Thursday, April 28, 2005

On President Bush Reminding Me of President Nixon

Quite unexpectedly, as I turned on the TV this evening to catch an episode of the OC, I discovered President Bush giving a press conference. I decided to watch that rather than sulking around to some lousy Friends episode on TBS. Here is something that struck me as I was listening.

In his opening remarks President Bush had this to say about social security reform:
Secondly, I believe a reform system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off. By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty. This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security. A variety of options are available to solve the rest of the problem, and I will work with Congress on any good-faith proposal that does not raise the payroll tax rate or harm our economy. I know we can find a solution to the financial problems of Social Security that is sensible, permanent, and fair.
I don't know how common the phrase good faith is in today's political deliberation, but the phrase quickly brought to mind a passage from Richard Nixon's famous Silent Majority speech when he talked about trying to get North Viet-Nam to the negotiating table:
We have not put forth our proposals on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We have indicated that we are willing to discuss the proposals that have been put forth by the other side. We have declared that anything is negotiable except the right of the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future. At the Paris peace conference, Ambassador Lodge has demonstrated our flexibility and good faith in 40 public meetings.
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell argues that throughout his speech, Richard Nixon creates a rhetorical slight of hand, implying that the US was willing to leave Vietnam as long as North Vietnam was willing to recognize South Vietnam's separte state-status, one independant of the North:
In other words, the success of the policy [Vietnamization} depended on the cooperation of the enemy. It would have required them to acquiesce in the division of Vietnam into two nations, which they had vowed never to do. Given their negotiating record as reported in the speech, there was no reason to expect them to agree. On its face, then, based on Nixon's pwn words, the proposed policy must fail.(Campbell, Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric, 1997, p. 206.)
In saying that he was willing to listen to good faith proposals, just so long as they didn't involve raising taxes or harming the economy, is President Bush doing the same thing that Campbell says President Nixon was doing--limiting all the options before the debate even begins?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

On A Terrible Answer

The most recent New York Times Magazine has an interview with PBS' interim president, Ken Ferree. During the interview, the reporter asked him what PBS shows he liked and he answered:
I'm not much of a TV consumer. I like ''Masterpiece Theater'' and some of the ''Frontline'' shows. I like ''Antiques Roadshow'' and ''Nova.'' I don't know. What's your favorite show?
What a lousy answer from the head of a public corporation whose budget Congress has just cut by around 15%. How can he begin to make the case to Congress that public TV is important when he doesn't even seem to watch it himself? Deborah Soloman, the reporter, even gives him a chance to make amends:
For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don't sound like much of a PBS viewer. Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?
There: a chance to say that TV's not his thing, but that his life is really much better because of what PBS does. But, what does he say?
No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.
Commutes on a motorcycle--what a lame excuse!

On Metaphoric Language that Doesn't Work with Its Subject

The Seattle Times has an article that reports sales for Boeing's new airplane, the 787, are doing well and expected to do even better:
Boeing executives are predicting a blowout quarter for 787 sales that will seal the success of the Everett-assembled jet and leave a proposed rival from Airbus in its dust.
I think that airplane executives should think twice before associating their company and its products with a "blowout," regardless of the context. "Reaching new heights" or "soaring profits"--these are better phrases and metaphors that both appropriately describe an airplane company's success and prevent us from conjuring up thoughts and images of explosions. A good thing for an airplane company, I think.

Monday, April 25, 2005

On Means Being Justice-fied

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that would decide whether the federal government can garnish Social Security payments of folks who have not paid off their student loans.
U.S. justices voted to hear the case of James Lockhart, a Washington state man who went to four colleges in the 1980s with the help of federally guaranteed student loans. He became disabled from diabetes and heart disease and was unemployed in 1991 when he defaulted on nine student loans. ...

To repay his debts, the government took $93 a month from his disability benefits. A year later, Lockhart reached age 65 and began receiving old age benefits instead of disability benefits. Now, the government is taking $143 per month from his benefits.

Under the law, the government can seize 15% of a recipient's monthly benefits to repay the loans.

The Education Department said these seizures had "proven to be an effective means" of recovering unpaid student loans. In 2003, the collection effort brought in $400 million from reclaimed Social Security benefits.
That has to be one of the grimmest and most ominous statements I have read in a while. Though I have no doubts about the collection's efficacy, I do wonder about it's ethic-acy.

It seems so strikingly incongruous to be collecting college payments from social security recipients that I would say the government should just forgot about the $3.6 billion's worth of unpaid student loans that the government is concerned about. I know, I know, "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon [we're] talking real money." But, it can't be that soon or pretty, yet!

On An Elite Institution on an Average Institution

Yesterday, the New York Times had a lengthy piece describing the lives of several students at the University of Arizona. The article's hook, I suppose, is that the reporter lifts the rock up and expose the worms, centipedes, and other crawly-things that eke out their existence away from the sun and ivy most of the Times' regular readers are familiar with. Thus, a comment like this appears after a description of the University of Arizona:
This is not exactly the popular image of ivy-covered higher education, but it's the truth of it. Most students do not go to an Amherst or a Williams. They go to enormous public institutions like the Universities of Arizona, Iowa, Connecticut, Minnesota: more than five million undergraduates attend an institution with at least 15,000 students. The freshman class alone exceeds the population of a small town, and the course catalog is the size of a phone book.
I suspect that it's only a reporter from an elite paper like the Times who would be compelled to note for and remind readers that most students don't go to elite institutions.

For the rest of us, thankfully, it's tautological.

Friday, April 22, 2005

On Something You Don't Hear Everyday

After investigating the claim that some Wendy's chili had part of a human finger in it, an Assistant District Attorney said something you don't often hear, in the wake of all those corporate scandals:
"We think America should return to Wendy's," Sinunu said this morning from San Jose. "The corporation is a victim ...
Perhaps because it sounded so silly, she added:
[T]hat means many workers and employees of Wendy's are suffering a loss."
Of course, I think the real victim is the person who this finger belonged to! Even if it was some random dead person's finger, what a lousy thing to have a part of your body used in such a way--even in death.

On A Contradicting Space

The Washington Post has a nice little section that points out an ironic aspect of President Bush's Earth Day speech:
The threat of hail and thunder storms prevented the president from a planned stop to help with some quick restoration on a trail in the Smokies' picturesque Cades Cove area and delivering remarks in the park.

Instead, he talked at the airport outside Knoxville, then climbed back on his plane and departed for Texas. Bush was spending the weekend at his ranch there ahead of meetings Monday with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. ...

"We didn't create the earth but we have an obligation to protect it," he said from an airport hangar, with a steady electrical hum and a view of the airfield providing quite a different backdrop than the White House planned. "We are meeting that obligation."

On Bush Speaking at Calvin College

President Bush is going to deliver a commencement address at Calvin College, a small conservative Christian liberal arts college in Michigan, this year. Given Bush's religious faith, there seems to be an expectation that Bush will address '"spiritual issues":
"Certainly he's aware of Calvin's Christian foundation," said de Haan [spokesperson for Calvin College], adding that he expects spiritual issues to be a part of the president's speech. "It would be a message that they've heard from other speakers as well. This is an amazing opportunity for the Class of 2005."
These type of speeches are a great opportunity for political leaders to give some thoughtful attention to and discussion of the relationship between private faith and the public forum. I hope President Bush takes the opportunity to speak in more than platitudes.

On a President Who Renames

Occassionally, I hear about President's Bush's penchant for giving people nicknames when he meets them; I suppose this is some sort of power game that he plays in a way that only the Leader of the Western World can. Though I find it a little eye-rolling that he does this and does it frequently, I suppose it's harmless enough within the ovular walls of "Prez's" office.

