Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Rather Sweet Melody Was Heard

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports,
In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Schopp said Wednesday that the state intends to use 2010 benchmarks in calculating whether public school students and schools made "adequate yearly progress" in this spring.

It means, for example, that only 63 percent of high school juniors at a school will have to have scored proficient in math last spring, instead of 72 percent. Just 69 percent of students in grades 3-8 must have scored proficient in reading, not 76 percent.
Schopp's logic is impeccable.  The article claims she wants to send "a message that she's tired of waiting for Congress to update No Child Left Behind."  Further,
"Without making these changes, we believe our accountability system, as it currently stands, would inappropriately label schools as failing. This situation would eventually trigger a number of NCLB-related sanctions that our department simply does not have the capacity to address," Schopp wrote to Duncan.
Of course, Schopp's move is not without risk.
By going ahead with the plan, Schopp acknowledged the state "could potentially be out of compliance" with No Child Left Behind, meaning the government could withhold funding.
Losing funding frightens me, but this may be worth the risk, especially if other states go along.  The Argus Leader goes on,
Like South Dakota, Idaho is not waiting to see what that plan will be. Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna last week was the first education chief to announce his state's plans to defy No Child Left Behind.
I'm going to quibble with the august publication a bit.  Montana informed Duncan in May that that state would not be raising its requirements.  If I'm not a good enough source for the Argus Leader, NPR agrees.
Our story implied that Idaho was the first state to refuse to comply with No Child Left Behind. Actually, Montana sent a letter to the Education Department in April, announcing that state would not be raising its NCLB requirements. That letter preceded Idaho's announcement.
The larger point is that Duncan is not going to punish 15 or 20 states.  If others join South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho, the funding levels will remain the same.  One would hope that fewer strings will be attached.

The Glass Is Not Only Half Empty; It's Also Cracked And Leaking

Bob Mercer put a sinking feeling in my stomach when he posted "State budget trouble is worse than expected."  Mercer reports,
. . . tax receipts through May were $3.6 million lower than the Legislature expected. Sales and use tax revenue is almost precisely on the mark in the Legislature’s estimate. But contractor excise tax revenue is $57.5 million through the 11 months of the 2011 fiscal year. That is below the $59.2 million mark for the similar period a year ago and well below the Legislature’s $63 million target for this point.
In short, Mercer's reporting hints that Daugaard and his cronies will say that less money than is expected is available, so education will have take another hit during the 2012 legislative session.

This Answer Sheet post by Jack Jennings asserts,
As tough as things were financially for school districts last year, prospects are even bleaker in the coming school year, according to data from a nationally representative sample of school districts released today by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

In addition to being squeezed by state and district belt-tightening, most districts will no longer have the cushion they had last year from federal stimulus funds that pumped millions of dollars into state and local education budgets.
Jennings makes my stomach churn a bit more when he provides the following statistics.
While 70 percent of school districts nationwide experienced funding cuts in the 2010-11 school year, that percentage is expected to rise to 84 percent in the coming 2011-12 school year — and 63 percent of these districts expect cuts to exceed 5 percent of their existing budgets.
I gulped a handful of Tums and added a few Rolaids after reading this nugget.
School systems are experiencing a triple whammy. Federal resources are drying up at the same time that state budgets are being cut and revenues from local property taxes are shrinking due to falling housing prices and foreclosures.
I've often been called a pessimist.  I prefer to think of myself as a realist, but no matter what one calls oneself, it's pretty clear that South Dakota schools can expect more funding cuts in 2012

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's a Bad Day To Be Michele Bachmann: Why Do The Liberals Write All The Popular Songs

Tom Petty won't let Michele Bachmann play 'American Girl.  From Rolling Stone,
Michele Bachmann hasn't exactly gotten her campaign off to the best start. It's bad enough to confuse movie legend John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy and crazily insist that John Quincy Adams was a founding father at the age of nine – but now she's gone and pissed off Tom Petty. The Minnesota congresswoman played "American Girl" yesterday when she walked onstage at a rally, and Rolling Stone has confirmed reports that Petty's management team immediately sent the Bachmann campaign a cease and desist letter.
The Rolling Stone article reminds us that Petty prevented George W. Bush from using "I Won't Back Down,"; Heart prevented Sarah Palin from using "Barracuda," and both Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp prevented John McCain from using their songs.

All of this history prompts two questions.  First, why do the conservative cultural warriors who constantly complain about popular culture want to identify themselves by using the product?  Second, does this misuse of popular music mean that Shane can have his "Flooded Nuke Plant '11 Benefit Concert"?

More Was It Worth It?

The original estimate for unfunded, undeclared wars was $1.3 trillion and a shredded Constitution. The estimate of the fiscal cost has risen. Writing in The Fiscal Times, Jennifer DePaul reports,

The final price tag for American military involvement in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan will cost taxpayers up to $4.4 trillion, according to a new study.

Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies found that the federal government has already spent between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion on the overseas War on Terror in the 10 years since the 9/11 terror attacks. If the wars continue, they are on track to dole out at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020, the “Costs of War” study said. At the minimum, the total costs for American involvement could cost taxpayers $3.7 trillion.

The study’s projections do not include state and local medical costs for injured veterans, and the promised $5.3 billion reconstruction aid in Afghanistan. The estimates also do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due through 2020. The wars have been financed almost entirely by borrowing; $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending.
Further, DePaul writes, "at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians have been killed in the wars. The number of war refugees and displaced persons are more than 7.8 million among Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis."

Andrew Sullivan reminds us of an equally disturbing fact: Bin Laden used "just a handful of men with boxcutters" to induce America to run up these costs.

Is The Confederacy Endorsing Michele Bachmann?: A Minor Theological Musing

Even if I give Michele Bachmann a pass on being confused by John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy, she continues to confuse me.

Writing for The Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg reports
At Coburn, Bachmann studied with John Eidsmoe, who she recently described as "one of the professors who had a great influence on me." Bachmann served as his research assistant on the 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, which argued that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy, and that it should become one again. "The church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God," Eidsmoe wrote. "In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy."

Eidsmoe, who hung up the phone when asked for an interview, is a contentious figure. Last year, he withdrew from speaking at a Wisconsin Tea Party rally after the Associated Press raised questions about his history of addresses to white supremacist groups. In 2010, speaking a rally celebrating Alabama's secession from the Union, he claimed that Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than Abraham Lincoln.
Let's begin with the irony alert.  A woman seeking the nomination of the party of Lincoln claims that a person who believes that Jefferson Davis "understood the Constitution better than Abraham Lincoln" had a great positive influence on her.  Why would one become a Republican if one believes secession was the proper course?

