Saturday, February 03, 2007

Standardized Tests for College

It works so well for elementary, middle, and high school students, why not try it here? According to Inside Higher Ed, Texas Gov. Slick Rick Perry wants gaduating seniors to take standardized tests in their field of study. While this will not affect whether or not the student graduates, it will alter how universities receiving funding form the state. The schools with higher scores will receive more funding. According to Perry, these tests will provide:
“a simple and understandable way to compare the quality of degree programs offered at different schools, and academic departments would be able to better assess and refine curricula.”

There are a lot of questions that correlate to the idea of a test at this level:
(1) What subjects could be tested?
(2) How could you test certain humanities subjects and allow for student creativity and interpretation?
(3) How will this effect admissions policies?
(4) If this were to pass, would this alter a liberal arts education?
(5) Will this hinder the search or discovery for knowledge?

This reminds me of Florida's attempt to teach history as being "factual" rather than "constructed" and to make sure it is by pssing a bill to force teachers to teach it this way. To see the Florida bill, go here.

Oh, well. It is only Texas. It is just anohter attempt here to help those who do not need the help.

The beauty of satire

The unique patriot Jon Swift provides a wonderful insight into the fight over minimum wage. Here is an excerpt:
Because American workers get paid so much, many businesses are outsourcing labor or moving overseas. If we want to compete, we are going to have to lower the minimum wage below the levels in countries such as China and India, whose economies are booming. In parts of China, for example, the minimum wage is about 20 cents an hour. In some states in India, the minimum wage is about 10 cents an hour. If we want to stop hemorrhaging jobs to these countries, we are going to have to undercut those rates.

Lowering the minimum wage would also solve our immigration problem. The minimum wage in Mexico is about 50 pesos a day, or $4.53. In an 8-hour workday, that's about 57 cents an hour, a little more than one-tenth of the U.S. minimum wage. If we just set the minimum wage below 50 cents an hour, how many Mexican immigrants do you think will risk their lives sneaking over the border for that? By significantly lowering the minimum wage below Mexico's, we could end the immigration problem very quickly.

Some Republican Senators have an even better idea: Abolish the Federal minimum wage altogether. They sponsored a bill that would let states set their own minimum wages below the already inflated Federal minimum wage. This measure would have given states the ability to compete to see who could pay workers less, helping small businesses and attracting new businesses. Some of the poorer states in the South, for example, could set their minimum wages at zero, which would allow family farmers to pay their workers by giving them room and board or scrip instead of cash. They could import workers from places like Africa, where just earning a little food and a roof over their heads would represent a significant improvement in their living standards. The South would finally rise again with this kind of economic stimulus.

Unfortunately, this measure didn't pass, but 28 Republican Senators voted for it, including potential Presidential candidates John McCain, Sam Brownback and Chuck Hagel, both of the Senators from Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, and the bill's sponsor Wayne Allard. These Senators know that if we are going to compete with Third World economies we need to start paying Third World wages.

Blogging Jesus Camp

My wife and I watched the docu-drama Jesus Camp this morning. The beginning of the movie made her so uncomfortable that she repeatedly needed to leave the room. Here are a few random musings about the film. It is
certainly worth watching. If you plan to watch it, you may not want to read this.

1. The absence of theology:

There is no deeply religious or philosophical discussion about the Bible or about religion. Instead, there are a series of authoritative claims that people, especially kids accept without discussion. For example, consider one of Ted “I have lust in my heart and needed to resign from ministries Haggard’s comments: “We don’t need to have a general assembly about it. It is in the Bible.” This overlooks competing interpretations of the Bible, how to decide which competing verses are more important, how to discuss different translations of the Bible (in the Greek texts, the Mary is not a virgin but a young woman), and how to decide which rules to follow and which rules to overlook (there are over 600 rules in the OT—some people would gladly adopt the rule that prohibits two men form laying with one another like a man and woman, but would gladly overlook the ban of shellfish, wearing clothes that contain multiple types of fabrics, and the rules that state we should take slaves from neighboring countries and not from our own people.) Further, why should we decontextualize the rules? The rules on shellfish develop out of concern for proper dietary preparations during the time of the Old Testament. We do not have those problems today. We are not about to impose slavery. Well, hopefully we are not.

Side Note: There is a funny scene in the movie when Haggard discusses homosexuality, which was filmed before he resigned. It appears as if he is repenting on camera.

2. Literalism, in the Bible and in Life.

Everything is literal- Not only Biblical interpretation; there is no distinction between literalism in any aspect of life and there is no distinction between fiction and reality. They cannot admit that Harry Potter is fiction. The camp leader states: “Warlocks are the enemy of God. If Harry Party had been in the Old Testament, he would have been put to death…. This is a generation devoted to purity.” Another will not discuss ghost stories because they do not honor God.

It seems everything that is non-Christian is a threat to Christianity. The consequence of this would be the death of the imagination, the prevention of political consensus, and possibly, the prevention of a political consciousness. Though I doubt that the leaders of this movement would care any of these if they developed against literalism. Will the strict adherence to this literalism lead to a rejection of the basic tenets of the Evangelical lifestyle like it did in the Puritan community, or, will Evangelicals reconcile spirituality and materialism in a way that the Puritans could not.