It's when this sort of gamesmanship happens in a more public and ceremonial space that I think he has taken it a little too far. Take today's announcement of President Bush's new appointees to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When it comes time to announce his appointment of Admiral Ed Giambastiani, President Bush has this to say:
Today I am pleased to announce that I have nominated an outstanding military officer, Admiral Ed Giambastiani. (Laughter.) He shall be known as Admiral G. (Laughter.) Anyway, he's going to be the Vice Chairman. (Laughter.)
Granted, maybe "Admiral G." isn't so much as a nickname as a way to avoid pronouncing a tough name (I should sympathize, since I sometimes have to go by "Admiral W.," myself!) But, it's still something of a re-naming and one that places the burden on the Admiral to be easy-going and understanding at the botching and adjustment of his name. It's probably a big day for the guy, and he might have liked to hear his name done right for the occassion. And even if the Admiral's used to folks messing up his name, I don't think it's too much to ask that a President read a correct pronounciation of his name off the teleprompter at this fairly formal occassion.

So, whether this is one of President Bush's new nicknames because he's enacting some sort of power-play, or just a result of his poor pronounciation prep, I think that Bush could have done well to just get the name down right, once, and refer to him as "Admiral" the rest of the time. This seems like a better way to deal with a heavy name that keeps all the appropriate attention on the appointee, rather than the President and his habit for playing Adam in the Garden.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

On the Power of Speaking

If you've ever doubted the significance of speaking, take note of reports that Cardinal Ratzinger's performances throughout ceremonies over the last few weeks helped rechristen him.
But it was also his dignified celebration of John Paul's funeral Mass on April 8, his guiding hand at the cardinals' daily meetings during the period between popes and the pre-conclave Mass that helped convince the cardinals. He fulfilled those roles as dean of the College of Cardinals.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Lincoln Museum Pictures

Yesterday, Springfield's new Lincoln Museum was dedicated, and President Bush visited. A couple of photographs struck me as interesting.

This one, showing some Lincoln-look-alikes walking near secret service members is sort of a twist, given that Lincoln was shot when his own security guard was drinking in a bar next door to Ford's Theatre!

And I don't know about this museum display that places the Lincoln Family in front of the White House as John Wilkes Booth leans jauntily against a column. I understand that we often interpret the Lincoln Presidency in light of his death: We hear about his macabre and prescient dreams, we imagine a less acrimonious Reconstruction, and envision a different future for the country had he served the remainder of his term. In fact, so dark and shadowed was his figure that I can't help but think about his death whenever I see a picture of him.

But, as much as I am drawn to these thoughts, looking at the display, I can't help but think that Booth is just a minor, short-lived, one-line, two-bit character in a much larger and grander production of Lincoln's life and presidency. Sure Lincoln died because of this man's bullet, but the important part of his death is the flip-of-the-coin emphasis we simultaneously place on the years he lived and the savvy and skill with which he operated; when we think about Lincoln's death, we don't think about some silly, Latin-quoting, fool who ended-up dead in a barn.

No, Lincoln's life can't and shouldn't be reduced to a scene with Booth, devilishly and omnisciently standing in the background, looking forwards, towards his future quarry.

On A Look

Looking at President Putin's eyes, I expect Secretary Rice actually blew-up in a puff of smoke a few seconds after this picture was taken.

On Talking About the Next Pope's Death

Listening and reading all of this babble about the new Pope, I'm struck by how frequently folks mention that the new Pope will likely be dead soon enough. Let's just look at what some of the country's major newspapers are saying.

Here's what the Dallas Morning News has to say:
At age 78, Benedict may not rule the See of Peter for long, but a governor with papal powers can accomplish an enormous amount in a short period of time.
The LA Times is even more confident of the Pope's imminent demise:
The quick election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger speaks quiet volumes about what cardinals seek from the new pope: a stable interregnum after 26 years under the charismatic Pope John Paul II. Benedict XVI will hold to the late pope's theologically conservative line, but he won't do it all that long, giving the church a breather in which to plan its future. At 78, he is among the oldest men to assume the papacy.
The New York Times, unlike the LA, at least leaves open the possibility that the Pope won't certainly be dead soon:
The new pope is, at 78, not likely to serve long enough to have the kind of impact his predecessor had. But the church has seen men elected as supposedly transitional figures in the past turn into agents for sweeping change.
I understand that selecting the next leader of an estimated 1.1 billion person institution is bound to evoke analysis and commentary. And I'm also aware that we talk about public figures in a way that is different from how we would talk about our dads (not to be read as fathers, in this instance!). But, nonetheless, it seems a little unseemly and tacky to be talking about the death of the newest Pope, when the old one hasn't been in the Basillica's basement for more than three weeks! Decorum, after all, seems as noble a virtue as any other.

Update: Well, as inappropriate as I think talking about the new Pope's future death is, it seems the Pope himself would disagree. Apparantly he told some Cardinals not to expect him to be around too long:
Chicago Cardinal Francis George said Ratzinger, who had repeatedly asked John Paul to let him retire, told the cardinals, "I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace."
So, go ahead, newspapers, speculate about his death till he's blue in the face!

On the Carnival of Education

This week's Carnival of Education is up, so drop by! If you look carefully, you'll see my post on the university's anti-union email was included.

On A Funny Picture

A funny look at the new pope.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

On A Jab at Nixon

Richard Nixon has become a convenient bogeyman and commonplace reference for people today--a quick toss-in whenever someone wants to talk about the rottenness of the late 60's and the 70s. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert uses him in much this way when talking about the demise of FDR's radical vision for the United States, a vision that imagined a decent wage, home, and healthcare plan for every American.
Roosevelt's vision gave conservatives in both parties apoplexy in 1944 and it would still drive them crazy today. But the truth is that during the 1950's and 60's the nation made substantial progress toward his wonderfully admirable goals, before the momentum of liberal politics slowed with the war in Vietnam and the election in 1968 of Richard Nixon.
In college, I had the chance to take a class on Nixon's "rhetorical presidency" with Lee Huebner, a former Nixon speech-writer. Admittedly, the class offered a much rosier portrait of Nixon than one might expect--it emphazed the contradictions and tensions of Nixon's personality and times, rather than simply painting broad and dark strokes about a bitter and evil man.

One thing that I remember--because it stood out sharply, given my initial impression of the man--was that Nixon, on domestic issues, was pretty liberal. In fact, liberal journalist of the era, Tom Wicker, later wrote a biography-of-sorts about Nixon called, One of Us, a striking tribute to a man the press seemed to love to hate.

Wicker was able to call Nixon "one of them" because Nixon instituted and argued for some rather progressive domestic policies throughout his administration. However nasty the "Southern Strategy," he did allow the schools to become integrated, he worked to establish the EPA, and would have, with Senate approval, instituted a minimum family income. Look at what Robert Asen has to say about this Nixon proposal:
The expansionist era may have reached its apex on the night of August 8, 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon, in a televised address to the nation, introduced Americans to his Family Assistance Plan (FAP). Passed by a comfortable margin in the House of Representatives (243 to 155), the FAP died in the Senate Finance Committee. Had it been enacted, the FAP might have been regarded by subsequent commentators as one of the most progressive pieces of social welfare legislation in American history. The FAP would have offered poor families a minimum income guarantee. It would have expanded incentives for recipients to seek paid employment while retaining a portion of their monthly cash grants. The FAP would have increased federal welfare spending and added new recipients to the rolls, and it would have created greater equality in monthly grant amounts across different regions of the country. Most importantly, the FAP may have blurred disabling and divisive distinctions between the welfare and working poor. These distinctions have enabled public policy appeals from advocates asserting an allegiance to the "working man" by contrasting his situation with the luxurious life of welfare.
This hardly sounds like a barrier thwarting "liberal momentum" or the dismantling of FDR's legacy! What is Herbert talking about? I think he's just too easily slipping into that sloppy habit of conjuring rotten ole' Nixon to kick around.

On A Lovely Expression from a Former President

At times, President Clinton can really turn a phrase. This AP article in the New York Times describes a beautiful moment from Clinton's speech at today's memorial service for the Oklahoma City Bombing:
Clinton got a chuckle when he mentioned the Survivor Tree, the elm that was heavily damaged in the bombing and is now a leafy green reminder of it.