Further, Bachmann and her influential professor seem to imply that the US government shares a unique relationship with God akin to that shared by Old Testament Israel.  At a simple level, what happened to Christ's injunction to render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's?  That phrasing, taken at either a metaphoric or literal literal level, implies that both the secular state and the religious realm have divine protection.  Further, Romans 13 states,
1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For
 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
I've always been confused by people proudly asserting that the US was uniquely established by God if there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."  It seems all governments come from God. I freely admit my finite human wisdom doesn't understand how that can be fact when North Korea exists, but  I'll accept Isaiah 55:8-9
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.   
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my  thoughts than your thoughts.
Still, doesn't the fact that the "powers that be are ordained by God" and whoever " resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God," imply that the Confederacy was resisting God when it seceded from the Union?  It seems that Bachmann and her professor are siding with sinners when they claim Davis and Calhoun were more correct than Lincoln, the elected leader of a divinely established government.

Writing in the New Republic, Ed Kilgore asserts that Republican leaders
will find another angle to go after Bachmann, such as her occasionally isolationist-sounding foreign policy views. But the bottom line is that Bachmann’s moment in the sun makes her vulnerable to attacks that are being formulated as we speak, and we’ll know soon enough who takes the lead in cutting her down to size, and whether it actually works.
Maybe Republicans should look to their first President for ways to put Bachmann's extremism in perspective.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Life Goal Update: Another Way To Become A Walking Oxymoron

This tweet by Diane Ravitch adds to my desire to become a fine and profane gentleman.
Daniel Bell: a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture, but not consistently so. A consistent thinker.
I don't know as much about Daniel Bell as I should, but the ability to be "a consistent thinker" while holding views that most would find contradictory strikes me as being worth the effort achieve.

Why Does None of This Sound Reassuring?: Nebraska Nuclear Power Plant Update

I've mentioned flood threats to Nebraska's nuclear power plants before.  I'm not predicting disaster, but I am getting a little knot in the pit of my stomach.  Many media outlets seem to be ignoring the story.  This morning's Daily Beast Cheat Sheet doesn't mention the food threat to Fort Calhoun plant.  It does find Charlie Sheen important.  To it's credit it does also mention the fire threatening the Los Alamos plant.

This story should  get more coverage than Sheen or an 80 year old mobster.  This New York Times article reports
Vital equipment like generators, pumps and controls are dry, according to the power company and to Mr. Jaczko, who spent a couple of hours clambering over walls of sandbags and inspecting waterproof barriers, some of which were added in recent months at the commission’s insistence.
I'm not really convinced that having people spend "a couple of hours clambering over walls of sandbags" means the plant safe.  The following also gives me pause
Technically, what the plant is undergoing is not a flood but a “water event,” as the regulatory commission classifies it. But Fort Calhoun has clearly been outflanked by the Missouri River, first at its front door and now at its back door as well. The only access route to the plant is over a sinuous path of catwalks built over the submerged parking lot and walkways in recent weeks.
When bureaucrats replace clear nouns like "flood" with bureaucratic jargon like "water event," I get nervous.  Plus, "outflanked" has some military connotations that make me think something might soon be "breached."  That's something that shouldn't happen to defenses or nuclear reactor cores.

Finally, this Times photo just scares me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Minor Musing on Boredom Written Who Writes Better Than I Do.

Brian Jay Stanley writes a wonderful little meditation on boredom.  I wish I had written it.
Boredom for a subject does not reflect a defect in the subject, but in our understanding of it. In the ears of the ignorant, a foreign language is a monotonous barrage of meaningless intonations, but knowledge of its grammar transforms sound into speech, capable of conveying Shakespeare's or Plato's meaning. The surface of Mars seems to me a tiresome landscape of red dirt, but to an astrophysicist who speaks the obscure language of rocks, it is a crossword puzzle written by the Big Bang. We protest to the passionate not to bore us with details, not realizing that lack of details is precisely what bores us, for details reveal the richness and inner coherence that are invisible from a distance, as a microscope reveals teeming life in a drop of muddy pond water.


Paging through an accounting textbook, walking past a wig shop, or listening to a lecture on early American basket-making, I never say "that is uninteresting" but rather "I am uninterested", for it is always more reasonable to assume that I fail to see what is there than that devotees see what is not there. I love to hear of people devoting their lives to pursuits that sound dull to me, for I know that their enthusiasm is right and my boredom is wrong, and I am happy for the rebuke. I convert my specific boredoms into general fascination with passion's possibilities, reflecting that, under altered alignments of choice and chance, I might have given my days to different causes. There is more worth loving than we have strength to love.


A foolish trope of modernity is that experience leads to disenchantment and ennui. Boredom with life does not result from exhausting life's riches, but from skimming them. Nothing is boring, except people who are bored. [emphasis mine]
The bolded sentence will hang in my classroom.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Being an English Teacher Is Still Scary

The Madville Times link to this Kristi Noem/NCLB post brings to mind my second post on this blog.

In that 2007 post, I wrote,
First, it's always scary to be an English teacher and blog. One always rushes and dozens of embarrassing errors will be made and caught.
Cory's edit highlights that I erred on reign and rein twice.  I got it right once.  I've corrected the post.

I've written hundreds of posts since that "introductory rough draft."  I've talked about my attitude toward errors again here, but I continue to rush posts and make mistakes that I shouldn't.  I'm glad Cory not @GRAMMARHULK caught this one.

The Wall Street Journal Says Teachers Work Full Time

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] data from 2008 — the most recent available" shows that teachers work full time even if school is not in session during part of the summer.
Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).
The OECD data tracks 27 countries.  Teachers in the United States put in nearly more 100 more per year than hours than second place New Zealand.
U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom — among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.
The Journal adds a graph that shows the countries where teachers work the most hours.
The report is not completely rosy.
Despite the amount of time that teachers spend working, student achievement in the U.S. remains average in reading and science and slightly below average in math when compared to other nations in a separate OECD report. That remains a concern as education is one of the most important ways a country can foster long-term economic growth.
The Atlantic Wire offers two reasons for this anomaly.  First,
Business Insider reported that in comparison to other developed countries, American educators work the most hours of all industrialized nations, but are the fifth lowest paid after 15 years on the job. Finland, the company ranked highest in international tests, has teachers that work the fifth fewest hours, and are the ninth lowest paid.
Second,
. . . the New York Times reported that a study on comparative educational systems placed raising the status of the teaching profession as a top suggestion for the U.S. In the report, it was not nearly an issue of salaries. "University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report said. The problem there, however, is that while the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher in the U.S. was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all OECD countries, that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.
I'll offer one more option to improve learning that I've written about before.  First in the Education Reform post.
Change the calendar to a 6 or 7 week on and 2 week off pattern instead of 9 months on 3 months off monstrosity that probably never worked anyway. Yes, that means teachers will have to teach more days during the calendar year.
I was a little more cynical in this post.
The school year should not be a nine month marathon with a three month vacation  Instead, it should be a series of six or nine week sessions separated by two or three week breaks.

