Jewish World Review June 10, 2003 / 10 Sivan, 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Umpires, judges and others

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Major league umpires are complaining about an electronic device that is being used to check how accurately they are calling balls and strikes. They say that the device itself is too variable to be relied on.

Whatever the merits of each side in this issue, it all sounds much like judges complaining about restrictive sentencing guidelines and the "three strikes and you are out" laws which lock up repeat felons for life. From neither the umpires nor the judges is there the slightest acknowledgement that their own willful and arbitrary behavior is what brought on this reaction.

For years now, there have been complaints that every umpire seems to have his own personal strike zone, despite the rules of baseball which specify what is a strike and what is a ball. Some umpires have even complained when television cameras took overhead pictures showing that some pitches that were called strikes had in fact never passed over any part of the plate.

Some umpires called "high strikes," some called "low strikes" and some were said to retaliate against pitchers or batters who complain by adjusting the size of the strike zone to their disadvantage.

All of history says that arbitrary power goes to people's heads, whether they are umpires, judges, or Howell Raines of the New York Times. When judges get headstrong and disregard the rules, the consequences can be far more disastrous than they are in a baseball game or a newspaper.

Only after years -- indeed, decades -- of judges bending over backwards to let criminals off the hook have legislators begun passing laws to keep felons behind bars where they belong, instead of out on the street victimizing more people. These laws are not perfect, but those who whine about their imperfections pass over in utter silence the reckless judicial behavior that made such laws necessary.

It is much the same story in our public schools. Teachers' unions complain bitterly about outside testing of students, claiming that the tests are flawed, that "teaching to the test" distorts education and miscellaneous other whines and smoke screens.

The cold fact is that these tests came about only after decades of dumbing down of academic standards -- which the education establishment ignored, denied or blamed on every conceivable thing other than themselves. Anything wrong with parents, students or society was taken as proof that there was nothing wrong with the schools.

All the complaints about the imperfections of the tests fail to acknowledge the irresponsible self-indulgences -- including iron-clad tenure for incompetent teachers --that made tests necessary.

I don't know whether the new electronic camera for calling balls and strikes is better or worse than the umpires, or how much it will improve over time. But I do know that it was not just a bolt from the blue.

Neither were the restrictions put on judges who seemed hell-bent to let murderers roam the streets again or tests for schools where students are treated as a captive audience to be propagandized with political correctness or as guinea pigs to be experimented with to try out the latest fads.

We the public have been far too trusting and gullible when it comes to putting arbitrary powers in the hands of people who are not accountable to anyone.

One group that has not yet been reined in are social workers, who have wreaked havoc in the lives of children, whether by ripping them out of their homes because of unsubstantiated accusations by anonymous informants or by putting them back into homes where they have already been abused -- and where some have subsequently been killed.

Like teachers, social workers indulge themselves in all sorts of unsubstantiated notions which turn into dogmas when their establishment refuses to test these notions against evidence. Dogmas about teaching "parenting skills" or "anger management" can cost children their lives.

Accountability may be old-fashioned but it is not obsolete. It is our only hope when there are headstrong people with power.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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