''Boy, that tree was ugly when I first saw it (in 1995), but survive it did,'' Clinton said.

''Trees are good symbols for what you did. You can't forget the past of a tree. It's in the roots, and if you lose the roots you lose the tree. But the nature of the tree is to always reach for tomorrow. It's in the branches.''
By making the gentle humorous observation, Clinton smoothly unites everyone in the audience by making them laugh together. In quick fashion, Clinton then deftly merges the spatial with the temporal--"roots," "branches," "past," and "tomorrow."

This is just what a good memorial speech does: it brings us together to an immediate place and space where we can jointly remember the past in order to allow us to go into and create a better future.

Monday, April 18, 2005

On Congratulations

A grad student friend and some of the professors in my department just released some interesting research about how some people can change their attitudes towards groups of people by watching TV. I gave one of their surveys to my class for extra credit.

If what they are saying is true, given the significant amount of reruns of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman I've been watching via Netflix, I should have an increasingly accepting attitude towards women, doctors, Native Americans, men torn between Native American culture and the love of a Boston Brahmin, and surly drunks who never seem to do the right thing until the very end of the show.

On Experimentation That Can Occur at the Local Level

The Dallas Morning News has an article about a high school's neat cooking program.
This year, seniors opened the Pirate Cove Cafe, a nautical-themed hideaway known for its intimate ambience and cheap yet adventurous specials. Lunch is served to staff members and the public at the hot spot tucked between math and science classrooms.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't let us know what some of these "adventurous" specials are. I would have liked some more details. What it does let us know, however, is the adventures some high schools are having in trying out new ideas for educating and training students.
The Wylie restaurant is one of several student-run enterprises sprouting up statewide as ties between schools and restaurateurs tighten and food-related class offerings go far beyond family and consumer science (the updated version of home economics).
On a broader, socio-level, some might critique the program for just training kids to be near-minimum-wage working cogs in the resturant-industry. But, on the other hand, it sounds like a good idea to give kids some real-world experiences and responsibilities that will keep them excited about school and actively learning and trying new things. Plus, it seems to be having some good effects:
For Anthony Moore, a senior at Wylie High School, the restaurant experience has solidified his career plans. He said he has no desire to sit behind a desk all day when he enters the workforce and hopes to earn a scholarship to attend culinary school next year.
The only downside is that other school kids are not allowed to eat the food.
Its hours are limited. The cafe is open about every other day depending on the school's class schedule. It is open to the public but is not exactly in a prime location for foot traffic, and it largely relies on word of mouth to attract outsiders. (The cafe is not open to students who are not enrolled in culinary arts.) Still, the place is plenty busy.
There must be some sort of silly regulation that prevents students from eating purchased food from anywhere other than the official school cafeteria. That's too bad. With this neat experimental program, it seems like letting the student-chefs' student peers sample and patronize the cafe would be an even better way to cement the program and make it a vibrant part of the school and the community. I think that if schools are going to be given some leeway in trying out new programs, the local school regulations related to the programs should be a little more relaxed so that the experiment could take on even more dimensions.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

On Calling Evoking the Holy Spirit a Device

The Washington Post, reporting on the Conclave, examines the statements some of the Cardinals are making regarding the selection of the next Pope. Here's one with the reporter's analysis:
Before going into Vatican City, Honduras' Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga told reporters, "People think we are going to vote like in an election, but this is something completely different. We are going to listen to the Lord and listen to the Holy Spirit." Arinze, Antonelli and Rodriguez have all been touted as papal possibilities.

The evocation of the Holy Spirit is a common device for cardinals when they need to avoid specifics of decision-making inside the Sistine Chapel. The histories of conclaves in the last half of the 20th century show marked similarities with the formation of governments in fractured parliaments. Passions run high, personalities count, quick thinking can make or break a candidacy.
Yikes! For all we know, this Cardinal actually believed that the next Pope has already been selected by God and will be revealed through the Holy Spirit.

When does something that people do become a device and when is it just something that people do? In this case, it must be when the selection of a Pope has become big news and hundreds--maybe thousands--of reporters who don't typically report on religious issues are forced to translate this fairly mysterious religious event into something more easily understood by a non-Cardinal audience.

If it is okay to include religion in public life (and I know that this isn't necessarily a good example, of course) and this inclusion means that we have to translate religious "things" into more secular terms, how can we do it in a way that does justice to the religion? I wonder if we can do it by just acknowledging--as we do it--that the translation will be lousy, but that it's the best that we can do.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

On eBay's Marketplace

Apparantly, someone on eBay was auctioning off a supposed Host consecrated at one of Pope John Paull II's 1998 Masses.

Some, like Verity at Southern Appeal and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights argue that this type of sale should be prohibited by eBay, given that Catholics are offended by the sale of what, in the words of the Catholic League, is considered to be, "the center of [their] religion, worthy of the utmost reverence." EBay, according to the League, refused to stop the sale:
The Community Watch Team of eBay’s Trust & Safety division said that ‘even though these auctions may be offensive to some, please remember that most of the time the law does not prohibit these items.’
The League responded:
But the law has nothing to do with this issue: lots of things are legal and immoral at the same time.
Yes, the debate appears to about something other than the law.

Some Catholics argue that, regardless of the law, eBay should have stopped the sale because it was offensive to their faith. EBay and others might claim that this is a marketplace that operates within the law and relies on the market to regulate itself.

I'm inclined to sympathize with this latter position. In our society, religious belief and faith is partially established and maintained through an open discussion of religion that allows people to freely choose or act in faith. The Catholic Church is able to proudly and openly exist and convert people of every generation because, in the marketplace of ideas that emerges from our Constitutionally recognized rights, Catholics are able to hear the Church and its doctrines and can openly accept the Church's tenets and values. In the same way, Evangelicals, Muslims, and all the people of all the other faith and belief systems--and maybe some without!--are able to come to express their beliefs and act in their faith. In the process of moving throughout this chaotic and bustling marketplace of ideas, a marketplace filled with all sorts of claims (religious or otherwise), I'm sure folks will come across ideas that they are unwilling or unable to appreciate or attach a particular meaning to. This symbolic and abstract conception of the marketplace of ideas seems to have been made material on eBay, recently. In this instance, then, someone was selling a wafer touched by a dead Pope. Naturally, Catholics were offended that anyone would sell a Eucharist consecrated by Peter's successor.

In the marketplace of ideas, it seems, these folks can hash things out and the rest of us can decide where we stand. If one idea sounds better than the other, well, we'll drink the cream that rises to the top. If it's terrible to sell the Host, we won't buy it and this fellow will close-up shop. Folks can call the seller bad and others can call the seller good. Deliberate! Deliberate! Deliberate! It should all work out in the end.

Now, if the marketplace of ideas actually mirrors a marketplace of goods and services, then eBay should just let this item be auctioned, since it isn't illegal; EBay should just let the market regulate itself. EBay, regrettably, doesn't always act like this, though. It seems that they have a policy that allows them to prohibit "offensive items"--stuff like Nazi patches and helmets, I imagine. This policy, then, allows them to pull off items that might be offensive to a group of people, something that they have done in the past. (The League letter cites at least one silly example.) Given that eBay has decided to place some restrictions on its marketplace and that the selling of the Host offends something like 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide (though, admittedly many lapsed Catholics and folks without the Internet make up this figure) eBay should have stopped the sale. It's good business not offend so many people, after all.

So, as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to hype up your "marketplace" status, then, sell everything that is legally allowable--Nazi caps or Eucharists, the market will correct itself. If you're going to make excpetions, then make one for this case too.

On A Most Ridiculous-Sounding Assertion

According to a New York Times article about the upcoming selection of the next Pope, there are some who think that Italians are naturally well--and better!--suited for the Papacy.
"There is a vocation, an Italian charisma," said Vittorio Messori, an Italian writer who collaborated on John Paul's 1994 book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope." "The Italians have a tradition of centuries behind them, they know how to do the job of pope, it's in their DNA."
Though I think he's trying to be a little over-the-top here, I still think it's a silly sort of statement to make. Given that one of the central tenets of the Catholic Faith is the immaculate conception--a type of conception that seems to defy our traditional understanding of passing one's DNA on to another--it seems slightly out of place to talk about the appointed head of the Church in these terms.