I would suggest that one of the two week breaks be scheduled around the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year season and another around Independence Day. The rest should follow the normal session.  The calendar should take into account holidays like Thanksgiving, Presidents' Day, and Martin Luther King Day.  Local districts could set a few others.

That's it; it's simple and clean.  I don't have any stats about effectiveness or cost.  It can't be worse than the calendar that most of us work under now, and I'm positive students will learn more, so I'm pretty sure no one will think about adopting it.
So, I'll offer the modest proposal one more time.  Spread out the year, and shorten the days a bit.  If teachers already put in full time hours, there's no reason not to.  I'm certain it'll help learning

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Plains Pops: NY Gay Marriage Edition

Yesterday, I read this comment on the Flooding Caused by Army Corps, Liberals… or Rain? post at the Madville Times.
We are blaming the pantheistic New Age Spiritual Pagan Theocracy that is running this country via the United Nations, or in other words, the New World Order or perhaps even the Beast of Revelation. Be careful on what you are riding.
After reading that comment about the flooding, I decided to wait until late in the day to see what the South Dakota Blogosphere would say about New York passing a gay marriage bill.  I was hoping for give and take and allusions to Sodom and and people calling each other fascists.  New York's allowing gay marriage was supposed to give this South Dakotan the easist blog post he ever wrote.

Instead it's the hardest.  The Madville Times has a positive post with no comments.  None of the South Dakota blogs I follow have anything on it.  There's nothing on the Madville Times or South Dakota War College blogrolls either. 

I know it's Saturday and weather is wonderful and the flood rightfully dominates most of our thoughts, but a bill that "doubles the number of [gay] Americans with the right to marry," and only one South Dakotan blogs about it?  Maybe it's just not that big of an issue after all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The World's Kilter Has Returned: Lady Gaga and Zisek Are Not Dating

Warning High School Debate Jargon Follows:

All of the policy debaters who were getting ready to run a performance aff based on a Zizek K feel a bit let down.

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported,
Lady Gaga has struck up a strong friendship with mysterious Marxist Slavoj Zizek, dubbed "the world's hippest philosopher."

In the midst of her rift with long-term boyfriend Luc Carl, eyebrows were raised over Gaga's decision to spend a lot of time with the 62-year-old, bearded, postmodern theorist and pal of Julian Assange while she was touring the UK and US this spring.

Sources say Gaga and Slovenian-born Zizek -- who like Salman Rushdie seems to be intellectual catnip to beautiful women and who was once married to Argentine model Analia Hounie -- spent time together discussing feminism and collective human creativity. The pop star also agreed to support Zizek at a March rally in London when the lecturers' union UCU was on strike.

In a recent blog post titled "Communism Knows No Monster," Zizek called Gaga "my good friend" and said, "There is a certain performance of theory in her costumes, videos and even (some of) her music." He says her infamous meat dress is a reference to "the consistent linking in the oppressive imaginary of the patriarchy of the female body and meat, of animality and the feminine."
The Post, as is its wont, buried a key detail
Gaga's rep declined to comment on her relationship with Zizek.

"I am terribly sorry to disappoint you, but this is all a fake! The only thing I share with her is the support for the strike," Zizek told us, referring to the incident in London.
The website Left Eye on Books demolishes the story.
Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with the unexpected news that Slovenian Marxist Slavoj Zizek and pop superstar Lady Gaga are friends, perhaps more than friends. The New York Post appears to have broken this ‘news’ with a ‘Page Six’ (gossip) article. The Post refers to unnamed ‘sources’ who say they spent time together, and references a blog post entitled “Communism Knows no Monster” in which Zizek allegedly expounds on the significance of Gaga. The article ends by quoting Zizek, reached by the Post, as saying “I am terribly sorry to disappoint you, but this is all a fake!” This quote did absolutely nothing to stop the spread of this rumor. But I am almost certain that quote is the truth. 
The key is the blog post, “Communism Knows no Monster”. Although it is attributed to Zizek, it is absolutely not by him. It appears on the website of something called Deterritorial Support Group. This is an anarchist/theoretical site. As those whose familiarity with Zizek dates back before June 20, 2011 probably know, Zizek’s main intellectual antagonists are anarchist theorists. They typically regard him as a rigid Marxist. He regards them as ineffectual and unwilling to take direct aim at power (on the other hand, Zizek and ‘anarchists’ like Micheal Hardt and Antonio Negri probably agree on about 80 or 90% of real world political questions. In practical matters everyone these days is less dogmatic than in theory). Zizek would not be writing for such a website. He regularly contributes to the London Review of Books, which, in any case, has a much larger readership.
Maybe its all for the best.  The resolution "Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere" will be far better served by debaters reading Albert Einstein cards in a Marilyn Monroe throaty whisper.  Of course Monroe and Einstein never met, but I'm not sure a performance aff has to be fact based.

What Will Kristi Do?

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader opines
It's a good sign that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has indicated that he will work with schools through this limbo created by the stalling of the NCLB reauthorization. He predicted that without changes, more than 80 percent of U.S. schools would be labeled failing next year. No matter what the good intentions of the NCLB law, that sort of failure rate is certainly an unintended consequence.

Congress needs to move quickly to at least put the yearly proficiency ratings standard aside while the next round of education legislation is worked out. Rep. Kristi Noem, who sits on the House Education Committee, is in position to take a lead role in moving this discussion forward. She should do that. [emphasis mine]
Last week KELO reported,
Associated School Boards has discussed the concerns with Representative Kristi Noem, who's on the education committee. She agrees something more needs to be done.

"Just loosening some requirements doesn't really get us more progress down the road that's better for our kids,” Noem said. “We really need to head back to the reauthorization process and fix things that are wrong with the law.". . . .
Noem says she'd like to see new NCLB provisions give more local control to districts, to improve and enhance where they see fit.
South Dakota's most widely circulated paper and the state's school board association believe the state needs some immediate relief from NCLB.  Meanwhile, the New York Times reports,
In a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration, the Republican chairman of the House education committee on Thursday challenged plans by the education secretary to override provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, and he said he would use a House rewrite of it this year to rein in the secretary’s influence on America’s schools.

Responding to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s promise to grant states waivers to the education law’s most onerous provisions if Congress failed to rewrite it, the committee chairman, Representative John Kline of Minnesota, sent Mr. Duncan a letter on Thursday demanding that he explain by July 1 the legal authority that he believed he had to issue the waivers.

