Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Does a Religion Nerd Get for Christmas?

I'm excited about three books I got under the tree.

Blessed to Follow: The Beatitudes As a Compass for Discipleship by Marth Ellen Stortz. This one was on my wish list because of the two essays I've read by Stortz that I've really liked. I'm pretty bad about the devotional/prayer side of things and Stortz is very good at them. So I'm hoping this helps get my butt in gear.

The Great Reversal: Ethics and the New Testament by Allen Verhey. I got about a third of the way through this book a year and a half ago before someone left my car unlocked and an enterprising person decided my messenger bag looked like a laptop bag. What I got through the first time I liked very much. Looking forward to being able to finish it this time.

Earth Community, Earth Ethics by Larry Rasmussen. From everything I've heard about this book, it should be a great read. And Rasmussen was the Niebuhr professor of ethics at Union Theological Seminary so it has good provenance. :)

A note about buying books. I use Amazon's wish list to keep track of the books I'm interested in reading. Then instead of looking to buy them new, I look at the used option on Amazon. For instance, Rasmussen is going for 4 cents (plus $4 shipping probably). Verhey $2.81. Stortz $1.89. I've bought many books this way and haven't gotten one yet that isn't in good condition. Even the ones listed "acceptable" are usually closer to Very Good. eBay is another option for finding cheap books. Since there's more rotation in what is offered there, saved searches are convenient.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is the Tea Party Racist? (Reprise)

There's no use rehashing old topics -- unless of course new information comes to light. I've previously addressed whether I think the Tea Party has a racist bent. A question I answered in the affirmative.

Now some new articles about Ron Paul's newsletter offer a bit more "evidence" for my assertion. The most recent story references how RP walked off the set after being asked about statements made in a newsletter that bore his name. 

This story links back to a previous one with more information: The Story Behind Ron Paul's Racist Newsletters. In this story, newletters bearing RP's name contained statements such as: this one concerning the LA riots "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks" and that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a " world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and who "seduced underage girls and boys." 

Paul's defense is that he used a ghostwriter and that those inflammatory statements came from him/her (although he isn't able to identify who it was). This is, unfortunately, no excuse in a publication that bears your name and which publishes articles written (supposedly) by you. Hence "ghostwriter." No one is supposed to know the identity of the other writer and the named author bears all responsibility for it. 

Anyways, in a bit of comic relief, RP in a Youtube video here actually compares himself to MLK! I wonder if that comparison includes the accusations made in his newsletter . . . 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Best Books

I have officially graduated. M5 approved and grades posted. I started in Jan '09 and finished just shy of 3 years later. Looking back on everything I've read, here are the 10 best books I've encountered. Some of them were direct results of research for papers. Some were "for fun."

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman -- This is a surprisingly brilliant work. A graphic novel where Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, and Polish as pigs? Seriously? But somehow Spiegelman pulls it off. It's an incredibly moving and creative work.

Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer -- A phenomenally complete review of just war thinking along with case studies. And it's not 800 pages long! Walzer is a great social analyst and casuist. I liked this book a lot. It really turned me from a pacifist to a just war adherent. With that said, even just war criteria pronounce "no" the overwhelming majority of the time!

Embodiment by James Nelson -- Nelson is central to Christian sexual ethics and this is one of his primary works. He does a great job establishing a liberal (i.e. not status-quo) Christianity that doesn't simply jettison Scripture.

In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza -- Piggy-backing on my last comment above, Schussler Fiorenza really surprised and impressed me with her ability to reconstruct early Christianity while relying on Scripture. I figured she would ignore Paul as a misogynist, yet she embraces him and brings out a feminist (i.e. not anthrocentric) reading of Scripture.

Suffering by Dorothee Soelle -- I simply love Soelle. She's probably my favorite theologian. Perhaps Niebuhr is a close second for his pragmatism, but Soelle's emotionally poignant theology with its focus on "the least of these" is great.

The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System by Dianne Ravitch -- This is where my degree and occupation line up. A Religious Studies degree with an emphasis on Christian ethics along with 10 years of public school teaching made me a big fan of Ravitch's book. For any teachers or parents with kids in public school it's a must read.

What Was Asked of Us compiled by Trish Wood -- I believe in the primacy of experience when it comes to making sense of the world. Since we simply can't experience everything, vicarious experience is necessary. Narratives, especially first person, are extremely important to me. This compilation of interviews with soldiers recently returned from Iraq merely supports the importance of saying "no" to war when it is not just.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter -- I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed a book by an Austrian economist this much. Schumpeter not only takes Marx seriously, he unbiasedly conisders Marxism/Socialism as a possibility to capitalism. In the end, he decides on capitalism, but it is refreshing to see a conservative economist for whom "Marx" isn't a bad world. The two paragraphs where Schumpeter lays out Creative Destruction simply blew me away.

I and Thou by Martin Buber -- This is a short book. It could probably be even shorter. While some of the esoteric stuff I didn't get too well, the central premise of relating to others as a "thou" as opposed to an "it" is important for anyone other than anchorites. It proved important to establishing "mutuality" for my thesis.

Love and Justice by Reinhold Niebuhr -- This book is a collection of short essays and letters by Niebuhr. Because of that, it is much more accessible than some of his larger works. Since some of them are "letters to the editor" type compositions, the sense of history if preserved more than in his larger works. Yet the same themes that come up in Moral Man . . ., etc. are still present here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Response to Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council and recently put an editorial up on CNN.com called "Jesus was a free-marketer, not an occupier." There's a lot to discuss as a response to this editorial. To start with, I dislike anyone stating what Jesus would think or do as if it were some how predictable. But I suppose "most likely" and "probably" are out of vogue in editorial journalism. Absolutes and for-sures are the thing of the day.

I also think it's silly to pretend we would know how Jesus would act if he were here today. I'm pretty sure I know what his opinion would be on the financial elite that caused the mess back in 2008 -- not a single one of whom has been charged with a crime. Compared to the thousands that have been foreclosed through no fault of their own (yes, I'm purposely leaving out the minority who were foreclosed THROUGH fault of their own -- i.e. they walked away from underwater mortgages or they knowingly bought more than they could afford in hopes of "flipping"). I think he would be disgusted at the dichotomy there.

I also think I know how he'd probably feel about the increasing income polarity in this country. What he would DO however is much harder to identify. Would he march down to the DOJ and demand CEO heads on a platter? Would he put the golden roads of Revelation on the market and use the profits to re-purchase the homes lost to foreclosure and give them freely back to the evicted? Or would be pitch a tent in lower Manhattan? I have no idea.

But now for a look at Mr. Perkins's post in specific. Point/counterpoint style.

Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)
Beware of anyone attempting exegesis using only the KJV. NRSV uses "do business." I know, it doesn't tie in as nicely with the #ows movement, but this verges on cherry picking.

 Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has?

Or as Jesus did to the money changers in the temple?

Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?