If Mr. Messori wants to talk about tradition, he might do well to talk about those early Christians who were expected to give up their earthly--read: genetic--families (see Luke 9:57-62) or recall that Saul's conversion hardly seemed genetically encoded in his DNA!

Friday, April 15, 2005

On A President that Tithes

Every year at taxtime, I read about the president's taxes. After marveling at the thought of earning over $400,000 in investment trusts, I always notice how much the president gives away. President Bush, as much as I recall, has been fairly consistent in his donations: he and his wife give about 10% of their income away:
The couple contributed $77,785 -- about 10 percent of their adjusted gross income -- to churches and charitable organizations. Those included Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, Md., St. John's Church in Washington, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army World Service Office, AmeriCares, an international relief organization; and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
As Evangelical Christians, the Bushes seem to be giving the 10% of their income that tithing requires. This kind of giving is good. How much better might the world be if everyone gave away 10% of their income to churches or charities rather than interest payments on credit-card balances!

I wonder though, if his contributions to the Salvation Army ever raise questions, given the church's frequently criticized position on homosexuality. Given that President Bush is often criticized for his religious perspective and expressions, I wonder if folks might see a tension between his willingness to privately support groups like the Salvation Army and his public position as president.

On What to Do with School Pools

The New York Times has an article that examines pools in the city's public schools. Apparantly, a lot of the pools are in a state of disrepair and are no longer being used:
Of the 50 swimming pools tucked inside the city's 1,200 school buildings, 10 are in unusable condition. At Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan, the pool, empty since leaks and filtration problems were discovered in 1986, has been used over the years to store old chairs and desks. The pool at Walton High School in the Bronx has been closed since the 1980's, despite a $54 million schoolwide renovation. Next to Truman's competitive pool is a smaller practice pool, which is alsoempty, except for grime, spattered paint and a few cigarette butts.
It sounds like a grim scene: decaying pools, memories, and symbols of urban decay. Certainly, this is the pathos appeal that the article frames the story around. Folks are quoted with maudlin voice, waxing on about memories past and forlornly looking at empty deep ends in the present.
"It was gorgeous," recalled Linda Roemer, a 1962 graduate whose memories are only slightly tainted by the unflattering tank suits worn during swim classes. "White tiles and that chlorine blue water. With the sun coming in through the skylights, you could see rainbow effects."
But, really, anything that is closed-up and ignored begins to look sad and invites ideas of rejuvination. This sort of natural cognitite leap doesn't necessarily affirm the appropriateness of funding pool repair.

But, there are folks who are advocating for funding these pools in order to provide kids with a chance to to get some exercise and release some of their stress.
Teachers and principals say that when school pools work, they are oases from whatever troubles may pass in the hallways and classrooms. Tension over test scores and safety concerns dissipates in the smell of chlorine, the creak of diving boards, the splash of the butterfly stroke.
But, like everything else, this repairing of pools will cost money--to the tune of millions of dollars per pool. I think repairing these pools is a frivolous goal. Millions of dollars, if sent to schools, would be much better spent on teacher training, teacher pay, and all of that sort of stuff.

Sure, kids are getting fatter and a pool might encourage exercise, but I suspect that the cure for obesity is not in finding some new--and expensive!--exercise venue so much as it is finding a way to incorporate healthful living in everyday life--slower and less eating, longer walks, and less video games, etc. However nice it would be to go swimming in a school pool, I doubt that students would get to swim everyday for the 45 minutes or so that would produce significant weight-loss. Nor do I think that people fundamentally enjoy exercising more just because they are swimming; sweating is sweating regardless of whether it's washed away with smelly chlorinated water. All these millions would do is create an image of healthy and happy education for the principles and people walking by to see what schools are up to. Getting a chance to swim in PE is probably a fine goal, et ceteris paribus but spending a lot of money so kids can dip their toes in water an hour a week is hardly going to solve anything.

No, take that money and find ways to teach folks how to eat better and incorpote realistic everyday activities in their lives Take that money and train teachers to think critically and teach those critical skills; fund inner-city speech and debate teams, fund inner-city outreach programs, invite more mentors in, provide literacy tutors. At the very least, turn those old, dingy and sad pools into classrooms so we can stop swimming down memory's lane!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

On Shrinking

Using the random blog finder at the top of the blog, I stumbled across this site, Shrinking, that displays pictures of someone who seems to have had one of those stomach-staple surgeries. It's pretty impressive.

On Heavy-Handedness

Today, the teaching and research assistants working on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus began voting for a proposed TA/RA student union. For the past couple of weeks, the university, through the Office of Human Resources, has been sending out emails to all of us TAs and RAs, telling us about the university's take on the issues and reminding us how important voting was, since only the folks voting would decide whether or not the union would exist. In other words, as the university is fond of putting it: If only 500 graduate students vote, and if bare majority of them support the union, then all 4500 graduate students will be spoken for by this small group of students.

Now, I understand that it might not be in the University administration's interests to have to deal with another union, especially during times of funding-uncertainty, but I didn't think that the university would be so heavy-handed and cloddish in their campaign against the union. Though there haven't been roving gangs of thugs beating up union supporters, the emails TAs and RAs have been receiving are as transparant as they are unsophisticated.

Look at part of an email they sent last week, warning us about union dues:
While the union is eager to proclaim what they will do for you, here is a sample of the approximate annual dues for other unions on campus:

AFSCME (Clerical) $415
LELS (Police) $444
AFSCME (Technical) $445
UEA (Duluth Faculty) $1100

If the United Electrical, Radio, Machine Workers of America were to charge the average of these amounts, the total revenue the union would generate from graduate assistants exceeds $2.7 million dollars a year. By law, the union can require all graduate assistants to pay a fair share fee, which can be up to 85 percent of the regular dues.

What will the Union do with your money? How much of this money will go to their state and national offices? How much will be spent on lobbying on behalf of electrical, radio, and machine workers? These are questions that all graduate assistants have a right to ask before casting a ballot, especially when this union is already meeting to plan your future, but refusing to let you participate unless you are a union supporter.
Though the union-that-might-be has expressed a set of goals that would involve negotiating salary increases and healthcare benefits, I think proclaim is a little much, in how it conjures up images of dirty socialists standing atop wooden crates with voice-trumpets excreting calls for anarchy. No, by and large, this has been a quiet campaign, one almost bereft of public debate (an aspect I naturally find unsettling since the union would ostensibly be speaking for all TAs and RAs on campus). And even if there is a literal sense in which the union has proclaimed--letting known in public what its goals are--the word seems rather charged, relative to the typically bland and technical language university letters and emails generally employ.

What's even sillier, though, is the "sample" the university offers in order to warn students of out-of-control union dues. This might be a demonstration of "how numbers lie."

Look at the comparison: clerical workers, police, technicians, and faculty members on Duluth's campus. Are graduate students roughly analogous to any of these groups? I don't think so. Not in respect to either duties or income, at least. From what I've been told, union dues are a percentage of our incomes. And, since most of us make, on average (oh, how tricky these are!) around $10,500 annually, it seems highly improbably that we would be paying the same amount of dues as folks earning three to six times as much as we do. Also, from what I understand, the graduate student union expects to charge $15 a month for dues. Multiplied by 12 months, graduate union members would be paying about $180 annually. Naturally, I have no way of confirming these claims, except to repeat what the union reps told me. But, regardless of my own uncertainty about these facts, the university could have done the reasonable thing and compared our future dues with those of comparable unions--perhaps student unions at other public universities?