Mr. Kline went further in a conference call with reporters, criticizing the administration’s use of the $5 billion Race to the Top grant competition to get states to adopt its reform agenda.

“He’s not the nation’s superintendent,” Mr. Kline said of Mr. Duncan, who assumed powers greater than any of his predecessors when, in 2009, Congress voted $100 billion in economic stimulus money for the nation’s school systems and allowed the secretary to decide how much of it should be spent.  
It seems that House Republicans want to rein in Duncan before they fix NCLB.  Noem seems to be being pulled in opposite directions.

The fact is both goals need to be met.  Duncan needs to be reined in and Congress needs to repair some of NCLB's stupid requirements.  Whatever his faults, Duncan correctly asserts "unless the law is rewritten quickly, 80,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools could be declared failing this fall, demoralizing educators and paralyzing administrators with red tape."

NCLB will be a key test for Representative Noem who has shown little talent for anything except raising money.  Can she use her position on the committee to rein in Duncan and fix NCLB before September?

I'm not sanguine about the prospects, but I'll let oddsmakers set the line in the comments.

Life Imitates Art without the Happy Ending

James Verone gave a bank teller a note that that claimed he had a gun and demanded $1.  He took the dollar and then sat down on a sofa and waited for the police according to a USA Today article.  Vernone claims "that he has no money but suffers from a growth on his chest and ruptured discs."

According to the article Vernone "hopes for a three-year sentence, so he would be eligible for Social Security by the time he gets out."  Unfortunately,
[h]is plan may not work entirely as he had hoped. Because he demanded only $1 and did not use a weapon, Verone was charged not with bank robbery, but with larceny, which carries a much shorter sentence.
Although Vernone claims to be "a logical-type person," I originally thought him a bit of a romantic.  O. Henry wrote classic short story "The Cop and the Anthem" which features a protagonist who seeks to go to jail for the winter.  The ironically named Soapy tries to steal a free meal from a restaurant, attempts pick up a young single woman with lecherous intent, and throws a brick through a plate class window.  In each case he avoids arrest.  Finally, he stops outside a church to listen to hymns being sung, vows to turn his life around,  and gets arrested for loitering.  He gets his three month sentence.

It turns out that Verone is indeed a logical thinker.  Huffington Post cites a Slate article that
that health care in prison is at best as good as a low-income health plan and at worst, almost nonexistent.
From Slate:
The majority of ailments are treated on-site, but inmates who are gravely ill can be taken to the nearest hospital. Sick prisoners must make a nominal co-payment for each visit to the jailhouse doctor—usually $5 or so, taken from an hourly wage that typically runs between 19 cents and 40 cents an hour. Costs above that are covered by the state.
If that fact weren't bad enough, IO9.com reports that black males have a higher life expectancy in prison than they do outside prison.
Being in prison could save your life - depending on your racial background. A group of epidemiologists studying patterns of death among prisoners have discovered that black men in prison die at much lower rates than black men outside.
Annalee Newitz, the articles author uses two studies to back up this assertion.  First,
Public health professor Anne Spaulding and colleagues gathered these statistics in part to understand what happens to people after they leave prison. Often ex-prisoners have a much greater likelihood of dying in the months after their release. What they discovered was that comparing survival rates in and outside prison revealed racial differences that were stark. Writing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, they assert:
Based on the relatively poor health of incarcerated populations and the high mortality rates seen after release, one might predict that inmates would also suffer from high mortality while incarcerated. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report, however, showed that while incarcerated, inmates aged 15–64 years experience 19% lower mortality than comparably aged controls in the general population; among blacks, mortality for prisoners is 43% lower than age-adjusted mortality for the general black population.
Later, Newitz writes,
A study published last year in the journal Demography backed up this finding. Sociologist Evelyn J. Patterson studied US Bureau of Justice statistics and census data and concluded:
White male prisoners had higher death rates than white males who were not in prison. Black male prisoners, however, consistently exhibited lower death rates than black male nonprisoners did. Additionally, the findings indicate that while the relative difference in mortality levels of white and black males was quite high outside of prison, it essentially disappeared in prison. Notably, removing deaths caused by firearms and motor vehicles in the nonprison population accounted for some of the mortality differential between black prisoners and nonprisoners. The death rates of the other groups analyzed suggest that prison is an unhealthy environment; yet, prison appears to be a healthier place than the typical environment of the nonincarcerated black male population. These findings suggest that firearms and motor vehicle accidents do not sufficiently explain the higher death rates of black males, and they indicate that a lack of basic healthcare may be implicated in the death rates of black males not incarcerated.
In other words, it's not just car accidents and shootings that are to blame for these racial discrepancies. It may be that black men survive better in prison because they get better health care behind bars than they do in their communities.
Verone's logic and these studies show the need for better care for the poor, especially when unemployment hovers near or above 9%.  I fear that some will call for reducing the quality of health care in prisons rather than increasing the quality of care for those outside prison.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm Endorsing John Adams to Replace Arne Duncan

If Nixon was tanned, rested, and ready in 1988, think how rested Adams is.  Plus, he could answer most of those framers' intent questions.  His support of the Alien and Sedition Acts does give me pause, but President Obama's 2008 campaign gave me false hope about ending the Patriot Act.  Look how well that turned out.  Besides, the Secretary of Education probably doesn't have that much to do with national security.  I do want him to remind the President "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war" but that's about it.

Adams's Education Platform

"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves."
(Original Source: The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, Volume 9, by John Adams, Little, Brown, 1854, pg 540  Link)

"It has ever been my hobby-horse to see rising in America an empire of liberty, and a prospect of two or three hundred millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them. You say it is impossible. If I should agree with you in this, I would still say, let us try the experiment, and preserve our equality as long as we can. A better system of education for the common people might preserve them long from such artificial inequalities as are prejudicial to society, by confounding the natural distinctions of right and wrong, virtue and vice." (Original Source: letter to Count Sarsfield, February 3, 1786 Link)

Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates... to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them. (Original Source:  Thoughts on Government, 1776 Link)

It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives. (Original Source: Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1756 Link)

Laws for the liberal education of the youth, especially of the lower class of the people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant. (Original Source:  Thoughts on Government, 1776 Link)

Minor Musing about Politics and Liberty

A couple of days ago, The Madville Times posted about the apparent failure to get enough signatures to refer two bills made necessary by federal health care reform.  In the comments, Steve Sibson, Cory, and I were amiably discussing Hegel without a philosophical license. when Sibson ended the conversation by, "The end-game is the same…statism. The frog’s water is now boiling."

Given the topic, Sibson seems to be saying that health care reform will end the Republic.  Big government certainly carries inherent risks, but I've always been confused why health care reform was the issue that animated tea party supporters.