Jesus entire message rests on actions that were viewed as "anti-social." I'll be honest, I don't even understand what the second half of this means. If he's referring to unemployment insurance or welfare, I think it's pretty clear where Jesus would side on those issues. Perhaps that's the stance with the least need to nuance or hedge our wording. Jesus would almost assuredly support unemployment insurance and welfare support.

From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants.

This is true. And hard to argue with. I hope Perkins also realizes that what we do with what we're given is not based solely on merit or hardwork. That is clear in the Bible as well. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Out of work people aren't out of work simply because they wasted their "mina." Admitting that would in no way undermine the importance of hardwork.

The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable . . . He used a free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment.

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa . . . Jesus chose the free-market system??? The Jerusalem of Jesus's time was a free-market democracy? That is anachronistic to the point of hyperbole.
 Jesus rejected collectivism
Interesting non-sequitur. I'm not sure he Perkins gets here. If anything, the Gospels and Acts point to a world that was moving more towards collectivism than away.

There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.

And if we read the parable in the way Perkins is expecting us to, ENRON would be at the Lord's right hand when his kingdom comes! Again, we should not . . . we MUST not measure merit by success.

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise.
Now Perkins lays out the exception to his rule.  Sometimes the winners AREN'T deserving. But then he twists it so that these undeserving winners didn't win because of the system, but because of something else. Apparently he believes that #OWS is against free enterprise. This is a strawman. #OWS seeks justice, not a revolution from free-market capitalism to socialism. They (we) seek a shift from crony capitalism to democratic capitalism. From stockholder-centric management to stakeholder-centric management.

The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed.
Here is where I have to ask, "Who is Tony Perkins?" This man is attempting an exegesis of a parable and is on CNN.com's front page educating the nation to what Jesus is saying. Look no further.  Tony Perkins is a career politician and now a lobbyist. He is not educated in theology, homiletics, hermeneutics or any other subject that would help him expound upon what Jesus meant anymore than Joe Blow.

Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers. That doesn't mean, however, that we all have the appropriate credentials to be interpreting scripture on the front page of CNN.com.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sources of Moral Discernment: Quadrilateral or Pentagon?

     The sources considered in Christian ethics are nearly uniform among Christian ethicists. The most common version of the four-part theme is: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. In general, I agree with this “quadrilateral” structure, but I prefer Margaret Farley's less catchy but more precise phrasing of: Scripture, tradition, secular disciplines of knowledge, and contemporary experience. Secular disciplines of knowledge refers mainly to the sciences, both “hard” and “soft,” as well as philosophy. I believe this is a better description than “reason.” Reason, after all, is present regardless of which side of the quadrilateral one is engaging.

     I would, however, expand these four common sources and add moral discernment as a fifth source because “Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience [are] only the beginning of deliberation. Deliberation becomes incarnate as Christian communities read and speak, listen and pray” (Martha Ellen Stortz). From a Christian ethical perspective, the ability of God to continue to speak to us should not be denied. One could argue that the living word of God continues to be present through the four common sources, but I believe placing an emphasis on a fifth source of discernment gives the Spirit the place to truly work God's will among us. Considering moral discernment as it's own source also makes available perspectives and concepts that would not be easily visible if considering just the four common sources. If “reason” could be considered the work of the human mind, moral discernment could be considered the work of the Spirit within humanity.

     The importance of moral discernment should not be minimized. Many authors stress its significance. Lutheran ethicist Karen Bloomquist has pointed out that the differences of opinion in corporate moral discernment “can give rise to a moral outlook, a common moral substance that emerges through interactions in which our perspectives are enlarged and we ourselves are transformed.” Here I emphasize the latent aspect that Bloomquist mentions. The moral substance that is brought out and the personal transformation that takes place were in a sense always present, yet needed to be uncovered through dialogue. Because of its ability to bring these new insights to light, I believe moral discernment should take its place alongside the four common sources and not be relegated to simply “what we do with” those sources.

     The work of the Spirit in moral discernment does not need to be limited to corporate dialogue either. James Nelson points out its personal nature in a slightly more academic sense when stating that “the writer does not write out of having found an answer to the problem, but rather out of having discovered the problem and wanting a solution. And the solution is not a resolution of the problem so much as a deeper and wider consciousness of the issue to which we are carried by virtue of having wrestled with that problem.” Experience itself teaches us that discernment, whether individual or corporate, brings out ideas and solutions that were inconceivable before. The place for moral discernment also has a distinctly Pauline air to it. It was Paul who stated “not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5-6).

Monday, July 25, 2011

On My Bookshelf

Taking a cue from Sojourners, the 10 books closest at hand/reached for most often. Unfortunately the bookshelf that is described in the link has been on my want list for months. I still have to move to access most of my books. :(

Top 10 (in order from closest to farthest):

1) Chicago Manual of Style -- gotta have it real close for thesis writing. You get the common style points memorized quickly, but there's always those exceptions . . .

2) Lutheran Book of Worship and 3) With One Voice -- For choosing hymns.

4) Just Love -- Just happens to be the one of the many thesis sources on my desk right now.

5) Love Does No Harm 6) Promise of Lutheran Ethics 7) Premarital Sex in America -- These are not on my desk, but are the ones I reach for the most for citations.

8) The New Oxford Annotated Bible -- For getting my scripture on.

9) Love and Justice -- A great collection of shorter writings regardless of topic.

10) Doesn't technically fit as a "book on my desk," but I rely heavily on the internet for stuff like dictionaries, Constitution, free books through my Kindle (such as Luther), this site because I need to be able to spell Schüssler correctly, and probably the most used to go in conjunction with #2 and #3, Revised Common Lectionary.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chapter Outline of My Thesis

 I. “On the Ethics of Free Milk: From Torah to Today”

This chapter will introduce the thesis and examine the morality of premarital sex from scripture and the present. It will provide an overview of sexual injunctions in the books of Moses, the Gospels, and the epistles while also examining contemporary concepts of sex such as recent developments in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will also introduce the themes of delayed marriage, hookups, cohabitation, and serial monogamy.

II. “Purity and Property Contracts to Egalitarianism: Marriage in Scripture and Modernity”

This chapter will examine the ideal marriage as described in scripture as well as the rules and traditions surrounding it. It will describe how marriage was viewed as a property transaction between a father and a future husband with the need to guarantee the “new vs. used” nature of the goods being exchanged.
This contrasts with the modern ideal of marriage includes mutual love, submission, and intimacy. The contractual nature of marriage, if still evident at all, is found taking place between the husband and wife as opposed to the husband and father of the bride This will draw heavily on Nelson, Gudorf, and St. Paul.

III. “21st Century Sex: To Infinity and Beyond”

While much has been written on sex throughout historical periods, this thesis will focus on contemporary ideas of sex – specifically from the second half of the 20th century to the present. This period has seen a liberation of sexuality. Conservatives have often turned to a slippery-slope argument to counter this trend. It is important to consider at what point liberalization becomes self-righteousness or idolatry and to define the limits of what is permitted. While this thesis will argue for yet another “deregulation” of sex, the same conditions that should apply to sex for non-married couples should also apply to married couples. Thus, it could also be considered an increase in regulation. This thesis will also examine how a focus on egalitarian relationships could help increase “sanctification” as opposed to decrease it.