And look at the averaging move they made! Even I know, with my paltry math background, that the problem with averaging is that it tends to skew data if there is a significant disparity between the items being sampled. So, if there were 100 people in the sample, and one person made a million dollars annually while the other 99 made $10000 annually, then, on average, everyone would make $19900 annually (or twice what 99% of the people were actually making)! Given that the university has included faculty members of Duluth and their $1100 dues in its calculations, the graduate student union might expect to pay $601 annually--about $200 more than three-out-of-the-four unions sampled. Unions that, to begin with, are arguably not representative of graduate students anyway!

How frustrating that the university has decided to use such strained numbers! If the university doesn't think we'll take these numbers seriously, then they are just silly and churlish in their use of useless statistics. But, if the university actually thinks that some of us will be swayed by these figures, how little does that mean they think of us?

Update: Welcome, Carnival of Education Readers! Just to let you all know, the election results are in, and the union proposal was defeated. I just hope it wasn't because of those emails.

On an Editorial About the Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center, a museum for contemporary art, is reopening after about a year of extensive remodeling and expansion. The Minnesota Daily has a positive editorial about it's re-opening, but offers a warning, as well:
But if the center can offer reasonable prices that allow anyone to peruse its revamped galleries and attend performances, it has the potential to become a social center in the Twin Cities. Too often centers of art become elitist institutions because of costs. Sadly, elitism in the field of art is self suffocating. Art centers become intimidating and as unapproachable as the mysterious mansion on the hill and the exchange between the public and the arts institutions becomes stale. Nobody wants an arts center that seems to be dying of gangrene, a lack of new blood.
I think that contemporary art is "self-suffacating," regardless of the costs involved in viewing and/or participating in it. From what I understand, contemporary art seems to be alot about conversations with other artists about very subtle and not too terribly obvious things--sometimes about the producing and production of art.

This is probably no new thing, of course. I'm sure that Matisse was saying lots of things to Monet with his paintings. But, I bet there is a difference between the folks 100 years ago who looked at those paintings and the folks who look at contemporary art. I can't imagine folks in the past looking at lillies or people next to a river remarking: "What the hell is that!?" I'm sure most people said, "Ahh, a picture of lillies or people next to a river."

Today, however, it seems like a pretty commonplace thing for most folks to say, "I don't get it, this is art?" whenever they see contemporary art. And it's not because contemporary art is fundamentally inscrutable, so much as the art requires a lot of prior knowledge and art-literacy to appreciate. Which might be pretty fine, too, I suppose.

I just think it's a little silly to assume that cost is the biggest thing preventing most people from visiting a contemporary art gallery. Even if the museum had free admission, I suspect that most folks wouldn't go, or derive a whole lot of pleasure from it if they did.(Apart from saying, "There! I visited a gallery.") And I should know; I lived right across the street from the center for a year before its remodeling, and I never visited--even on Thursdays when the center had free admission!

Update: Oops! I didn't mean Matisse and Monet, I meant Monet and Manet.

On A Reminder That I am in Minnesota

From today's Minnesota Daily:
Representatives from 10 St. Paul campus student organizations competed in the Milkmaid Competition, a contest to see who could get the most milk in 30 seconds.

The milking was performed to popular songs whose lyrics were rewritten by students to reference agriculture and milking cows.

Participants parodied artists such as the Steve Miller Band, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Tobey Keith and the Baha Men and were awarded points for the best song and costumes.
There must be something neat about the incongruent blending of the traditional and old-fashioned milking contest with today's music. Of course, now that I think about it, both activities, taken separately, share a common goal: milking as much as you can as quickly as possible to the beat of a good rythm. The only difference, I suppose, is who gets to be the cow.

On the Washington Post's Implicit Position on Abortion

Many consider the Washington Post a member of the "liberal media," filled with politically biased folks who, though perhaps not consciously, frame their stories with the same liberal perspective that they view the world with. They may be right. But, I have found at least one reporter for the Post who seems to sit on the right's side of the cultural wars, one that affirms the "culture of life" by recognizing life occurs in the womb--a concession that might be said to lead one to an anti-abortion position. Here's my proof. Look at how Amy Argetsinger describes Teresa Anderson, a surrogate-mother-to-be of quintuplets:
"It is something more than I had planned for," said Anderson, a tall, vivacious woman with blond-streaked hair. "But it's what I chose."
Look at that, Anderson is vivacious, a term commonly understood to mean: full of life. Now, given that this woman is about to have five babies and that this article is about that, isn't it likely that the life referred to, in this context, is the life of the babies in her belly? If so, isn't it safe to say that there is at least one cultural conservative reporter for the Post?

I think so.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

On Asking but Not Recieving

Apparantly, the White House website has an "online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House," called Ask. Friends of the White House? Would the National Archives be one of them? Do checks and balances prevent the Capitol and Supreme Court Building from getting too chummy? Will archealogists from the future dig up the White House cornerstone and discover an etching from the Smithsonian, signed, "BFF [Best Friends Forever], Smithy"?

Or, maybe "White House" is just a type of metonymy, representing the president and the executive branch.

Regardless of my momentary confusion, I thought I would take a look at what the most recent Ask session brought. U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales was charged with fielding questions this time around and did he get some doozies! Look at this one:
Teresa, from Middleburg, VA writes:
Mr. Gonzales, how has your role in serving the President changed from being his lawyer to being his Attorney General? Thank you for your time

Alberto R. Gonzales
Good question, Teresa. My role has indeed changed since being confirmed as Attorney General. While I was Counsel to the President I served as the President’s lawyer. As Attorney General my primary allegiance is now to the Constitution and the American people.
Since the President has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and represent the American people as well, I hope that Gonzales new role won't put him at odds too much with his previous one! Here's another Q & A:
Chris, from Connecticut writes:
Attorney General Gonzales,I feel like I hear so many different sides of the Patriot Act. Could you please tell me exactly what it is, why we have it, and when it was enacted?

Thank you for the facts.

Alberto R. Gonzales
Thanks for your question, Chris. The Patriot Act was enacted with great care and overwhelming bipartisan support in October of 2001. The act provides law enforcement and intelligence investigations with additional necessary tools to protect America.
That was a pretty short answer; I don't think it really gave too much attention and nuance to the question. In fact (since Attorney General Gonzales is giving them out today), I think that maybe this answer--and maybe the whole forum--is somewhat ridiculous. I understand that the White House's website is not going to have anything on it that directly criticizes the president. But, can't they just leave this sort of stuff out altogether? It seems a little unseemly for the chief executive's website to have such softball sections pretending to be more than what they are.

Of course, it's not only the administration that can be criticized. Look at what one of us asked:
Rick, from Worcester, Mass writes:
Sir, Congratulations on your confirmation. Despite the cries of those who are opposed to the Patriot Act, I do not know anyone who has been affected by it in a negative manner. What would you say to those who irrationally oppose this Act?
It seems that Rick has been a little irrational himself (if you define irrational as not being logical). After all, he seems to be implying that the Act isn't all that bad or hasn't negatively impacted folks. That's fine, but he might be overstressing his own personal experience in order to provide evidence for his claim. Is it possible that even though Rick doesn't know anyone who has been "affected in a negative manner," that there are still people out there being so affected? How do we know that Rick isn't some sorta hermit who doesn't know anyone?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On Correlation Not Equalling Causation

In response to Andrea Dworkin's death, a few grad students and I had a brief discussion about Dworkin, her ideas, and her death. One of my friends mentioned that when he was studying at another school he had his argumentation class read some of Dworkin's Intercourse to see what they thought about her arguments regarding sex. He mentioned the class had some football players who reacted skeptically to Dworkin's claims. He also mentioned--by way of ironic aside--that five weeks after reading Dworkin, one of the football players was arrested and charged with committing rape.

After hearing this, I was reminded of a passage I had just read over at University Diaries:
Dworkin published prolifically, in heat and in haste. She padded out her books with long paraphrases and descriptions of the most violent pornography she could find. When people began to intuit the desperation of her worldview, she and her supporters had to stammer and back up so that her rage calmed down into something anyone else could share.