Why wasn't it the Patriot Act? Why did it take 10 years to see reports like this one?
Congress bumped up against the deadline mainly because of the stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, who saw the terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights.

Paul held up the final vote for several days while he demanded a chance to change the bill to diminish the government's ability to monitor individual actions.

The measure would add four years to the legal life of roving wiretaps — those authorized for a person rather than a communications line or device — of court-ordered searches of business records and of surveillance of non-American "lone wolf" suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups.

The roving wiretaps and access to business records are small parts of the USA Patriot Act enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But unlike most of the act, which is permanent law, those provisions must be renewed periodically because of concerns that they could be used to violate privacy rights. The same applies to the "lone wolf" provision, which was part of a 2004 intelligence law.

Paul argued that in the rush to meet the terrorist threat in 2001 Congress enacted a Patriot Act that tramples on individual liberties. He had some backing from liberal Democrats such as Durbin and Udall, as well as civil liberties groups who have long contended the law gives the government authority to spy on innocent citizens.

"The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans' privacy and violate their constitutional rights," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.
 Why wasn't it NCLB?  Why did it take nearly a decade to read this?
“I think what you’re seeing is the Republican Party going back to its conservative roots and, yes, going back to its core principles and I think that’s a good thing,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in an interview here, adding: “I would argue that we did lose our way for a while.”

Jindal, who was an official in Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services and served two terms in Congress during the Bush era, cites No Child Left Behind as an example of wayward Republicanism.

“How does it make sense for Republicans to be imposing this one-size-fits-all approach from the federal level onto the states and the local school board when we’ve always believed that government that governs closest to the people governs best?” he asked.
Why aren't conservatives angered about situations like this one?
Risen claims the intimidation began under the Bush administration but has continued into the Obama era. "I believe that the efforts to target me has continued under the Obama Administration, which has been aggressively investigating whistleblowers and reporters in a way that will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in the United States," Risen wrote.
When it comes to basic liberties, I have to agree with E.D. Kain who writes,
Rand Paul is quickly becoming one of the most important voices on civil liberties in the Senate, alongside a small cadre of others like Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden, of Oregon. I think it’s important to get away from the left/right Republican/Democrat politics and work to elect as many civil libertarians as we possibly can.

Update:

Several people have pointed out that Rand Paul’s free-speech record is pretty bad. Perhaps the civil libertarian label doesn’t apply. Still, on some level I’ll take what I can get. Paul has voiced sensible opposition to the Patriot Act, the TSA, and the war in Libya. He’s far from perfect, but he’s better than many nonetheless. So far, at least, he hasn’t plotted the assassination of a U.S. citizen.
I'll take every ally I can get in the war to preserve freedoms, but I get really confused by the items that become priorities that motivate anger.  All of the above situations seem to be more of a threat than health care reform which seems to be an insurance company protection act that might hit my pocket book but won't take away basic liberty.

A Humorous Mangling of Mythology

If Immortals is this funny, I won't object to the film.
                       
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mother Nature vs Humankind: Advantage Mom?

Humanity has harnessed the atom and can live in cities.  Mother Nature may be saying "So What?"  The New York Times reports that flooding is affecting two nuclear power plants in Nebraska.  The Times writes
Much of the attention has been focused on the Fort Calhoun plant because of recent concerns about its preparedness and the dramatic images of the structures surrounded in all direction by water, as if rising out of a lake. Earlier this month, the plant briefly lost power needed to cool the spent fuel pool after a fire that remains under investigation.

Last year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the Fort Calhoun plant for not being adequately prepared for floods and rated the safety violation in the “yellow” category, the second most serious. The agency ordered changes because it said that under the plan in place at the time, a major flood could cause core damage.
After Fukushima nuclear power has drawn world wide attention. According to The Nation, Russia has issued a report that accuses  the US of ignoring the dangers at the Fort Calhoun reactor.
A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.
The Russian report
. . . confirms independent readings in the United States of “negligible release of nuclear gasses” related to this accident it warns that by the Obama regimes censoring of this event for “political purposes” it risks a “serious blowback” from the American public should they gain knowledge of this being hidden from them.
In addition to the April 9 incident at Fort Calhoun, The Times article reports
Downriver, where the record water level set two decades ago has been broken, the Cooper plant near Brownville is still producing power, though Sunday it put out a “notification of unusual event” on Sunday.
In addition to these threats caused by flooding on the Missouri, 11,000 residents of Minot, North Dakota had to evacuate their homes because of the Souris River's rising levels.

These Immortals May Be Extremely Pretty and Flawed

I know one shouldn't judge a book by its cover or a movie by its trailers or pre-release publicity, but this USA Today article about the upcoming Immortals frightens me.

Readers are cautioned not to compare the movie "to a comic book movie" but the article contends the film "touts itself as an Avengers for the historical set, an all-star lineup of mythological icons including Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo and King Hyperion."  Apparently consistency isn't going to be one of the films hallmarks.  I can live with that.  The Greek gods were a capricious lot.

The article continues to take away hope for satisfying mythological fare, however, when it summarizes the plot.
Set after the mythic Greek struggle between the gods and titans, Immortals tells the story of Hyperion, mad with power, declaring war on humanity and amassing an all-star team of irritable immortals. Mankind is no match until Theseus steps up as a ringer for team human.
Cast members claim that it will be "more grounded" than a comic book film even though it "celebrates exhibitionism." Therefore, the movie avoids "getting too deep in . . . Greek mythology" and seeks to become "300 meets Gladiator . . .an ab fest."

My skepticism is kicking in.  I am afraid audiences will be forced to endure mythological adaptations like the 1981 Clash of the Titans or the 2010 Clash of the Titans.  In fact, I fear that the film could approach lows set by Demi Moore's Scarlet Letter.

I may have to buy a season of Xena: Warrior Princess just to gain perspective on camp.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Career Goal Stated Better By Someone Else

Writing at Teach Paperless, John Spencer enunciates a career goal that I have long had but could not enunciate clearly.
I want my students to be geeks and gurus.

The geek is knowledgeable about technology. This person loves it, embraces it and knows how to use it in creative ways. One the best days, the geek thinks of the future and how technology can be used to solve social, economic and perhaps even personal problems. (Think Dr. Salk or Batman.)  On the worst days, the geek becomes intoxicated by the novelty and applies futuristic solutions that lack foresight. (Think Dr. Oppenheimer in his early days or The Terminator.)