IV. “Conclusion: Returning to Scripture”

As mentioned above, while looking to scripture for approval is not feasible, holding conclusions up to the light of scripture for evaluation is important.  Instead of prima scriptura I'm actually attempting an ultima scriptura in the hopes that it will strengthen a hermeneutic of suspicion and negate any hermeneutic of consent I may have. This section will be taking my hypothesis on nonmarried sex and seeing if it can hold water against scriptural injunctions against it. 

Done with the I of I/O

Finally done with all the reading I wanted to do for the thesis. I hope I took good notes. Now onto "coding" them so I can retrieve citations easier. I use a program that was designed for qualitative data analysis, but it works pretty well for what I need. I'll go through all the quotes I've gotten from reading, and code them according to argument and chapter. With WeftQDA I can just select an argument or chapter and it will show me every quote that fits. Possibly more work than it needs to be, but it works for me.

So far, there seem to be three broad social narratives that contribute to the topic (premarital sex in case you've forgotten).

  • Since the end of WW2 or so, the ideal marital relationship has been based on romantic and intimate love. The concept of a "soul mate" gets introduced and (probably) greatly affects peoples' decision in a marriage partner.
  • Going back a little further, we've seen an increasing "deregulation" in sex. This (probably) started with first wave feminism, proceeded to homosexuality, and now gets turned onto premarital sex. Slippery slope arguments abound and often with good reason.
  • Marketing geniuses have found out how easy it is to sell a mundane product by using sex. This commodification of sex has transferred sex from something relational (something that happens between two people) to a product to be consumed (relationship has no part in the equation--solely orgasm [or at least the hope for one]).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bibliography Finished

And almost done reading it all . . . hence my lack of recent posts. For those interested, here it is:

Althaus, Paul. 2007. The ethics of Martin Luther. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Barkan, Steven E. 2006. Religiosity and premarital sex in adulthood. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 45, no. 3: 407-417.

Bloomquist, Karen L. and John R. Stumme, eds. 1998. The promise of Lutheran ethics. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Childs, James M., Jr., ed. 2003. Faithful conversations: Christian perspectives on homosexuality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

------. 2006. Ethics in the community of promise: Faith, formation, and decision. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Chilstrom, Herbert W. and Lowell O. Erdahl. 2001. Sexual fulfillment: For single and married, straight and gay, young and old. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Countryman, L. William. 1988. Dirt greed & sex: Sexual ethics in the New Testament and their implications for today. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Ellison, M. Mahan, and Kelly Brown Douglas, eds. 2010. Sexuality and the sacred: Sources for theological reflection. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 2002. Journey together faithfully, part one: A message on sexuality, some common convictions. N.p.: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

------. 2003. Journey together faithfully, part two: The church and homosexuality. N.p.: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

------. 2006. Journey together faithfull, party three: Free in Christ to serve the neighbor, Lutherans talk about human sexuality. N.p.: Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

------. 2009. A social statement on human sexuality: Gift and trust. N.p.
Farley, Margaret A. 2006. Just love: A framework for Christian sexual ethics. New York: Continuum.

Fortune, Marie M. 1995. Love does no harm: Sexual ethics for the rest of us. New York: Continuum.

Gudorf, Christine E. 1994. Body, sex, and pleasure: Reconstructing Christian sexual ethics. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Harrell, Daniel. 2003. There's no such thing as premarital sex. Regeneration Quarterly 8, no. 2 [October]: 20-21.

Kaczor, Christopher. 2002. Martial acts without marital vows: Social justice and premarital sex. Josephinum Journal of Theology 9, no. 2 [March]: 310-319.

Keane, Philip S. 1977. Sexual morality: A Catholic perspective. New York: Paulist Press.

Lichter, Daniel T. and Zhenchao Qian. 2008. Serial cohabitation and the marital life course. Journal of Marriage and Family 70, no. 4 [November]: 861-878.

Loader, William. 2010. Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the key texts. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

McLean, Stuart D. 1985. The covenant and pre-marital sex. In Liberation and ethics: Essays in religious social ethics in honor of Gibson Winter, ed. Gibson Winter, Charles Amjad-Ali, and W. Alvin Pitcher, 111-122. Chicago: Center for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Nelson, James B. 1978. Embodiment: An approach to sexuality and Christian theology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.

Regnerus, Mark and Jeremy Uecker. 2011. Premarital sex in America: How young Americans meet, mate, and think about marrying. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Regnerus, Mark, Richard Ross, and Donna Freitas. 2010. What's the best way to encourage people to save sex for the covenant of marriage? Christianity Today, January 2010.

Sassler, Sharon. 2010. Partnering across the life course: Sex, relationships, and mate selection. Journal of Marriage and Family 72 [June]: 557-575.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. 1983. In memory of her: A feminist theological reconstruction of Christian origins. New York: Crossroad.

Thatcher, Adrian. 2003. Norms, rules and steadfast love: Towards an inclusive theology of intimacy. Theology and Sexuality 9, no. 2: 230-241.

Tracy, Steven. 2006. Chastity and the goodness of God: The case for premarital sexual abstinence. Themelios 31, no. 2 [September]: 54-71.

Waite, Linda J. and Kara Joyner. 2001. Emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure in sexual unions: Time horizon, sexual behavior, and sexual exclusivity. Journal of Marriage and Family 63 [February]: 247-264.

Wolfe, Regina Wentzel and Christine E. Gudorf. 2008. Ethics and world religions: Cross-cultural case studies. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Zimmerman, Kari-Shane Davis. Hooking up: Sex, theology, and today's “unhooked” dating practices. Horizons 31, no. 1:72-91.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Neck Deep in Thesis

I've been up to my eyeballs in sexual ethics reading. Hence the no-posting for awhile. Here's what I've read so far. I admit to a compulsion to having to read all of a book or article. I'm told by successful academics that this will not be possible in the future, but so long as I'm a part-time student, I will give in to my vice and read from the roman numeral pages to the end.

Not a sexual ethics book, but I wanted to make sure to read something specifically by a Lutheran on ethics in general. Very good book. I'm a fan of Childs and this book provides an easy to follow method for moral discernment.

I'll be honest, I don't remember much of this book. Definitely dry. Definitely exegesis. I'm glad I took notes for later perusal. 

Full disclosure, Dr. G is my thesis advisor. That said, this is one of my top 3 books so far. Excellent look at Christian ethics from a liberal Christian point of view that is still well informed and well argued. Mutual pleasure is at the heart of the work. I can dig it. 

This is the second driest read of the group. It's very good exegetically and connects the dots between purity, property, and sex. I can appreciate his general findings (that anything related to purity laws is not binding on Christians; that most of the sexual injunctions in the Bible have a property right reasoning), but cannot agree with some specific findings (on bestiality and polygamy for instance).