3. Agency and Invention:

There is a lack of agency throughout the culture, which seems to contradict the entire notion of being “born again.”

When discussing how he writes a sermon, one of the children stated, “I don’t write. God writes for me.”

Another minister told the crowd of children that “Levi would be a God seeker from an early age” and God wrote the book of his life. These metaphors deny agency, which denies the theological concept of being “Born-Again.” Oh wait, see number one

The rejection of anything else in culture, such as Harry Potter, Brittney Spears, etc., allows the kids to develop ideas and arguments only from Christianity. Yet, without the theology, a larger discussion of faith and religion, and a misreading of the Bible to favor social issues (such as abortion—there is no ban on abortion in the Bible), these children are indoctrinated to have only religious and authoritative premises to work with when engaging others in the public sphere. There would be no common values between the religious and the non-religious or even between some religious sects and other religious sects.

4. The political and the religious

There seems to be a difference between the two in many ways, especially with balancing competing beliefs in society. Yet, the subjects of the movie fail to differentiate between the two and reject communities other than the Evangelical Christian community. One little girl rejects the community because only God will “judge her.” Another Ted Haggard stated that if the Evangelicals vote, they determine elections. There is little need for political consensus.

Global Warming: While I can understand the rejection of some topics such as the absence of school prayer or including evolution but not creationism, but global warming? In one scene a mother home-schools her child and refutes global warming (because the average temperature of the Earth increased less than 1 degree in the past century). There seems to be less concern over stewardship of the land because there will be an imminent return. This plays into the hands of others on the right.

During the camp, they received a visit from “President Bush” in the form of a cardboard cutout. One leader mentioned he surrounded himself with spiritual people. They kids reaffirm their beliefs about religion and G.W. Bush as they recite, “One Nation Under God.” Yet, religious conservatives do not seem to be willing to hold the President accountable for civilian deaths in the war, torture, and for not enacting the social policies the base desires.

America is a Christian Nation: there is a reliance on a literal interpretation of the Bible except for this. There is no mention of this in the Bible and the historical interpretation does not warrant this; how can people reach this conclusion? The best example seems to be the treaty of Tripoli enacted by the Adams administration and the Congress of the time.

Pledging allegiance to a Christian American and the Bible seems dangerous.

5. Odd Practices:

Blessing the absurd: Before camp started, the leaders blessed the pews,
the computers, the electricity, and the Power Point because the devil
wanted to interfere.

Speaking in tongues and the constant crying: This is just too much, especially for the way in which the pathos supercedes the logos. There is no need to discussion.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Libel Laws, Blogs, and Texas

Viki Truitt, a state representative from Texas, pre-filled a bill to limit defamatory comments on the internet, epecially, it seems, blogs. According the the Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram, the language of the bill "specified that the author of defamatory statements expressed on the Internet would be subject to the same libel limitations as the author of any other statement 'in any other written or graphic form.'" The intent would bring some "civility" to the blog world, or, at least to diminished comments that some object to because they insult individuals and provide little social worth.

The problem, if this bill or any one like it passed, would be the "chilling effect" of speech and would provide one set of standards for traditional, and reserved media outlets such as the Mass Media, and another set of standards for the bloggers. It seems that it would be easier to control the elite and harder to control the people.

Texas is not the only state considering a bill. Tennessee and considered and withdrew support for a bill.

Under current US Defamation Law, it is very hard to prove and very hard to convict. First, Slander applies to spoken discourse ad libel applies to print doscourse. There are two types of libel- liberl per se (the statement and libel per quod (based on circumstances). The first covers statements about criminality, whether or not the person has a contageous disease, attack of a reputation, and attack on sexual immorality. The second type is based on circumstance. If you asserted a person was perfectly healthy and the person received money for health insurance this could be libel per quod. I do not know how satire or irony affects both.

The current Supreme Court test seems to protect freedom of speech over protecting the individual who is criticized by the remarks to ensure a chilling effect does not occur. Private persons receive more protection than public persons. The defenses against a libel complaint are (1) truth (2) comments dows not harm an already tarnished reputation (3) it is a privileged communication and (4) the comment needs to be made with actual malice. The fourth is the hardest to prove.

This may be something worth watching.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A few songs that take me back to my recent float trip down the Amazon

Does anyone know...

when Harrogate will be returning from his backpacking adventures through Southeast Asia. I can hardly wait until he's finally able to plug into the web and post to our blog again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why doesn't the war on terror exist?

In the recent L.A. Times editorial, "Is Hollywood too timid for the war on terror?" Andrew Klaven chastises Hollywood for not examining the War on Terror. “Because the war on terror is the history of our time,” Klaven writes, “The outcome of our battle against the demographic, political and military upsurge of a hateful theology and its oppressive political vision will determine the fate of freedom in this century.” Yet, even though he labels this war as “our” history and, in doing so, deflects away from the partisan interests that developed this war since the 2002 mid-terms, Klaven believes it is Hollywood’s fault. Television attempts to tackle the War, but movies do not because movie makers want us to beleive that if we ignore it, it will go away. The movie industry is the perfect fit to tell the ultimate good versus evil tale so why doesn't it?
That kind of rousing story seems tailor-made for films. So why aren't they telling it? It's not just about left and right, blue and red; it really isn't. You don't have to like President Bush or support our efforts in Iraq to understand the threat of conspirators plotting to kill your children in the name of jihad.