On the other hand, the guru is wise about technology. This person sees it as a force that is sometimes negative in its dehumanizing aspects. On the best days, a guru will remind us that the physical is as important as the mechanical and that some things in life should not be chopped into pieces and processed, compressed and then industrialized. A guru knows that, even when we try and predict it, technology takes on a life of its own. (Think Marshall McLuhan or Dr. Oppenheimer in his latter days.)  However, on the worst days, a guru will grow cynical and angry and shake an elitist fist at every innovation while missing out on the ways technology improves society. (Think the Unibomber.)

I want my students to be a bit of both. Call it a paradox or a mystery. I don't want them to abandon technology in a doom-and-gloom fear. However, I also don't want them to get into the mentality that a robotic world will fix everything. [emphasis mine]

Fictional Characters: A Minor Musing

Mark White has the professional life I want.  He teaches ethics classes and blogs about comics.  Yesterday, White posted about the duties authors have toward fictional characters.  White's conclusion might make the STEMy folks squirm a bit,
. . . a lot of people (including myself) have imputed rights and dignity to fictional characters, so it was interesting to think about. It is a credit to comics creators (and, more generally, all fiction creators) that they inject so much life and depth into their characters, so much so that we come to care about them to that extent.
This conclusion, however, explains why English classes or mythology classes or comics are more important than their detractors will admit.  As White points out, these characters exist on an ontological level
. . . .let's dispense with a more general question: do fictional characters "exist"? This is properly a metaphysical question--an ontological question, to be precise, as it deals with what exists or doesn't exist--and metaphysical aguments really don't excite me like ethical questions do. Let's just assume that fictional characters do exist in some way, similar to how abstract concepts like justice and the number 3 exist. Simply the fact that characters like Babs [Barbara Gordan aka Oracle/Batgirl] mean so very much to so many people suggests that they must exist in some form that makes them relevant for discussion.
To his credit, White does not take the point too far.  He admits that fictional characters are not imbued with dignity inherent in humanity.
. . . .if we have duties towards real people, even obvious duties like basic respect and concern, it is because they are real people, persons capable of autonomous thought, and brilliance, and wisdom, and intuition, and creativity, and humor. They can do great things and they can also screw up--but they can feel remorse and regret, and learn from their mistakes. They can make the world a better place, they can be heroes--all of their own volition.

But fictional characters cannot do any of that on their own--they are but puppets on the strings of their creators. In story, they can be brilliant, strong, heroic, tragic, or funny, but when we look behind the curtain, we see that it is their creators--comics writers and artists, actors and directors, animators and voice actors, whoever--that give them their characters. They are the only "will" that fictional characters have, and whatever dignity creators give them is only in the story, not inherent in the character herself or himself.
I wish that White had taken a part of his analysis a step further without giving fictional characters some form of human rights.  Fictional characters whether they be Oedipus, Hamlet, or Huck Finn from the classic tradition or Daredevil, Ben Grimm, or White's example Barbara Gordon matter  not because they exist ontologically or because they may or may not have inherent dignity.

These characters matter because they produce a catharsis "through pity and fear."  As this overview illustrates catharsis may be a contentious issue inside the academy.
Catharsis is most often defined as the "purging" of the emotions of pity and fear that occurs when we watch a tragedy. What is actually involved in this purging is not clear. It is not as simple as getting an object lesson in how to behave; the tragic event does not "teach us a lesson" as do certain public-information campaigns on drunk driving or drug abuse. Hans-Georg Gadamer's attempt to describe catharsis in his study Truth and Method can serve both as a working definition and an introduction into the problem of establishing any determinate definition of this elusive concept:
What is experienced in such an excess of tragic suffering is something truly common. The spectator recognizes himself [or herself] and his [or her] finiteness in the face of the power of fate. What happens to the great ones of the earth has exemplary significance. . . .To see that "this is how it is" is a kind of self-knowledge for the spectator, who emerges with new insight from the illusions in which he [or she], like everyone else, lives. (132)
Comics and fiction should not be sermons or a public service announcements.  Fiction and comics, however, allow people to recognize a bit of themselves in "great ones" created by talented writers.  This Ta-Nehisi Coates column and these responses illustrate that X-Men: First Class produced some new insight and a cathartic effect.  If one gets back the tights and capes, one can "emerge with new insight."

Readers and viewers care about these characters because the characters help produce that insight and purging.  I'm unsure whether producing catharsis implies an inherent dignity but I believe it adds weight to White's argument that these characters matter.

Minor Musings about Feedback Loops

Writing in Wired Magazine, Thomas Goetz explains that road signs that display a radar reading of drivers' speeds are effective because the signs "leverage what’s called a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behavior."  Goetz explains that feedback loops consist of four stages.
A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals. [emphasis in original]
This morning Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) tweets the following: "Interesting Wired piece on feedback loops & operant conditioning: — are there pedagogical implications? ..."  In a second tweet, Jacobs asks, "... That is, how could I apply this understanding of human behavior to the classroom? Less monitoring, less 'punishment,' better results?"

Like Jacobs, I wonder how to apply loops in the classroom, especially if they are as effective as Goetz's article claims.  The data and relay stages should not be that difficult.  Classes are designed to collect data/grades all of the time.  The classroom also provides its own context.

The consequence stage becomes a bit more problematic.  The radar signs call out drivers publicly, and according to Dan Candelaria, Garden Grove’s traffic engineer. . . ."encourage people to do the right thing.”  Teenagers may react well to being anonomously called out by a traffic sign, but a classroom is a more public place, and teachers, not flashing lights, will be issuing the behavior reminder.  Further, students fear "doing the right thing" in class if the action is going to get them labeled as some sort of teacher's pet.  Finally, planning a "clear moment" to allow a student to recalibrate may be difficult.

Getting drivers to ease off the accelerator may be simpler than getting students to understand grammar or algebra.  Being seen as a good driver, even if anonymously, may be more personally important than knowing about Thomas Edison.  Still, feedback loops seem to have promise to change some behaviors.  I'd be satisfied if I could figure out how to use them to stop texting during class on the cell phones they hide in their pockets.

What's In A Name?: Jon Huntsman's URL

Josh Green notes that Jon Huntsman's official website will be called www.jon2012.com.  Green speculates that calling the site Jon 2012 instead of Huntsman 2012 might have some Biblical significance.  He notes that King James version of the passage states "And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" before concluding that his premise is incorrect.
The image of resurrection doesn't make much sense for a first-time presidential candidate like Huntsman. (Although it would suit Mitt Romney rather nicely.) So unlike my dad [a theologian], I doubt the biblical allusion is intentional. Rather, I think it reflects his big gripe about religion in politics--and also about religion in the media--which is that political consultants, like reporters, are so ignorant of religion that the allusion probably would not even have occurred to them.
I think Green should have stuck with his original premise that Huntsman chose the Jon2012 instead of Huntsman 2012 for religious reasons.