Add this to the canon. It's that good. An excellent look at late 20th century Christian ethics. Only parts of it appear dated (written in 1978, it still has to address some of the "sexual revolution" things). Worth reading by anyone regardless of their level.

Excellent excellent excellent. I read this for an overview of her hermeneutics of suspicion methodology. But like I said, I had to read the whole thing. What was very surprising is that she didn't throw out Paul and the seeming "misogynist" authors, but rather embraced them and explained how those excerpts seemingly subordinating women could be reinterpreted based on the social ethos of the time to support a "discipleship of equals."

Bingo! Sexual ethics AND specifically Lutheran. Unfortunately this does not live up to Gudorf or Nelson -- but it's also directed at a different audience. No footnotes, no acadespeak, etc. It's a good book if you don't want all that extra stuff. But if you want more than meat and potatoes it might not live up to expectations.

Currently reading:
This is where I'm at now. On chapter 3. So far I am very impressed by her methodology. With rule-based ethic and situation ethic on either pole, she argues for an ethic of moral agency which approaches discernment from principle rather than set in stone rules. I think I'll continue liking this through the end.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Income Polarization and Asking the Right Question

An article on Yahoo News today addressed the truth to Obama's statements that the rich have been getting richer while the poor get poorer (Economic Study). The article is based on Richard Burkhauser's work. One of his articles that has already been published is similar to the Yahoo article. The one specifically referenced in Yahoo, however, is still coming down the pike.

The article that is already available is "Presidential Address: Evaluating the Questions That Alternative Policy Success Measures Answer" (a bit of an unwieldy title, huh?). Burkhauser makes an important point that at the bottom of every answer is a question, and how one asks the question often greatly affects the answer. So the question "are the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer?" is a great question for casual conversation, but when it comes to actually answering it, things get much more complicated. Specifically, how should we measure how rich or poor someone is? Usually we just look at income, but as Burkhauser points out, this can often be too simplistic.

Burkhaused has an issue with the convenient use of the "bottom 90% and top 10%" as definitions of rich and poor. He prefers to use quintiles (5 groups separated by 20%). Sounds good. Another problem Burkhauser has is with using just income as a judge. He says:
However, this measure of
income growth does not recognize that tax units are a subset of households and that
income sharing can occur across tax units within households. (For example, two
unmarried persons who live together must file their income tax forms separately.
Doing so makes them two separate sharing units in the Piketty and Saez world of
column 1, but they are nevertheless likely to share their market income between
them in their single household.)
Again, he may be onto something. He also believes we should include "in-cash government transfers." Taking these three new additions to the measure of rich or poor:
When we then acknowledge that households are of different sizes and that the
income available to a given individual will be affected by the number of persons in
his or her household (returns to scale are not perfect) and adjust our measure of
income in column 4 accordingly, we find that the increase of the median person’s
household size–adjusted pre-tax, post-government in-cash income increased by 23.6
percent, more than seven times the growth in column 1. The definition of income
used in column 4 is the one most often used in the United States poverty, income,
and income inequality literatures.
OK, I can dig it. Maybe those sounding the alarm about income polarization are a bit hyperbolic. Burkhauser then goes on to add fringe benefits to the mix. This makes income polarization even less likely.

So in addressing what the proper question should be, Burkhauser has revised the conventional approach and added some important ways to better judge income polarization. But has he arrived yet at the right question? No where does Burkhauser address hours worked per week. If the lower 20% are working twice as many hours a week for an increase in his revised income measure of 26.4%, that isn't a real increase. Or if a middle income earner spent 3 years going to school to get a degree and spent $60k of their own money to increase their human capital, that too must be included in the question. Other examples would be easy to come up with.

I appreciate Burkhauser's casuistry, but two things must go along with his revisions. One is the realization that his question still hasn't gotten to the bottom of the Question. And secondly, the more details and specifics that are included (and even those which are left out) can make it much more difficult to tell if a researcher is cherry-picking data in order to arrive at a pre-arranged solution. I am in no way implying that is what Burkhauser has done, simply that it needs addressed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Not Capitalism, but capitalisms

One pet peeve of mine is that when people are critical of the economic structure of the US, the free-market capitalists say "but that's not capitalism." As if the macroecnomic situation in this country were merely a case of semantics. Call it by another name and everything is fine, just don't call it capitalism.

Well obviously what we have in this country is capitalism. Vietnam has capitalism as well. So does England. Heck even China is approaching what could be called capitalism. There is no Capitalism with a capital C. There are merely various capitalisms.

At the heart of this argument is the difference between ideal types and reality. Some hold the Smith view of capitalism as the only ideal type for capitalism. Anything else demands another name. This is simply semantic hairsplitting. There will never be a real life incarnation of Smith's capitalism -- so making it the benchmark to judge whether an economy is "capitalist" or not is moot. What exist in the world are real-life versions of capitalism. And there are many of them. They are certainly not the same, but they are all capitalism.

(As an aside, I would offer the theory that economies and finance are socially constructed realities. Since all societies differ, their forms of economy will differ. This also means that what works well for one society may not work well for another. Hence the failure of exporting American capitalism to the developing world.)

I'm currently finishing Joseph Stiglitz's Making Globalization Work (I got it used for $2.25 on eBay and little did I know was signed by the author :O) and then moving onto James Childs's Greed (connecting the economic and Christian ethics dots) before hitting thesis reading full time. In his preface, Stiglitz says much more eloquently what I've been trying to say:

There is also a growing recognition that there is not just one form of capitalism, not just one "right" way of running the economy. There are, for instance, other forms of market economies . . . that have led to quite different societies, marked with better health care and education and less inequality. . .. And when there are alternatives and choices, democratic political processes should be at the center of the decision making -- not technocrats. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Palm Sunday vs Passion Sunday

It's the time of year for my annual lectionary rant. There are very few events in the New Testament that we can place chronologically. Outside of Holy Week and Pentecost, I can't think of any off-hand. We know that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday around Passover. We know he was crucified on Friday and that he rose the next Sunday. Yet the lectionary conflates Palm Sunday with Good Friday. I hate that.

The entry into Jerusalem is prophetic, glorious, and inspiring. It is usually relegated to a short march around the church waving palms and saying "Hosannas." Then the congregation enters to All Glory Laud and Honor and that's the end of it. From then on out it's about the events of Good Friday.

Then Good Friday service comes around and the readings are about . . . Good Friday. Yet we just heard this in its entirety on Sunday. Why the redundancy?

The only reason I can think of is that the expert developers of the lectionary were aware that Good Friday services were sparsely populated. Hearing the Passion is certainly important. So they made sure to put it on Palm Sunday so more people would hear it. This is a cop-out of an excuse. Admittedly, I haven't seen an official excuse offered.

It's time we returned the readings to their chronologically appointed days. Palm Sunday is for Hosannas and Blessed is He's. Good Friday is for the Passion. On top of this, everyone should be involved in a movement to get people to church on Good Friday (that is -- people who are church goers). Good Friday services are rightly solemn, but many times unnecessarily boring. Let's keep the solemn but work on the boring. Perhaps even a reintroduction of the Stations of the Cross (egads! But the Reformation!?)?