In all fairness, moviemakers have a legitimately baffling problem with the nature of the war itself. In order to honestly dramatize the simple truth about this existential struggle, you have to depict right-minded Americans — some of whom may be white and male and Christian — hunting down and killing dark-skinned villains of a false and wicked creed. That's what's happening, on a good day anyway, so that's what you'd have to show.

Moviemakers are reluctant to do that because, even though it's the truth, on screen it might appear bigoted and jingoistic. You can call that political correctness or multiculturalism gone mad — and sure, there's a lot of that going around. But despite what you might have heard, there are sensible, patriotic people in the movie business too. And even they, I suspect, falter before the prospect of presenting such a scenario.

We cherish the religious tolerance of our society, after all. Plus, we're less than a lifetime away from Jim Crow and, decent people that we are, we're rightly humbled by the moral failures of our past. We've become uncomfortable to the point of paralysis when reality draws the limits of tolerance and survival demands pride in our traditions and ferocity in their defense. We can show homegrown terrorists in, say, "Déjà Vu" or real-life ones, as in "United 93," but we can't bring ourselves to fictionalize the larger idea: Islamo-fascism is an evil and American liberty a good

I think that the writer wants Hollywood to revert back to the WWII era, where the government and the movie industry produced propaganda to unite the American public. Further, he asserts that its Hoolywood’s desire for political correctness that diminishes this objective. However, I have a better idea: let’s have a non-partisan attempt to define the War on Terror.

In the recent SOTU Address, President Bush finally discussed the differences between Sunni and Shia, though it seems from the address both groups are our enemies and our allies. Politicians have not been able to fully define this war without being partisan. Yet, the writer asks Hollywood to engage the complexities of the War on Terror in a two-hour film without discussing American involvement or American-morality.

This article pushes the burden of proof from our political leaders and citizens to the movie industry. While it may not be bad to develop such movies and these movies may help the general public, this article covers uneasy ground into the area of propaganda and asks little of the elected officials and the citizens of this country to engage in an active debate over the topics. Instead, and much worse, it asks the general public to be apssive consumers and ot be patriotic while supporting these movies. Further, it asks nothing of our politicians.

Emboldening the Enemy

After watching some of the Sunday talkshows, I have decided that all actions, and even no actions, embolden the enemy. This leaves us in an absolutely delicate situation where we can and must do everything, but also, do nothing.

On the McLaughlin Group, Tony "I think those who object should be silent regardless of whether or not it is their job to discuss issues, especially in Congress" Blankley of Genghis Kahn's The Washington Times stated that the Resolutions drafted in opposiiton to President Bush's "Surge" or "Plus-Up," or "Super-Power Up," or "Wonder-Twins' Powers Activate," or "Fill in your own title here..." emboldened the enemey.

Over at ABC News, Senator Joseph "I Just plagarized once and it was my aide's fault" Biden stated that a "Failed Policy" Emboldens the enemy.

Confused? Well don't be since it might embolden the enemy.

In 2004, President Bush delcared we can embolden the enemy by sending mixed messages. During the 2004, 2005, and 2006 elections, we learned that criticism of the war emboldens the enemy. In 2007, former cult, er... I mean former Aggie leader Robert Gates declared that the Senate resolutions (against the surge) emboldens the enemy. When the Aggies beat the Longhorns the day after Thanksgiving, the Aggies not only emboldened the enemy, but emboldened the Longhorns to sue for copyright infringement and maybe even to beat the Aggies in '07. Liberals embolden the enemy for, well, just being liberal. Conservatives in the US never embolden the enemy though the number of terrorist attacks world-wide increased after 2001 when they have been in power. Our freedom elboldens the enemy since they hate us for it. Moonlite waterfalls (the title of an email I just received) emboldens the enemy. If we keep emboldening the enemy like this, I think we are all one step away from "aiding and abetting" the enemy.

If everything emboldens the enemy, I think it would be important to learn who exactly this enemy is. If not, why bother having an enemy in the first place? As a solution, I propose that we must all examine our conscience (under the covers, with the lights out, and with a friend, so no one can see us and we do not run the risk of emboldening anyone or anything) and ask the following questions:

Who is this enemy? What do they like or not like? What will or will not embolden them?
Does the presence of tanks and military personal in their home country or region enbolden the enemy?
Do "Happy Meals" embolden the enemy? If they do, one pressing issue in the 2008 elctions would be to call for a name change to turn them into a "Less-Happy Meal" or maybe even a "Somber-Meal," "Non-Freedom Rations," the "Gothic Meal" or the "Macabre Meal." I can see how this would be a wise business venture and save the Country. Further, we would no longer embolden the enemy!!!

Other suggestions to avoid emboldening the enemy?