The passage offers an idea of resurrection.  David Brooks has opined, "This election is about how to avert national decline. All other issues flow from that anxiety."  Republicans, tea partiers, conservatives,and libertarians all will take Brooks's position one step further and assert that the first Obama term has killed the American dream.  It will take only a moderately talented speech writer to craft some lines that allude to the verse and will allow Huntsman to claim that he is resurrecting the American Dream.

Further the angels allow Huntsman to wax poetic about America being guided and protected by Providence.  Resurrecting America under the direction of Providence and ensuring the continued protection of angels is a necessary appeal for Iowa and some Southern Republican voters.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plains Pops: Finally Seeing The Light Edition

It took just over 10 years for this one.  To be fair, Secretary of Defense Gates inherited two of these wars from Rumsfeld.
“I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice."--Robert Gates in New York Times
This New York Times "The Stone" column quotes Hegel in the first paragraph.  Given the fact that Hegel died in 1861, shouldn't one have figured out that philosophies have social impacts much sooner
But the real significance of rational choice philosophy lay in ethics. Rational choice theory, being a branch of economics, does not question people’s preferences; it simply studies how they seek to maximize them. Rational choice philosophy seems to maintain this ethical neutrality (see Hans Reichenbach’s 1951 “The Rise of Scientific Philosophy,” an unwitting masterpiece of the genre); but it does not. Whatever my preferences are, I have a better chance of realizing them if I possess wealth and power. Rational choice philosophy thus promulgates a clear and compelling moral imperative: increase your wealth and power!

Today, institutions which help individuals do that (corporations, lobbyists) are flourishing; the others (public hospitals, schools) are basically left to rot. Business and law schools prosper; philosophy departments are threatened with closure.
In light of the above situation, Time magazine has this little blurb to appeal to students' self interest. (HT Carolyn D. Cowen)
It seems all that debate-clubbing, band-playing, yearbook-editing and after school do-gooding literally paid off.

GOOD uncovered a study that said a student who participates in extracurricular activities in high school will earn 11.8% more in later life. The report, published by Vasilios D. Kosteas, an economics professor at Cleveland State University, concluded the 11.8% salary bump is equivalent to more than two and a half years additional of schooling.
People have been making statements like the one that follows since NCLB was implemented, but no one has listened. 
The society of the future will need citizens who can solve problems without violence, appreciate diverse points of view, feel compassion for others and stand up for what is right. Isn’t this the purpose of education — to teach these things along with academics?--Nancy Carlsson-Paige in a graduation speech reprinted in this Answer Sheet post.
Succinct take downs are always timely.
Stephen Metcalf's critique of libertarianism in Slate is uninformed, incoherent, and self-contradictory. Other than that it's fine--@ayjay aka Alan Jacobs
Conservative Fareed Zakaria comes through with a good summation of the current political situation.
Conservatives used to be the ones with heads firmly based in reality. Their reforms were powerful because they used the market, streamlined government and empowered individuals. Their effects were large-scale and important: think of the reform of the tax code in the 1980s, for example, which was spearheaded by conservatives. Today conservatives shy away from the sensible ideas of the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction because those ideas are too deeply rooted in, well, reality. Does anyone think we are really going to get federal spending to the level it was at under Calvin Coolidge, as Paul Ryan's plan assumes? Does anyone think we will deport 11 million people?

We need conservative ideas to modernize the U.S. economy and reform American government. But what we have instead are policies that don't reform but just cut and starve government — a strategy that pays little attention to history or best practices from around the world and is based instead on a theory. It turns out that conservatives are the woolly-headed professors after all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Comics and Philosophy: Green Lantern Edition

The Green Lantern Movie may be getting hammered by critics, but Mark White sees some philosophical implications that transcend popularity.
We can also see this play out in the debates between different forms of moral theory. Each of them is assumed as an obvious or common sense standpoint by its practitioners and advocates, but they are deeply at odds with each other. For utilitarians, it seems completely obvious that decisions and policies ought to be formed in a way that will promote the greatest good of the greatest number. For deontologists, who are focused on duty and universal principles, it seems just as obvious that we owe each and every person a respect that cannot be overridden. And for care ethicists, who focus on context and the relationships between people, the impersonal calculations of utilitarians and deontologists can seem excessively cold and unfeeling. These debates show that while our own moral principles seem obvious to us, they're not obvious to everyone.

In exploring how the members of the Green Lantern Corps manage to cooperate in the fight for justice while disagreeing about what, exactly, justice is, we can see the many different foundations of morality at play in a way that is removed from our day-to-day worries. By watching members of the Corps struggle with different views of right and wrong, we can gain insight into the concerns of people whose moral foundations differ from our own. This can only help in promoting civility within political and moral discussions, even for those of us without incredible power rings at our disposal.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More on Randians and Christians

Joe Carter who used to write at the Evangelical Outpost and now writes at First Things takes the critique of Ayn Rand and her philosophy's incompatibility with Christianity to a higher level.  He points out that Anton Lavey used Randian thought to create his Satanic Bible.
Perhaps most are unaware of the connection, though LaVey wasn’t shy about admitting his debt to his inspiration. “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings,” he once told the Washington Post. On another occasion he acknowledged that his brand of Satanism was “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” Indeed, the influence is so apparent that LaVey has been accused of plagiarizing part of his “Nine Satanic Statements” from the John Galt speech in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Devotees of Rand may object to my outlining the association between the two. They will say I am proposing “guilt by association,” a form of the ad hominem fallacy. But I am not attacking Rand for the overlap of her views with LaVey’s; I am saying that, at their core, they are the same philosophy. LaVey was able to recognize what many conservatives fail to see: Rand’s doctrines are satanic.
Carter goes on to bolster the idea that supporting Randians just because they may claim to have some of the same views that Christians share is a fool's errand.
But to be a follower of both Rand and Christ is not possible. The original Objectivist was a type of self-professed anti-Christ who hated Christianity and the self-sacrificial love of its founder. She recognized that those Christians who claimed to share her views didn’t seem to understand what she was saying.