Here are some other blogs that pick up the topic -- and probably do a better job of it:

Rev Out Loud
Unlikely Conversation: A Lectionary Blog
Old Worship New

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Is Consent After All?

This came from an assignment where I was supposed to say two pages worth of something interesting about a Foucault interview ("Politics and Ethics: An Interview" for those really interested). I don't know much about Hannah Arendt, but the interviewer asked Foucault about her theory of power compared to his. That part isn't all that interesting, just the very last part of his answer when, concerning power relations, he says “perhaps one must not be for consensuality, but one must be against nonconsensuality.” This is a response to Arendt's concept of consensual power, but I believe there are many questions that can be mined from it. How do we define consent? Is consent the presence of a “yes” or the absence of a “no”? This is a foundational question regarding the definition of consent that I believe is immediately difficult to answer.

If we take this question and turn to a topic Foucault was fond of, sex, we can complicate things even further. In the realm of sexual relations, how is consent obtained? Do the conditions under which it is obtained affect the nature of consent, or even whether consent exists at all? Does the presence of a “yes” with an understanding of a quid pro quo in some way diminish the “yes”?

“Honey I'd like to do x tonight.”
“Eww, I hate x.”
“Well if you let me do x tonight I'll let you do y tomorrow night.”
“OK that's fine.” 
From quid pro quo it is not a big jump to coercion. Is the absence of a “no” when obtained under coercion consent? “I don't know how much longer I can hold out baby.” Do threats, even if implicit, of leaving a relationship if sex is not consented to diminish the “amount” of consent when it is given? And from coercion it is not a large jump at all to exploitation. Can a 14 year old Greek boy truly give consent to a 28 year old man? Can a young girl in rural France consent to a “harmless” game of curdled milk? At what point does coercion become exploitation?

These are all questions that I believe would have been fascinating to hear Foucault address in the course of this interview. I believe they continue to be important today – possibly even more so. Given the amount of questionably consensual sex on college campuses, these questions are not merely exercises in theory – they are materially important. I think it is important, however, that in trying to answer them we do not lose sight of the specific in attempting to provide broad rules of conduct.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fixing Our Economy Is As Easy As 1 2

Two changes to help sort our stuff out. These are a combination that I think are direly needed (and related). 

(1) As pointed out by Russ Roberts over at Cafe Hayek (already linked his paper a couple time), loss needs to be returned to the market. The financial meltdown occurred in large part because the financial industry felt confident betting with other people's money with the implied assurance that the government would bail them out if something drastic happened. 

(2) The state needs to supervise the market as opposed to the other way around (a point brought up by Foucault cited by Palma in a good article on the meltdown). It doesn't do us much good to ask GE to write tax laws. It doesn't do much good to allow Wall St to pick and choose which regulators they'd like. Or to ask polluters to write laws on pollution. The government determines the rules that the market will play by. Or at least that's the way it should be.

There is nothing "natural" about markets or capitalism. They are products of our cultural milieu -- in much the same way that football is. There is nothing "natural" about football. Someone invented it and then we found out it worked (and we liked it). But football does not exist outside of the rules that were constructed to play it. The same goes for the market. The government sets up the rules that the market should play by, then the market plays. The way things have been operating (since 1980 or so) has been, in effect, that the Super Bowl winners have been allowed to write the rules for next season.

And this brings us to campaign finance reform and political contributions. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Who Decides the American Dream?

Now that we are 3+ years removed from the beginning of this financial mess, and with each set of data a recovery seems underway, many are starting to turn to the job of finding out just what happened and how to prevent it in the future. At the heart of this debate is homeownership and the perennial question "Who decides who gets to own a home?" Dig a little deeper and the question is "Who decides who decides who gets a home?"

Many point to the GSEs (Fred and Fan Mae) as being the responsible parties in subprime loans. They follow that one step further to the goals laid down by George W and Bill Clinton to boost homeownership which then gets backtracked to the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. There is still an underlying question that isn't addressed by these causes though. The GSEs, Bill and George, and the CRA were merely trying to increase homeownership of those people who could afford a home but simply didn't qualify for a "conforming" mortgage as laid out by banks.

The above causes contributed to innovations such as 3% down mortgages and piggy-back loans which both served to counter the 20% down rule of conforming loans (I don't want to touch on 0 down loans as they seem barely justifiable even in highly specific cases). Russ Roberts lays out some good ideas in "Gambling With Other People's Money":
The opportunity to borrow money with a 3 percent down payment has three effects on the housing market: 
• It allows people who normally wouldn’t have accumulated a sufficient down payment to buy a house. 
• It encourages homeowners to bid on larger, more expensive houses rather than cheaper ones. 
• It encourages prospective buyers to bid more than a house is currently worth if the house is expected to appreciate in value
The first of the three points above is the whole point of the changes to conforming loans. The other two points are interesting but would take me way too long to comment on.

 Now we have a working class family that makes $40k a year with both parents working who want to buy a $120k house able to put down under $4000 instead of $24,000. Quite a difference. Assuming they can make the monthly payments, is there any reason they should not have the 3% mortgage available to them?

Was this push for higher homeownership rates simply identified with revisions to conformity rules on mortgages? Were banks (especially the GSEs) pressured to give more loans not only with less money down, but to people less likely to be able to pay? Part of this question addresses how the banks decided who was "worthy" of a loan. Whether upper-middle class families play the credit rating game better, or whether the rules to the credit rating game are biased towards the upper-middle class, I don't know. I do know that if you look at just credit scores, you will get some glaring disparities between the results and the actual thing you're trying to measure -- the credit worthiness of an individual. So the GSEs came up with some new ways to determine credit worthiness. Some of them were probably very good. Some of them ended up being pretty bad. No/low documentation mortgages and 0 down mortgages are glaringly bad. Looking at more than just credit rating is pretty darn good.

Now in 2011 we have some people trying to say the "American Dream" of homeownership isn't even all that great. A soon to be released article attempts to show that homeownership compared to renting isn't even beneficial financially: Second Thoughts on the American Dream. This premise seems awfully specious to me. I'll have to reserve judgement until the whole article is published though. And hope there aren't too many math problems in it. Owning a home isn't for everyone. And it's certainly not a right. I agree. But for whom is it for then? If one looks at the homeownership rates by income level, it seems pretty obvious that homeownership is a benefit. Homeownership rates go up as income goes up. This seems pretty damning evidence for this article.

At the end of all of this, who "deserves" a house? Who decides who deserves a house? Are the rules we make concerning mortgages, conformation, percent down, credit-worthiness, etc. effective at limiting homeownership to those who can afford it? Or are they constructed in a way that prohibits some from buying a home that otherwise could afford it?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Goal in Libya

Much has been made lately about what our "goal" is concerning the military action in Libya. Obama has stated that Gadhafi has got to go. But he's also stated that this is a humanitarian intervention and not a regime change action. I guess we'll get the details on Monday during his speech. As far as pragmatism goes here's my take on it.

