Sina-cism: The word on Trumpian truths from Assumption College

As Weiner (himself a former newspaper reporter) notes, “It is the media’s discomfort with objective truth that disqualifies it from being believed when it calls Trump on his violations of objective truth now.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs contains a thought-provoking essay by Greg Weiner, assistant professor of political science at Worcester’s Assumption College, titled “Trump and Truth.”

Weiner lays out, in carefully reasoned prose, exactly why our current president’s difficulties with the truth matter.

His point is not — or not exclusively, anyway — to take issue with this policy or that pronouncement by the 44th occupant of the White House [Grover Cleveland, remember, served as president twice in nonconsecutive terms.]. I am sure that Weiner, like any thinking American (including many who cast ballots for Trump) has a qualm or two (or many) regarding the man’s comportment.

Anti-Trump screeds being as common as inane Twitter posts, however, Weiner wisely takes another, more interesting path. He returns to several touchstone authors of our Western culture — Aristotle, Thucydides, Madison and Orwell among them — to explore the fate of “logos.”

Or, to put it more plainly, the word. Language. And, by extension, political discourse and meaning in present-day America.

You may have guessed that Weiner concludes that language and meaning matter. The interesting part is how he gets there, and the stops along the way.

Sina-cism: From Manchester to Worcester, our common heritage is under assault

The Manchester attack resonates so deeply precisely because when we look into the life and history of that English city and its people, we see so much of ourselves.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

England — and civilized peoples everywhere — again lament the deaths of innocents. Once more the flowers are piled high, terror alert levels are at maximum, and police raids are underway in search of terrorist accomplices.

In Manchester, England — where at least 22 children and adults were slain during last Monday night’s nail bomb suicide attack at a concert — grief, nervousness and anger abound. The rituals of London, including the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, have been disrupted with the deployment of British troops on the streets.

And from Whitehall to Washington, the all-too-familiar debates are renewed — debates over immigration, refugees, assimilation, and the violence that seems increasingly to characterize the encounters between “Western” and “radical Islamic” cultures.

No debate will breathe life into the departed. Those who perished in Manchester — children, young adults, parents — have been added to the ever-lengthening lists of terrorism’s victims. For their families, friends and communities, life has been altered beyond recognition. Perhaps beyond endurance.

For now there is only consolation. In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be some measure of healing. For some, time may even bring forgiveness. Or not.

Sina-cism: McGovern peddling Social Security snake oil

Debate often quickly runs aground on the hotly contested question of whether the Social Security Trust Funds are real or an accounting trick. Liberals insist every penny goes where it should. Conservatives argue “there’s no ‘there’ there.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, was at the Worcester Senior Center last week with fellow Democratic congressman John Larson of Connecticut to peddle the “Social Security 2100” bill.

Like traveling salesmen, this pair promised the world.

Their bill would increase benefits, hike annual cost-of-living adjustments, help elderly workers, ensure Social Security remains solvent into the 22nd century, and cost individual contributors less than the proverbial cup of coffee each week.

Perhaps they meant kopi luwak, Vietnamese weasel coffee, which is produced by civets ingesting and defecating coffee beans and sells for hundreds of dollars per pound.

In my opinion, Social Security’s solvency can be extended in one of two ways.

One way is by adopting a chained Consumer Price Index, raising the retirement and early retirement ages, investing some of the Social Security Trust Fund in stock indexes, and slowly reducing payroll taxes so younger workers can boost contributions to their 401(k) and IRA plans, which offer higher yields.

The other way is to raise taxes.

The difference is that only the first approach solves Social Security’s problems in the long term.

Sina-cism: Fighting what never was to create what never can be

Warren has never seen a tax cut she liked. In her view, Reagan was notable only for busting unions and deregulating industries.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s latest book, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” is dedicated “To the people of Massachusetts, who sent me into this fight,” so I am confident that includes me. Otherwise, she would have omitted the comma, thus limiting the dedication to those voters who actually cast a ballot for her.

So I bought a copy and spent part of an otherwise gorgeous spring weekend imbibing the political wisdom of our senior senator.

Warren’s previous effort to build her presidential résumé, “A Fighting Chance,” came when she was new to politics. We got to learn about her Native American heritage (OK, just one passing mention) and up-from-poverty past.

This latest installment in résumé-building, subtitled “The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class,” is 270 pages of partisanship, perhaps to be expected from someone who never stops telling us how deeply she cares about every left-wing cause. But she undermines herself. Warren spends so much time demonizing Republicans that when we get to what passes for serious policy discussion, her credibility is shot.

More Sina-cism on Warren: A liberal dose of ‘no’

Sina-cism: Expressway to the future, maybe

The interstates — built for speed on relatively uncongested land — bypassed downtowns throughout America. Many withered. Some died.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

As a child, I wondered why construction zones existed along finished highways. Surely so imposing a structure in concrete, steel and macadam could not be moved by even the hyperborean blasts of New England!

Clearly the serpentine bulk of Interstate 290 that bisected Worcester had not always existed, but I assumed it had materialized in the 1950s, when post-World War II affluence and American confidence — less encumbered by environmental and human considerations than today — had given our nation a modern transportation network.

But I-290 was not as old as I imagined.

