belief, apparently shared by many in the audience, that members of the U.S. government and military deliberately provoke fear and seek to make war so as to benefit themselves when they leave public service and enter the private sector. The far political left and right meet when they both repeat the shallow Marxist critiques of the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy.

Did I overreact? You can watch the debate here, via C-SPAN.

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The Milt Rosenberg Show
Is Terrorist Mass Murder Now the Default Position for Radical Islam?

So says Martin Kramer, long-term Director of the major strategy research center at Tel Aviv University and now President of Shalem College in Jerusalem. How and why the Islamic State movement has become a potent rallying cause (and who will do what with which to turn them back) is discussed here with Kramer and political scientist Charles Lipson…and the prospect is, to say the least, grim.


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Are Republicans Going To Blow It Again?

More evidence that Republicans are flailing without a plan of action. Nate Silver* now has Democrats pulling close to even in the battle for the Senate:

Republicans’ odds have improved in several important races since the launch of our model. Democrats’ odds have improved in several others. But the two states with the largest shifts have been Colorado and North Carolina — in both cases, the movement has been in Democrats’ direction. That accounts for most of the difference in the forecast.

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