Why then did so many people read her? Because it’s rousing in a voyeuristic way to read an absolute fanatic. Because Dworkin, as I say, paraphrased very extensively -- page after page of it -- from the most violent of pornography. UD believes that Dworkin’s books probably brought more people to pornography -- and to an unusually violent level of pornography -- than took them away from it.
Was it possible that, after reading Dworkin and all her graphic discussion of violence and sex, the football player was compelled to rape someone?

Monday, April 11, 2005

On an Ad Populum Fallacy

Michael Tomasky, from the American Prospect, argues that President Bush is objectively the least popular president in history.
A Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll at the end of last week found that 50 percent of American adults now believe that the Bush administration “deliberately misled” them about why we had to go to war in Iraq.


Combine this finding with other recent polls putting Bush’s approval rating at 44 or 45 percent, which is the lowest of any sitting two-term president at this point in his tenure in decades. Bush is objectively and without question one of the most unpopular presidents of the last 80 years: Herbert Hoover after the Depression; Truman after Korea; Richard Nixon after Watergate; Jimmy Carter after Iran. Bush is right there with them.

And yet: Why do I suspect that if you asked Washington’s top 100 agenda-setting journalists -- Tim Russert, George Will, Tom Friedman, etc. etc. -- whether Bush deliberately misled us into war, no more than about 15 or 20 of them would acknowledge what the half the American public sees clearly? Why do I still hear some of these bigfoots speak emphatically of a "popular wartime president"?
This strikes me as being an ad populum fallacy. Logically, having half the population believing that the Bush administration lied about the war (assuming that Bush, the president, equals the "Bush administration"--something that might not be said about Reagan and the Reagan administration!) does not necessarily mean that the Bush administration did lie. What about the other half of the population that doesn't claim to believe that the Bush administration "deliberately misled" them? It seems to me, in this particular binary situation, that either half of the country could be wrong or right. But, if 75-80% of the media elite--experts, some might say--won't say the President "deliberately misled" us, might it be the case that the President didn't?

Regardless, if the point is more about how the media elite doesn't recognize President Bush's low popularity numbers and reflect that unpopularity in their coverage, as the last quoted sentence and rest of the article seems to imply, why bring up this business about the deception-poll at all? Why not just quote the recent polls (which, he never cites!) that say the president isn't popular and then point out that the media elite doesn't act like he's unpopular?

One more question about Mr. Tomasky's argument. Since he seems to have elided percieved dishonesty and the President's low popularity numbers, I wonder if it is logically-sound to assume that a president cannot be both popular and a percieved liar?

On the Significance of Land

Usually, the opening lines for President Bush's everyday speeches are pretty boilerplate: "Thanks for having me come here and speak with you all ... Laura says hello ... I married up ..." etc. Today's address, however, seemed to have an introduction more hefty than usual, given that Isreal's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was standing next to him:
Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to my home. Appreciate you coming. I appreciate our meeting. I'm looking forward to serving you some good food for lunch. Most importantly, I'm looking forward to driving you around the ranch - I want you to see my place. I know you love the land. The Prime Minister was telling me he's really a farmer at heart, and I look forward to sharing with my friend what life is like here in Central Texas. So, welcome. He invited me to his place one day, in Israel, and it's something that I look forward to doing, as well.
If much of Jewish history can be interpreted as the Jewish people's search for a homeland, then President's Bush's emphasis on land and home is not as trite or vaguely braggartly as it first seemed. Instead, it might serve to underscore the importance of place--of having your own home.

Reading more of the text, I was struck by how very much physical, land-based, language was used:
Prime Minister Sharon is showing strong visionary leadership by taking difficult steps to improve the lives of people across the Middle East -- and I want to thank you for your leadership.

By working together, Israelis and Palestinians can lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition.

The United States will continue working with the international community to help Palestinians develop democratic political institutions, build security institutions dedicated to maintaining law and order, and dismantling terrorist organizations, reconstruct civic institutions, and promote a free and prosperous economy.

I remain strongly committed to the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. The Prime Minister and I reaffirmed our commitment to that vision and to the road map as the only way forward to realize it.

The United States is working with Palestinians and Israelis to improve security on the ground.
How fitting that much of the president's language lines up with the central concern of the Middle Eastern situation: land. Of course, it might be that the problem exists because he and everyone else talks about it that way! I wonder how the Palestinian leaders--the unlanded ones--talk. Do they use even more land-language, or less, because they got so little of it?

On A Horrible Sounding British Colloquialism

In the course of finding out how to do Paris on the cheap, I came across a pretty ugly looking and sounding word:
First stop: the Louvre, (33-1), where on Fridays after 6 p.m. admission is 6 euros ($7.80), down from the usual 8.5, and free for anyone 26 and under. So we saw the museum's treasures - the Rembrandt portraits, the two Michelangelo "Slaves," the Botticelli frescos - in the company of young people from around the world. Most were pursuing the art, some the art of sexual pursuit. The shadows gathering in the Marly Court of French sculpture made it a particularly popular snogging spot.
"Snogging"!? That sounds more like some maritime punishment than a British slang for cuddling and kissing.

And why is the New York Times using British slang anyway? Couldn't canoodling have done just as good and descriptive and American a job? As it's written, the word comes across to this American reader as pretty jarring. Of course, for some, it might be just as jarring to be looking at art only to stumble across some strangers snogging. So, maybe the word works after all.

On Multiple Meanings of a Word

A funny little word in an article about "man-dates":
Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.
Is outing the right word for this context, given the pains the straight men in this article go to, in order to carve out a non-homosexual-perceived space for themselves?

On A New Approach to Newspapering

I don't know whether this will solve the problem of decreasing newspaper circulation, but it seems like it would increase a sense of connection between a newspaper and its readers (hardcopy readers and/or internet).
At the Greensboro News & Record's Web site, registered users can submit their own stories by clicking on a link. An editor gathers submissions, makes a few small edits, then publishes the articles online -- sometimes within hours. Among recent stories written by readers: a feature on an upcoming cotton-mill convention and a primer on Social-Security reform.
How is it different from a message board or a blog? Well, it taps into the respect and credibility that mainstream media outlets have. So, it simultaneously relies on and reworks (potentially, at least) the institution. Isn't this how innovation works?

On Another Way to View a Nazi

Outside the Beltway provides some evidence for the claim: We shouldn't make too big a hero out of a Nazi. And, while we're at it, some more evidence.

On the Use of Appalachia

PBS is offering what looks to be a pretty interesting documentary about Appalachia. That got me thinking about how often I hear about the place--not very. In fact, the only time I really here it mentioned is when people are talking about the sociology of poverty, or something like that, and don't want to talk exlusively about urban or black poverty, preffering to throw in some poor white people too.

So, you'll be talking about institutional or sociological pressures that create poverty and you'll hear something like, "poor people from Harlem or Watts or Appalachia," and you'll wonder, "Wow, where did that come from?" Or, you'll be talking about how awful poverty is and you'll bring up the aching poorness of mountain Tennesee or Kentucky and you'll recall all of those WPA black-and-white pictures of barefoot little girls with coal smudges on their faces looking blankly at some camera.

I know it's all grim, but I wonder how related the poverty is. Is poor-is-poor-is-poor? Or, is there a difference in degree or causality about poverty in Watts and Appalachia? If we just throw in that last bit about Appalachia, are we doing it as some form of off-the-cuff, let's be inclusive about how we talk about "the Poor?" Or, are some folks displaying some sort of soft-conscious white-backlash--letting people know that poverty isn't all about African Americans? Or, do we really mean to remind ourselves that poverty is very broad and widely diffused throughout society's various geographies? Depending on what question we answer and how we do it, I would suggest that we might just be using Appalachia and its imagined (in the sense that we are just imagining what that kind of poverty is like) poverty for our own momentary linguistic or argumentative purposes.

On An Op-Ed On Labels

The LA Times has a nice op-ed piece by Geoffrey Nunberg that talks about the large and broad signification that comes with labels like "Conservative" or "Liberal." Mr. Nunberg points out that we don't refer to a person's "philosophy of government" as much as we used to when we call someone a conservative or liberal.
More important still, we no longer think of liberals and conservatives merely as adherents of different "schools of political belief," in the way we might talk about devotees of supply-side and demand-side as disciples of two economic schools. Now the categories go much deeper — to lifestyle, values and even traits of character.