Our goal is apparently to simply negate Gadhafi's significant advantages in the realms of (1) air power, (2) armor, and (3) command and control. Calling this a no-fly zone makes point 1 obvious -- since Gadhafi can attack via helicopters and planes with impunity, we are there to negate that advantage. When we consider the targets that have been reported by the press, we can see that this is more than just a no-fly zone. Tanks and other armor have been targeted as well. Those don't fly. Obviously we aren't just worried about a no-fly zone. The resistance does not have many (if any) armored assets. We've also targeted his own compound and other infrastructural buildings. The resistance themselves have commented on their difficulties in organizing especially between cities.

I agree on the importance of having a clear goal in a mission. I also realize that this is a difficult thing to articulate in situations of extreme dynamics with the risk of massive civilian deaths. So in some cases I can let the clear goal slide. I don't think, however, that our job should be simply to level the playing field. If our goal was humanitarian intervention, our targets would be limited to ones that threatened humanity. But now that things are becoming clearer, it is also becoming more apparent that this intervention is not justified.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just War and Libya

This is a tough one. First, there's some considerable differences between Libya and both Iraq and Afghanistan. Concerning a legitimate authority, Libya is the only one of the three to show that there is a resistance force capable of self-governing at least parts of the country. If it weren't for this, the resistance itself would not be legitimate. The second side of the legitimacy issue is who authorized the "no fly zone." In this case, it went through the UN with a vote of 10-0 with China and Russia abstaining. That is pretty substantial. This is the sort of multilateral effort that was lacking certainly in Iraq and to a degree in Afghanistan.

Considering just cause, the waters get a little more murky. Sure, defending unarmed civilians is a great cause, I'm just not sure if it merits millions of dollars worth of aircraft, logistics, and cruise missiles. The word "genocide" has been tossed around as well. I admit not knowing a lot about the population of Libya, but can it really be considered a genocide? Are the resistance fighters of a specific race or ethnicity? Not sure. "Massacre" or "bloodbath" would seem more accurate. Do we have a responsibility to prevent massacres and bloodbaths? I suppose so. But this no-fly zone seems to have been pushed more by European nations than by the US. France especially appeared the most hawkish. Which begs the question. While a blog isn't an academic publication, I do like to cite when I'm able. This next tidbit I can't though. Probably some NPR show -- Europe is more dependent on Libyan oil than the US because Libyan oil is chemically better for diesel (Europe uses a much higher % of diesel than the US). This might be a small cause and would definitely be unjust, but I think there's a bigger issue at hand -- refugees and immigrants. Continental Europe already has huge problems with Muslim immigrants. France and Italy especially. Given these two countries' geographic location compared to Libya, I could see this being a greater cause than any aversion to massacres. Just cause, in my opinion, is not met.

Last resort is a toughy. In a situation that is so rapidly developing and amorphous, it's very hard to tell what other options might have been pursued. It definitely felt like Gadhafi was on his last leg about a week ago. Could the world's leaders have either persuaded or coerced him to step down when his position seemed bleakest? Possibly. I suppose we'll know in 15 years when "True Hollywood Stories" takes up the issue. Last resort is going to have to be a push for me. Not enough information on hand right now (unfortunately I don't have to time to research it any more).

So, is the action over the weekend in Libya justified under the "rules" of Just War? I'm not really sure. I'd lean towards "no." But I am heartened at the multilateral cooperation and specifically the reliance on the UN. In this respect, I can state confidently that whether or not this action is justified, (and this next part admittedly is irrational -- in a "yes" or "no" question you can't have "less of a no") it is more justifiable than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

James Burke is Awesome

This Foucault class got me thinking about James Burke again and his series "Connections." I saw this back when I was in High School and it was running on TLC (back when TLC had LEARNING shows -- go figure). Burke's view of history is very similar to Foucault's -- there are so many seemingly random events that come together in history that there is no way to portray history on a linear timeline, much less any way to accurately predict what might happen in the future. Here's a link to it in case anyone is interested in learning more about the series. It's a DVD set and a book. Connections

I'm going to use two quotes from the first episode in my paper on the financial crisis. Burke's illustration of the technological trap can be expanded by Foucault's notion of "technology" where it isn't related only to scientific advancements, but also social, structural, power, etc. advancements that work on us. Anyways, the quotes:

And as the years of the 20th century have gone by, the things we take for granted have multiplied way beyond the ability of any individual to understand in a lifetime. The things around us, the man-made inventions we provide ourselves with, are like a vast network each part of which is interdependent with all the others . . .. Change anything in that network and the effects spread like ripples in a pond. And all the things in that network have become so specialized that only the people involved in making them understand them.
Yea, welcome to post-modernism!

And the technological trap:
This is one of the more perfect examples of the of the kind of technological trap that we set for ourselves: the lift, the elevator; I mean, what is this? It's a steel box with some buttons in it and maybe a trapdoor for emergency. But whoever looks that close except when this happens [lights go out]: Where is it? And even in this situation, closed in, with an escape route that we can't handle, we behave like many of those New Yorkers did: we strike a light and we look around to see how badly things are. And, if we find in this case an emergency button, absolutely great; we sit back, and we wait for help to come. We wait for technology to come back and save our lives, because it's inconceivable that it won't isn't it? I mean if you admit that, you've got to admit that every single day of your life, in some form or other, you unconsciously walk yourself into a technology trap, because that's the only way to live in the modern world. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gambling with other people's money

I'm reading Russ Roberts's report on the financial crisis an came across a paragraph that I think directly relates to the debate on racism found two posts ago. I dug myself a hole by using "evidence" and "hints" as two different forms of proof. I should have gone with what Roberts ends up using: "direct" and "indirect" evidence. While Roberts is talking about the effects of low-probability of loss on risk taking, if you read this paragraph in relation to racism I think it also makes a lot of sense. Bold is mine.

While direct evidence is unlikely, the indirect evidence relies on how people generally behave in situations of uncertainty. When expected costs are lowered, people behave more recklessly. When football players make a tackle, they don’t consciously think about the helmet protecting them, but safer football equipment encourages more violence on the field. Few people think that it’s okay to drive faster on a rainy night when they have seatbelts, airbags,and antilock brakes, but that is how they behave. Not all motivations are direct and conscious.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mike Foxtrot Takes on Wall Street's Charlie Foxtrot

Still working on my Foucault paper. It'll attempt to be a Foucaultian analysis of the subprime financial meltdown. Here's a brief summary. Stay tuned for more!

The neoliberalism beginning in the late 70s and gaining steam in the Reagan/Thatcher years was a technology of power that boasted of increased freedom but which actually increased subjection. The deregulation of neoliberalism, a prima facie reading of which would yield increased egalitarianism, actually resulted in increased income polarization. This came to manifest itself in the technological trap of the subprime financial crisis.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is the Tea Party Racist?