Its first mile, from Harrison Street to Belmont Street, opened on Sept. 30, 1960, just two days after Ted Williams’ last game for the Red Sox — in which he famously homered in the final at-bat of his Hall-of-Fame career.

That Friday evening, TV viewers could view the first episode of “The Flintstones,” set in a fanciful Stone Age where cars were made of stone and wood, powered by human feet, and had nothing so grand to run upon as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

Last week’s Sina-cism: All we have to fear is … well, you know …

Not until the June 1970 opening of the Quinsigamond Bridge could motorists take I-290 to Marlborough. They might have gone farther. Plans called for I-290 to bend southeast through Northborough and Westborough centers to rejoin the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Sina-cism: That serpent, fear, stalks America

The international and global problems we face require much more cooperation and are not wholly within our control, but even they are merely variations on past problems.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

What are you afraid of? Terrorism? Illegal immigrants? Losing your job to a robot? Donald Trump’s latest tweet or executive order? North Korea? A rattlesnake attacking you while you’re hiking around the Quabbin Reservoir?

Some of these fears could be realized.

Terrorism is a grim reality. Some illegal immigrants commit crimes. Technology replaces some jobs (and creates others). Trump has made and will make mistakes. North Korea could be the flashpoint for a major conflict.

But in most cases, even when such things come to pass, they are unlikely to directly affect the vast majority of those who worry about them. Tragedies are tragic enough without compounding their pain through constant worry.

The least likely on the above list, rattlesnakes, serves to illustrate how irrational we humans can be.

Sina-cism: What if Trump is right about something?

I realize some of you would prefer to simply dismiss everything Trump does, says, or believes as wrong, simply because he did, said or believed it.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

It has been three months since Donald Trump occupied the White House, and I can’t decide which has been more amusing: Watching the administration learn as it goes, or watching the left demonize its every move.

To be sure, our nation’s forty-fifth president is often less than presidential. Botched immigration orders and tweets worthy of junior high school come to mind.

But Trump’s resolve to stand up to the Assad regime in Syria and Vladimir Putin’s heinous role there could mark a refreshing change from the Obama years — provided Trump follows tough talk with clear goals and coherent strategy.

And Neil Gorsuch was a superb choice for the Supreme Court — with a brilliant legal mind, personal grace, and a nonpartisan attitude the nation needs.

Usually, however, things aren’t so clear. That is the case when it comes to H-1B visas.

Sina-cism: Fear what’s just around the corner

What more evidence does one need to conclude that distractions are killing us — drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians alike?
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

In 1935, Grant Wood produced one of his most iconic paintings, “Death on the Ridge Road,” a dark commentary on the perilousness of life on the American road — and perhaps a commentary on life itself.

In the painting a red box truck and two sleek black cars seem to be headed for a fatal encounter on a narrow country road.

The 1930s were hard times in many ways in the U.S., and not least on the nation’s roads, where nearly 35,000 perished, at a time when there were many fewer vehicles and a lot less driving. The death rate stood at an astounding 15.09 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel (VMT).

Things have gotten a lot better since 1935. Recently, however, the data have veered in the wrong direction.

Sina-cism: When it comes to education, licensure has nothing to do with it

Do you know the difference between schooling and education?

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

A recent cover story in Worcester Magazine — which touched upon the difficulties of obtaining a teaching license and concerns about teachers in the Worcester Public Schools whose licenses may be nearing expiration — reminded me of that distinction.

“Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling,” economist Milton Friedman wrote in “Capitalism and Freedom,” his 1962 manifesto on economic and political liberty. “The proper subject of concern is education. The activities of government are mostly limited to schooling.”

When Friedman wrote those words, the federal Department of Education did not exist. It was created by President Jimmy Carter on Oct. 17, 1979. In 2016, the DoED employed 4,400 people and had a $68 billion budget — proving Americans possess a genius for creating useless bureaucracies.

Sina-cism: ‘Coming Apart,’ at Middlebury and elsewhere

How did the privileged youth of Middlebury arrive at such a state of intellectual poverty? Perhaps because they live in a social bubble, and are unable or unwilling to face the social truths Murray outlines.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The recent, lamentable history of anti-intellectualism at American colleges reached a new low on March 2, when students at Vermont’s Middlebury College shouted down and derided sociologist and author Charles Murray, preventing him from delivering a talk about his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”

An explanation of what happened, including a video of the students’ behavior, is available here [or watch the video below] from Middlebury faculty member Matthew Dickinson.

After the abortive talk, Murray was taken to a private room to conduct an interview with faculty member Allison Stanger. Later, leaving the building, they were blocked by a mob, which pushed and shoved them, then rocked and pounded on their car.

Stanger sustained whiplash and a concussion. She wrote about her experience in this New York Times column.

While the behavior of students and other agitators was disturbingly violent and close-minded, Stanger writes that she was “…genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgment on Dr. Murray’s work and character without ever having read anything he has written,” and that “Intelligent members of the Middlebury community — including some of my own students and advisees — concluded that Charles Murray was an anti-gay white nationalist from what they were hearing from one another, and what they read on the Southern Poverty Law Center website.”

Related Sina-cism: On guns, college profs rarely straight shooters