The shift in perceptions began with the onset of the culture wars in the 1970s, when the right began to depict liberals as elitists out of touch with "mainstream values." That was also when consumer preferences started standing in for ideological characterizations. Liberals were tarred in a kind of guilt by brand association, as Volvo-driving, brie-eating, Chardonnay-sipping snobs — the "libs," as Rush Limbaugh calls them.
This sort of identity-shorthand seems heightened, given the increasingly commonplace usage use of "red state" and "blue state." This type of distinction adds a spatial distinction to our identity, a distinction that allows us to speak of ourselves as members of ideological states, and one that create its own set of expats and diaspora. This is probably nothing new, in as much as we've always thought that city people were different from country folk. The heavy use of these labels that stand in for so much however, seems to be what's new and problematic, allowing us to name ourselves and thus draw incredible distinctions.

I wonder what the implication for public deliberation is? At some earlier point, when the labels we commonly used would refer back to some "philosophy of governance," labels might have been useful for debate; we'd know the outlines of the debate and the evidence we'd employ based on the other person's willingness to identify with FDR's party or Herbert Hoover's. With labels meaning much, much, more and signifying who we are, it seems harder to debate each other on matters of individual policies. Instead, it seems like we're just debating each other. An attack on a position is quickly broadened to become an attack on the position's holder. Suddenly, discussion is a string of ad hominems and I wonder what sort of public compromise and policy can emerge from that, given folks' identities are now at stake. It's a lot easier to concede on a single issue than it is to concede on our principles, values, and personal identity.

On Using Medical Descriptions

In a New York Times article about New York's troubled hospital sector:
Twelve New York hospitals have closed in the last 27 months, and others have shut wings, wards and clinics. The industry as a whole has lost money five years in a row in New York, while turning a profit nationally each year. Even some of New York's biggest, most sophisticated teaching hospitals, like Mount Sinai and St. Vincent's in Manhattan, have been hemorrhaging money. Just last week, county officials scrambled to assemble a cash infusion for Westchester Medical Center.
Though a little cute, I wonder if analogy language like this only maintains the flawed and failing perspectives and policies regarding hospitals and the city's medical system. Don't concieve of the hospitals as patients if there's a need for a solution to a problem centered on how to deal with patients. If the old way isn't working well, then perhaps folks need to develop a different set of lenses and words to view and discuss the system.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

On Another Springtime Stroll

Saturday brought another nice day, so I decided to take a trip downtown with my camera.


On my way to the bus-stop, I passed a neighbor's house. This is one of her dogs. Everytime I walk past, this dog and another come to the edge of the lawn and bark ferociously at me. If it wasn't for the invisible fence, I sometimes imagine they would bite my head off. I used to think that, over time, the dogs would learn that I wasn't a threat to them or their owners and would give up their barking in favor of playful yapping and good natured jumping. I am beginning to think that they'll always bark at me like I was some shifty type. I wonder if those dogs know about self-fulfilling prophecies?


I think this is my favorite house, it reminds me of some colonial-era house, filled with spiced cider and Thomas Paine pamphlets. Look at how the chimney blends in with the tree.


A noteworthy fence.


Here's my bus stop.


This is the funeral home directly across from my stop. Everytime I wait for the bus, I feel as if I'm waiting for death.


"Nick's Barber Shop" What an odd name for a business based on scissors and cutting.


After stepping off the bus and entering Minneapolis proper, I saw this family whose awed expressions and conversation implied that the kids had never been into the city before. From the looks of their shirts, it seems that they come from a small town named Culpepper.


Here's the IDS Building. It's a fairly significant building for the city. When it was built back in the late 60s or early 70s, it was the first really big and modern skyscraper the city had, and it dramatically altered the skyline. Prior to that, the tallest building was the Foshay Tower, the little-looking building to the back-left of the IDS Building.


In the IDS Building's lobby is a waterfall. Look at that: falling water in a rising building.


Another picture inside the IDS Building's lobby. Where's the center? It reminds me of some T.S. Eliot poem.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

On The President's Radio Address on the Pope

I'm interested in how public figures talk religiously, how they include--or exclude--their faith and religious perspectives in their everyday arguments about everyday matters of public concern. When it comes up, I also like to look at how public folks talk about religious things. Given the recent death of the Pope, there's been a lot of things to pay attention to. How does someone like President Bush, representing the religiously diverse United States and being compelled to talk about this prominent religious leader, talk about the Pope?

Since this week's radio address was all about the Pope, I thought I would take a peek at what that our protestant President had to say to all of us about the Catholic Pope.
Good morning. This week I have been in Rome to attend the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II. The ceremonies were a powerful and moving reminder of the profound impact this Pope had on our world. And on behalf of America, Laura and I were honored to pay tribute to this good and holy man.
The president, though acknowledging the Pope's "holiness" seems content to cast the Pope in terms of his effect on the world, rather than his religious identity--even though I suspect that you couldn't have had all the effect without his religion.
During nearly three decades on the Chair of St. Peter, this Pope brought the gospel's message of hope and love and freedom to the far corners of the Earth. And over this past week, millions of people across the world returned the Pope's gift with a tremendous outpouring of affection that transcended differences of nationality, language and religion.
This part of the text seems more overt in its "religiosity," explicating the "gospel's message" for listeners. But, the message is described in fairly universal terms and, through the actions of millions, the message has "transcended" its own religiousness by dramatically reaching and affecting many different folks. Given President Bush's own willingness to underscore the Pope's "historical" influence and persona, though, I wonder how much of this positive public response came from the gospel's message and how much of it was just directed at a man who helped stare down Communism.

But, regardless of his explication of the "gospel's message" and his analysis of its effects, President Bush offers a very nice passage that iconistically represents the transcendant quality of the Pope and his life. Look at how one Pope, sitting in one chair, is able to reach "far corners of the world." And, look at how the paragraph's active agents move from the solitary Pope to millions of people. People who, in turn, make the message even broader and more transcendant. Nicely done. With language and structure like that, I guess all people, regardless of their faith or non-faith, will be brought along with the President in honoring this religious figure.
The call to freedom that defined his papacy was forged in the experiences of Pope John Paul's own life. He came to manhood during the Nazi occupation of his beloved Poland, when he eluded the Gestapo to attend an underground seminary. Later, when he was named Poland's youngest bishop, he came face to face with the other great totalitarianism of the 20th century: Communism. And soon he taught the communist rulers in Warsaw and Moscow that moral truth had legions of its own and a force greater than their armies and secret police.
But, in case folks get a little nervous about all of this religious stuff, Bush defines the Pope's life in very human, and fairly secular terms. The Pope's legacy is rooted in the universal "call to freedom," his life seemed marked by physical struggles that responded to physical forces ("forged," "manhood," "eluded," face to face," etc), and his message was about "moral" truths--a type of truth that includes "religious truths" but not to the exclusion of non-religious ones.

Later on, President Bush offers perhaps the most overtly religious passage in the text:
Everywhere he went, the Pope preached that the call of freedom is for every member of the human family because the Author of Life wrote it into our common human nature.
Though it might be possible to read Bush's other statements in fairly ecumenical and universal ways, it seems hard to read this passage as applicable to anyone but believers. Perhaps this is a point where Bush speaks more as a believer than a representative of all Americans.