Many conservatives admire Rand because she was anti-collectivist. But that is like admiring Stalin because he opposed Nazism. Stalin was against the Nazis because he wanted to make the world safe for Communism. Likewise, Rand stands against collectivism because she wants the freedom to abolish Judeo-Christian morality. Conservative Christians who embrace her as the “enemy-of-my-enemy” seem to forget that she considered us the enemy. [emphasis mine]
Carter also shows a bit of wit in his take down of conservative Christians who adhere to Rand.  First,
You can replace the pentagrams of LeVayian Satanism with the dollar sign of the Objectivists without changing much of the substance separating the two. The ideas are largely the same, though the movements’ aesthetics are different. One appeals to, we might say, the Young Libertarians, and the other attracts the Future Wiccans of America.
Later,
But we are sustaining a climate in which not a few gullible souls believe she is worth taking seriously. Are we willing to be held responsible for pushing them to adopt an anti-Christian worldview? If so, perhaps instead of recommending Atlas Shrugged, we should simply hand out copies of The Satanic Bible. If they’re going to align with a satanic cult, they might as well join the one that has the better holidays.
Perhaps some conservative Christians should try to worry more about the wolves in sheep's clothing in their midst rather than Muslims or gays.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Minor Musing on Commitments

I've been meaning to get to this Will Wilkenson post for a long time.  Wilkenson enunciates the ambivalence I feel about social demands that I place on others and that others place on me.
To be a social animals means that without the cooperation of others, we’re doomed. Cooperation at home, at work, at church, in the neighborhood, is best elicited by signals of unflagging commitment, and this can involve elaborate rituals displaying our willingness to do our share, to take a hit for the team, to fold the welfare of others into our own conception of our good. There is deep satisfaction to be had in the thick commitments that makes traditional small-scale social cooperation possible and productive. But there is also suffocation, self-effacement, and hierarchies of status and dominance that beget humiliation, resentment, and webs of toxic rivalry. We are built by evolution to inhabit this sort of social world, but that doesn’t mean we love it.
Wilkenson then goes on to clearly explain what every high school student wants to say but can't.
When offered the chance to get out, to choose our own communities, to choose our own friends, to relate to our families on our own terms, to get out from under inherited obligations of status and obedience, many of us choose to get out. But this is not to eschew commitment. This is not to give up on happiness. Few of us can live happily wholly unencumbered by commitment. To know freedom from the life of the tribe is to demand more from our lovers and our friends because we have chosen them; they are really ours. The flip-side is that we owe more, too. 
I'm not sure how to react to this next statement.  I haven't really kept in touch with either college or high school friends.  My relationships are either with current colleagues or immediate family.
It’s true that commitments of choice are more tenuous than commitments of fate. College friends are more fickle than childhood friends who are more fickle than blood, and there is some anxiety in this for those of us who depend more on what we have chosen than on what we have been given. Some of us are very lucky and would freely affirm, again and again, the bonds we fell into as children, or at birth. 
Finally, as someone who embraces the idea of being permanently "displaced," this statement resonates:
But some of us, the weirdos especially, are less lucky and fall mostly into loneliness when young. Some of us first meet our best friends as disembodied text on a glowing plane. But we can and do come to cherish these ghosts more than our own flesh and blood through the magic of mutual comprehension and love of the things that make us most fully separate, the things that make us feel most alien and alone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Graduation Speech Summation

According to the New York Times, college graduation speeches don't seem to have changed that much over the past few years.
They [speakers] spoke of courage in an uncertain economy, warned against technology overload and tried to redefine success for a new generation. They railed against fear, conformity, stasis and self-involvement. And they asked row upon row of young men and women to do nothing less than save the world
The priorities that speakers urged graduates to have do seem to vary a bit.  The Times reports,
The New York Times measured the frequency of key words in 40 of the hundreds of speeches delivered this spring. Perhaps as an indicator of the still-guarded condition of the national economy, the words “world,” “country” “love” and “service” showed up far more often than “money,” “happiness” and “success.” The author Jonathan Franzen, at Kenyon College, rhapsodized about “love” and “passion,” using the words some 40 times; Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, said “Facebook” more than anyone else.
Geeky folk like me will like this chart that illustrates frequency of word usage for different audiences.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Urban Legends in Education and A Political Reminder

The Tempered Radical gives readers a useful reminder.  I should probably repost this in January 2012.
Pay attention to what your elected officials are doing and saying because the very people screaming the loudest about cutting government spending just might be lining their own pockets in the process.
TR also points out that urban legends about teachers seem to be pretty similar in both North Carolina and South Dakota.
The general theme seems to be the same wherever you live:
  • Teachers make too much money.
  • Teachers have it easy.
  • Teachers aren’t worth what we pay them.
  • Teachers have it easy.
  • Let’s break the backs of the unions that protect bad teachers who are making too much money.
 South Dakota leaves out the last step because it busted unions a long time ago, so the attacks are a bit more personal.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Another Light Posting Announcement

I will be in the South for the next week.  I have scheduled posts for tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but I have no idea how much I'll be able to blog while I'm gone.  Regular blogging should resume next Monday.

Will Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann Please Stop Dishonoring God!

The New York Magazine's "Daily Intel" reports that Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachman all claim that God has told them to run for President. The article reports that Cain has heard the call at least twice, once by text.  Cain also claims that God cured his cancer so that Cain could run for President.
Cain told the crowd about his battle with cancer in 2006, saying he's been "totally cancer free" for the past five years.


"You want to know why? God said, 'Not yet Herman,'" Cain told the crowd. "God said, 'Not yet. I've got something else for you to do.' And it might be to become the president of the United States of America."
As for Santorum, his wife,
Karen Santorum told CBN's David Brody in May about her husband's decision to run for president, "It really boils down to God's will. What is it that God wants? ... We have prayed a lot about this decision, and we believe with all our hearts that this is what God wants."
Michele Bachmann
. . . told World Net Daily in 2009, she would never run without God's personal endorsement:
"If I felt that's what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it," she answered. "When I have sensed that the Lord is calling me to do something, I've said yes to it. But I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. That's really my standard.
"If I am called to serve in that realm I would serve," she concluded, "but if I am not called, I wouldn't do it."
Bachmann recently confirmed that she has, indeed, "had that calling and that tugging on my heart."
I'm not a theologian, but I have a difficult time understanding how the Being who created and sustains the universe that humans inhabit needs the help of a mere mortal to lead one nation on one small planet in one galaxy among millions of galaxies.  Further, claiming that God has called them to a higher purpose implies that they are uniquely blest because God has called them.  In a perverse way, each claims to deserve glory and power because God has said so.

David Platt in Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream reminds readers that God has said that humans exist for God's glory.  God doesn't exist for their glory.  Platt quotes Ezekiel 36:22-24 (page 68).
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. 
Platt then goes on to assert, "We are not the end of the gospel: God is.  God centers on himself . . . ." (page 71).

Finally, and I admit I may be being cynical here, people who run for President seem to desire power and the use of that power.  Platt illustrates how Christianity illustrates a different view.
The gospel betokens us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and trust his power. . . .

As long as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory (46).
Cain, Santorum, and Bachmann have it backwards.  They are centering on themselves by claiming to have a divinely appointed to run for President of the United States.  In doing so, they make themselves laughingstocks and exhibit profound hubris.