Thanks to the brouhaha of NPR executives and speaking off the record, this question is again in public view. I thought it was strange that the exec would be in hot water for speaking the truth. Several people replied to this comment by asking for "evidence." It seemed to something so obvious that it was common knowledge -- just something no one talks about. Like cancer. But I guess some "evidence" needs to be provided. Another key difference is what exactly "racism" is.

For starters, a cursory glance over the evidence is available by typing "is the tea party racist" into a Google search. Many of the articles are several years old now, but they detail how this idea got started. But the great majority of the "evidence" is available only after one considers what "racism" is (please permit me a mini-genealogy of racism).

Slavery in the South made it easy to identify racism. If you were pro-slavery, you were racist. Racism was obvious. Blatant. Concrete. But as the "war against racism" has been fought, racism has given up its obviousness for a more inconspicuous form. If racism were obvious, it would be denounced by (almost) all sides for what it is. So racism moved into the cracks. It became amorphous in order to take the shape of the institutions and power relations that it found itself in. It was no longer concrete, but abstract. This can even be seen immediately following the Civil War. Slavery was blatantly racist. But poll taxes . . . poll taxes on the other hand were a bit more slippery. "What do you mean 'racist'? We charge EVERYONE a poll tax. You couldn't be more equal than that!" This same insidious racism has been alive and well since Jim Crow. It's just become more and more hidden.

This brings us back to "evidence." Because of the slipperiness of racism, there is no "evidence" for it. There are only hints. Only vestiges that remain. There is no "smoking gun" to prove racism. But there are motives and clues that point to it. One of these is to consider who benefits from something. So we look at the Tea Party's platform. Who stands to benefit from it? If the Tea Party were magically able to push through their top 5 legislative wishes, who would be better off because of it? Who would be worse off? Of course we are talking about hypotheticals, but it seems pretty clear to me that cutting taxes and cutting spending would disproportionately benefit whites and disproportionately hurt minorities. Just like the poll tax.

We can also point to another hint. Again, it's no smoking gun, but it points to something fishy. If the Tea Party is a national movement counting some hundreds of thousands of "members," and 90% of those members are white . . . well something's a little bit funny there.

Another hint -- is it a coincidence that the Tea Party movement gained steam at the same time that our chances of electing a black president increased? A little fishy.

Lastly, there was the issue of several racially suspicious signs and statements made in the formative months of the Tea Party. Hurling racial slurs at black lawmakers. Depicting Obama as a monkey. Now maybe these were just the rebellious outliers who ended up being thrown out of the movement. But again, it's a hint. Maybe they just cleaned up their act but maintained the ideology.

So is there "evidence" or "proof" that the Tea Party is racist? No. Are there hints? Definitely. Do I think the Tea Party is racist? You betcha.

Update: John has posted his own take on this over on his blog: What is racism and Why the Tea Party is Not

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Response to Andrew Rotherham

I am all for civil discourse, which is why I was happy to see an article on the Wisconsin issue written in an intelligible and polite way. Here is the original article, which might come in handy as I respond to it: Beyond Unions: 5 New Rules for All Teachers.

I was a teacher union member for 9 years (I'm approaching my tenth anniversary as a public school teacher). I quit my union about 2 months ago over incompetence. But I'm still a big supporter of unions and specifically collective bargaining.

All those disclosures taken care of, here's what I think Rotherham either gets wrong or leaves out. His first point, on evaluation, appears logical. Evaluation of a teacher's performance should be based on how it can materially benefit the students. All fine and dandy. What Rotherham leaves out, however, is that many times, Principal/Teacher relations are less than collegial. I've been lucky that I've never had an issue with a principal. I have heard many horror stories, though, of principals who "have it in" for teachers in general or specific teachers. Limiting evaluations is one way of restricting a principal's power to make a teacher's life a living hell. That said, an evaluation process that nurtures collegiality sounds like a great idea. I still caution those who turn to fresh MBAs looking for input on how to evaluate teachers more like private sector employees -- they simply are not analogous.

On his "Last In, First Out" section, Rotherham is largely indefensible. Let's face it: teachers get paid crap and get treated like crap. We have one thing going for us and that is job security. Once we've "paid our dues" we can relax a bit and feel comfortable knowing that we'll have a job next year. That does NOT mean that we relax in our performance. I'd be interested in seeing any credible study that finds correlation between job security (what some call "tenure" but is non-existent in other districts) and job performance. What Rotherham leaves out of his whole article, and which I'll get to below, could go a long way towards supporting his position -- but he leaves it out.

Rotherham takes on the issue of transfers and "bumping" of less experienced teachers by more experienced ones. Keep in mind, teachers are forced into a situation of serving "two masters" so to speak: they are employees of a district while they work at a school. If you ask a teacher where their loyalties lie, they will tell you it's with the school. I believe it's very important to protect a teacher's position at a school. So in this sense, I agree with Rotherham. Teachers should be given the time to develop a relationship a specific school, not as a cog in a district-wide machine. It can't be denied, however, that demographic shifts across a district may make it necessary to change the amount of teachers at each school. It makes sense that if school X needs to cut 3 teachers and school Y needs to add 3, that those with the most time spent developing relationships at school X be allowed to stay.

"Tenure and Due Process" rules approaches the point that I said Rotherham left out, but doesn't make it explicit. The due process example he gives is definitely an exception. I doubt anyone would argue that a teacher who deserves to lose their job should be allowed to keep it due to a beaureaucratic snafu. Tenure on the other hand, is an important concept as I have already mentioned above.

When it comes to salary schedules, Rotherham seems to be ignorant of the fact that many school districts DO pay harder to find teachers more money. Either that or he chose to ignore it. Either way, it proves his argument to be specious. My first year teaching I got an unexpected check. When I asked what it was for, I was told that music was a "critical shortage area." I didn't complain. The next year, music wasn't critical shortage anymore. That certainly didn't affect whether I taught or not. While addressing teacher's pay schedules, Rotherham attacks pay based on seniority and advanced degrees while espousing pay based on
differentiation based on how challenging teaching assignments are, hard-to-fill subjects like math, science, special education or foreign languages, and how effective teachers are in the classroom
The first point I have already addressed and the second was touched on under evaluation. It deserves a bit more space, however.

The idea of "merit based pay" for teachers has been gathering steam. And, no doubt, teachers unions will need to concede something on this topic. Here is my take on it. Let's not call it "merit based pay" when the data used for determining a teacher's merit comes from the students, not the teacher. That would be "merit based pay by proxy." And therein lies the problem: how do you equitably and accurately measure a teacher's merit? I have yet to find a method that meets those two criteria. Yet I do not think we should postpone merit based pay simply because there isn't a perfect method of implementation. So let's take on the task, through collective bargaining, of introducing merit based pay. What is NOT a good idea, however, is the law that was vetoed once and is being debated a second time in Florida (this time with an butthole of a governor) which would make FIFTY PERCENT of a teacher's salary based on their merit. This is simply unethical. We cannot demonize teachers to the point of expecting them to have no idea what next year's salary will be. It's hard enough to buy a house on a teacher's salary. How are teachers going to apply for a car loan, let alone a mortgage!, when they have to answer "How much do you make a year?" with "Well . . . it could be $45,000 . . . . or $22,500" (by the way, I've been teaching for 10 years and have a masters degree, but I don't make 45k yet).

