Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just somehow unappealing

Some dispiriting New York City news is that the city is likely to forfeit $60 million in "Race to the Top" school funding, since the Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers have been unable to meet the deadline to come to an agreement on the subject of teacher evaluations. DOE officials refused the union's demand for an outside arbitrator for teachers with bad evaluations to appeal to; refused the union's offer to submit the issue itself to binding arbitration; and ultimately walked out on discussions. Don't tell me this is the union's fault!
Jackal-headed Anubis and ibis-headed Thoth weighing the heart of the deceased against the feather of Truth; a good result is when the two are in perfect balance.

It's symptomatic, too, of a pretty deplorable trend throughout our Republic in the way people look at the spirit, as opposed to the letter, of the law...
The presumption of innocence and all those beautiful fourth- and fifth-amendment things did not come about through some contemplative Cartesian exercise in thinking about the way things ought to be. Kings used to be able to throw you in jail because they didn't like your opinions, or because they wanted your house. It was real-life abuses of royal prerogative that brought about the Revolution, and it was to prevent such abuses that the Constitution and its amendments were written--the founders knew that, king or no king, power has to be constrained; as a great liberal pro-American in England put it,
Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my Lords, that where law ends, there tyranny begins. (William Pitt the Elder, in a speech to the House of Lords on behalf of the radical John Wilkes)
When we're talking about the need for teachers to appeal a judgment to somebody outside the system, it is in the understanding that New York teachers really have been given bad ratings because the principal didn't like them.

And when we complain that the President should not have the authority to call somebody a terrorist and jail that somebody without a legal hearing, or condemn him to death by drone, it is with the knowledge that hundreds if not thousands of entirely innocent Afghans and Iraqis have really been thrown into jail so that somebody could collect a bounty payment and kept there by the lies of interrogators and prosecutors, and that the Obama administration, while apparently discontinuing at least the worst practices, has refused to see anybody brought to justice for this.

Riffing in Victorian times on Pitt's apothegm as quoted above, Baron Acton went a bit further than the way he is commonly quoted: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Maybe the last sentence is usually left out because it goes a bit too far. I don't mean to suggest in particular that I do not like Barack Obama, still less that I won't vote for him--I do and I will!--but merely that like my teenage son, who is pretty lovable, but for very different reasons, he can't be trusted. That's what the laws are for. Wish I could communicate that to him... As for the New York DOE and our new chancellor Dennis Walcott, I don't think they are able to get it at all.

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