And now for the big point that Rotherham left out!

Teachers should be easier to fire. Many of the issues he brings up could be allayed, if not solved, by making it easier to fire teachers. I don't disagree with this idea at all. But I think it needs to be reconciled with the idea of job security. If a teacher has been working for 3-5 years and has never had an issue on their evaluations, I think that teacher should feel secure in their job. If this is what is called "tenure," I'm all for it. But inside of those 3-5 years of "paying dues," if a teacher is deficient, and the district has offered support, and the teacher is STILL deficient . . . then by all means show them the door.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Atheist or Religious???

See that title? Another false dilemma! This all comes out of an article I read in the Herald Atheist Draws Crowd. I can understand why atheists feel the need to be defensive and attack religion. Religion has attacked atheism for a loooooong time. Here's a quote from the article that shows his posturing:

People often ask him, he said, why he lacks belief in God, but he thinks that is bad phrasing.
“One wouldn’t say that one lacks a belief in fairies and leprechauns,” he said.

God or leprechauns! Not a false dilemma though, but a false analogy.

Anyhoo, does it really need to be a battle? Later on he says,

he makes a distinction between “putting down illogical beliefs and putting down individuals.”
But this refers back to another post I made (Faith Is a Fallacy). Religion is NOT logical. It's not supposed to be! The power of religion, especially Christianity, is in the faith.

A friend recently told me he was agnostic (as well as a day trader--I wonder if those two correlate: Daytradin foo). My response was "We all should be agnostic!" There's no proof of any of our faith. And that's what gives it power.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lift Every Voice and Sing

I teach this song to all my kids every February. I don't get into the misnomer of a "black national anthem," but I think it's a beautiful song and an important one for them to learn.

But better yet is singing this song in church. The Johnson brothers did a great job of writing a song that appeals to a specific time without alienating everyone else. Obviously, the song refers to slavery, but if one were not aware of that beforehand, the song would still be beautiful. They are able to generalize the specific in a great way.

There are a couple hymns that I find very moving. One is the third verse of How Great Thou Art. The last verse of this one is another. Hopefully quoting just one verse won't tick of the Johnson estate. :)

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jesus's Party Affiliation

The people that appear to read this mainly do so without leaving any comments. With this post, I'd like people to reply.

If Jesus were around right now, which party affiliation would he choose? Let's limit it to D and R. I, of course, have any answer which isn't surprisingly "D." But I'd like to hear from others that think Jesus would side with Republicans the majority of the time. Is there anything scripturally that makes you believe one way or another? Does scripture and Jesus even enter your mind when making political decisions?

Hopefully blogspot let's you post replies without registering. But I'm honestly interested in hearing opinions from people I might not agree with.

Obviously, those who aren't Christian could probably care less. And I'm fine with that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

There Are No Such Things as Dilemmas

More on fallacies. One of my favorites -- false dilemma. This is the argument where two choices are given as being the only two choices, but there are in fact other choices. I heard this back in 2009 when someone at church said "You can't be Christian and vote for Obama." The argument that there are only two choices, you can chose to be Christian or you can chose to vote for Obama, is a fallacy of false dilemma. I also heard it in 2010 after the ELCA churchwide assembly -- "you can't believe the Bible and think homosexuality is OK." False dilemma.

But the more I think about it, ALL dilemmas are false dilemmas. Are we really so uncreative as to imagine a situation where there are only two choices?

Cake or death!?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Faith is a Fallacy

In traditional logic, syllogisms are set up with two presumptions followed by a "therefore." If A --> B, and B -->C, then A --> C. Faith doesn't employ this strategy. There is no syllogism to validate our faith. This makes faith inherently fallacious. I suppose you could call it begging the question, circular logic, or a leap of faith, but regardless it isn't logical or "reasonable" to a logician/rhetorician.

This isn't a problem though. If we acknowledge that our faith is fallacious by accepting that we are making a logical jump, we can still discuss it on equal ground with those who are skeptical. We can talk about believing without knowing. But we can't ignore the fallacy -- that would be blind faith. Faith isn't blind -- it's trusting. Although it may be slight, there's a difference between those two.

Lastly, we should embrace the fallacy. A statement made in a fallacy does not mean that the statement is false.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Violent Language and Material Violence

For the record, since the shootings in Arizona I have not been one of the liberals to blame the right wing. I HAVE been one to scream loudly that the increasingly confrontational way in which we've been speaking to each other is irresponsible. I have not mentioned in the past week anything about curtailing first or second amendment rights. But with rights comes responsibilities. Crosshairs on names, inviting people to "take out" the incumbents with the incentive of firing a machine gun, exhorting not to "retreat" but "reload," that "if ballots don't work, bullets will" etc. are not responsible. Sure, I am citing all things said and done but conservatives, but I'm sure it wouldn't take too much digging to find liberals saying similarly bellicose things 4-8 years ago.

This is not to say that there was a link, either direct or indirect, between this sort of discourse and the shooting. But is it possible there was a link either direct or indirect? Most assuredly so. Do people's actions exist in a moral vacuum? Most assuredly not. Does society contribute to the decisions people make? Yes. Should society be held accountable in such instances? You betcha. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Geometry of a Wedding

Who cares about a wedding? Marriage is something you turn in at the court house to make it legal. Therein lies the problem.

It's been awhile since I've had geometry class, but three geometric terms (are they all conic sections? I don't remember) come to mind when arguing for an actual wedding ceremony. And all three describe and establish relationships that foster commitment to marriage.

The first is a horizontal line connecting the couple--the bride and groom being the normative couple but it's equally applicable to same sex unions. The couple are joined by a line when they recite their values. The line goes in both directions equally. Mutual submission. Mutual commitment to the relationship. Etc. This is the line established with "I do." It is a covenant between two people.

There is also a plane of commitment, though. The couple stands at the center of an ever-increasing circle, developing relationships with all the family and friends present. The couple gives away their commitment to this relationship through trust to all those gathered. The gathered likewise share in this social covenant that they will support the new couple through advice, prayers, leading by example, etc. A common part of many wedding ceremonies points this out with words along the lines of "let all those already married be renewed in their vows" etc. The circle is ever growing because this web of relationships is ever growing. The couple also owes a vow to any children that result from the marriage, any nieces, nephews, friends' children, etc. The greater the social web, the stronger the marriage bond for all involved. 

Lastly, there is a vertical line between the couple and God (or whatever transcendent reality you'd prefer). This line also goes both ways, but is not equal. 

Wedding vows that take place solely on the horizontal line through some sort of legal document are not doomed, but they have less resources to call on in times of stress. A wedding whose vows take place between a couple, between a couple and their friends/family, and between a couple and God have much greater resources, in both strength and number, to call on in time of need.