In short order, however, President Bush makes the Pope very applicable to all folks in the United States:
The Pope held a special affection for America. During his many visits to our country, he spoke of our providential Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity enshrined in our Declaration, and the blessings of liberty that followed from them. It is these timeless truths about man, enshrined in our founding, the Pope said, that have led freedom-loving people around the world to look to America with hope and respect. And he challenged America always to live up to its lofty calling. The Pope taught us that the foundation for human freedom is a universal respect for human dignity. On all his travels, John Paul preached that even the least among us bears the image of our Creator, so we must work for a society where the most vulnerable among us have the greatest claim on our protection.
Despite some criticism from the Pope in the recent years about the War in Iraq and the increasing commercialization and commodification of our society (Europe's too, of course!), the Pope seems in this secyion to tacitly support the concept of American Exceptionalism. If that's the case, it's probably a lot harder for Americans, regardless of their faith, to get too worked up about honoring a man who so honored us!
And by his own courageous example in the face of illness and suffering, he showed us the path to a culture of life where the dignity of every human person is respected, and human life at all its stages is revered and treasured.
Aha! Here is a passage that seems to argue for a "culture of life"--a very religious-conservative thing to argue for. But, rather than citing any religious support, Bush elides everything like Bible passages and quotes from Augustine with this fairly universally applicable image of a courageous, moral--and not particularly religious seeeming--Pope. Is this sneaky of Bush? I don't know. It does seem to work structurally, though, given the rest of the text.

And finally, one more nice passage that gets some good movement in:
As the Pope grew physically weaker, his spiritual bond with young people grew stronger. They flocked to him in his final moments, gathering outside his window to pray and sing hymns and light candles. With them, we honor this son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages.
I like the transition from son, to Bishop, to hero. It goes nicely with the spatial-temporal transformation that moves us from Poland to Rome to "the ages."

Friday, April 08, 2005

On Stepping into Spring with a Spring in My Step

Convinced that today was one of those perfect spring days I would regret letting slip away if I didn't get out and take a long walk, I took a walk. And, I took a camera along.


I said goodbye to the house.


Look closely at this house I passed. Can you see the contrast between Spring's open windows and Winter's Chrsitmas lights? What you can't see, however, is a red truck behind me, driven by the house's owner who was somewhat miffed at my decision to photograph his house. After a rough, but brief, questioning he let me go on my way without having me erase my pictures. I guess I shouldn't be such a smart ass about seeing contrasts in others.


No flag at half-staff for the Pope in front of this city hall--even though it's Saint Anthony's city hall!


I thought I would take a seat in the bus stop to see what would pass by.


There! I wasn't sitting for more than a minute before a popcorn cart on a trailer went by.


Two buses raced by too.


On the other side of the tracks is a brand new Wal-Mart. I bet that when it was being built, some folks thought that it would make its side of the tracks, the wrong side of the tracks.


While they were building the Wal-Mart, they would have done well to build some bike racks too.


I think it's a little lame that Cub Foods Grocery has painted cookie ads on children's carts.

On the Colors of Compassion Coming Out of the Blue

A North Dakota woman of 19 has been charged with stealing puppies and dyeing them blue and purple:
Police said she stole the dogs on two different occasions in January and February, putting the puppies in her backpack and leaving without paying.

Hoffart [the puppy purloiner] told police she took the dogs because she felt sorry for them. She used nontoxic hair dye to color the dogs' fur because she wanted to make them more unique, police said.
I think she succeeded at making them more unique, but think she failed to make them any less pathetic; you can't help but say, "Oh, those poor things, getting stained like that at the hands of some nutjob." But, then you smile. After all, it's not like she was making a puppy fur coat or anything like that.

On A Quirky Name

I appreciate the name of the sick cardinal whose illness prevents him from voting for a new pope: Cardinal Sin. I also hope he feels better and makes it up to the Vatican!

On Which of these Things Does not Belong Here and on What Does

On his way back to the United States after attending the Pope's funeral, President Bush offered a few remarks about his trip to the Vatican. In an apparent defense of his decision to attend the ceremony, Bush declares that there was never a question that he would attend and that many leaders of the US Catholic Church were glad he did.
Last night we hosted a reception at the embassy for many of the leaders of the Catholic Church at home, and they were very grateful that I came, and Laura came, and Dad came, and President Clinton came, and Condi came, as well as others. And I told them, to a person, that it's such an honor to represent our country at a ceremony honoring a truly great man who is and will always be a great historical figure.
I guess it wouldn't be hard to pick out the person who stands out in this crowd. Granted, it would have been ridiculous for President Bush to call him Bill, but I wonder if it might have sounded smoother if Bush had started or finished his list with President Clinton.

Plus, recognizing that these are comments likely to be more off-the-cuff than usual, I would still point out that the Pope will be a religious figure as much or more than an "historical" one. What a silly phrase, "historical figure," and what an even sillier way to sanitize the Pope's Catholic identity. Bush sounds down right Kennedy-like here, dodging the whole "religious issue." Is there that big a concern that the Church/State division will be breached if the president admits, out loud, that the Pope was a religious leader? Of course he was historic. But, his position in history stems largely from his role as a religious leader, a position the Pope was willing and able to use, along with his Church's moral standards and traditions, to work within and without the constraints and contexts of his time.

No need to clean that up for us, Mr. President. We won't ever really think that the Vatican is reaching across the Atlantic into your office and into our homes. Plus, it's not 1932 and you're not even Catholic. So, give this guy his full due.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

On Complexity in Coupon-Cutting

A woman from Georgia has just made a contract with Good Morning America to discuss coupon-cutting every now and then.
Monday, the "Coupon Mom" will tell viewers how to use coupons to buy clothing online and in traditional stores.
Take a peak at that picture. Is she even doing the work? It looks like she's recruited an army of moppets to do all the heavy clipping, with none of the credit! And, really, how difficult can it be if a bunch of ankle-biters can become coupon-clippers?

On A Depressing Story

Possibly, the most depressing thing I have ever read in the New York Times. It's an article that describes a building in New York going through its gentrification process; the poor and down-on-their-luck types being replaced by the well-and-high-heeled ones. I think that this moment of the journalist's self-reflection only doubles the article's heaviness:
There are more important matters in the world than the four old men living out their lives in a building that has changed around them. Their story does not concern the war or the economy, but here it is nonetheless.
I think that recently I have begun to sneer at the notion that journalists are capable of writing articles in an objective manner; I mean, we all look at the world from a particular lens and all that. But, reading that little prelude, I suspect that a line can be drawn between the "facts" and senseless editorial commentary.

Sure, I'll concede that maybe, in the grand scheme of things, there are things going on in the world that are more significant than what is happening here. But, I will also point out that the point of these soft news pieces is probably to highlight some small aspect of life--some banal mundanity--and elevate its significance and status--for a few paragraphs, at least. How is this done with such a rotten aside, stage whispered to the all-knowing readers and arbiters of what's what? Surely, even reporters from the Times--however established and knighted by the Paper's mist of Pulitzers Past, Present, and Future--must not be so fat and content as to allow such a comment to slip out so smoothly about the supposed insignificance of the very material providing them with their day's story.

It must be that the lives of these men are--in some small way, at least--significant to the people living them. Plus, in as much as they have warranted a journalist's attention, an even greater significance has been attached to them. In the end, I think that we, as readers, should be afforded the opportunity to apply our own standards of evaluation and decide where in the vast hierarchy of life these four men are stationed!

On a Conversation Overheard in Class

Waiting for the professor who's a little late making it into class this morning, I overheard a student say this:
She's late. This is the first time I've made it to class on time and the professor is late. Sigh
Is this something this student should say? Doesn't the phrase contain some sort of concession that it is okay, or at least understandable to be late; how can the student articulate a sense of entitlement when she herself has not given, in the past, what the professor's entitled to? Very frustrating to hear, since I have made it into class a little late every now and again (as have my students, of course!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On the Left's Left

Instapundit linked to this article in the Sunday Times and highlighted this passage:
Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, believes his party has “somehow gotten itself divorced” from the blue-collar constituency it has always relied on for presidential success: “I’ve always felt the Democratic party was a kind of alliance between the academics and intellectuals and working-class men and women. I think what happened is that in my lifetime, the academics won.”

As a result, the governor said, the party had lost its broad appeal. He mocked other Democratic candidates who think connecting with middle America means quoting a few verses from the Bible or being photographed with guns.
Reading it, I was reminded of something very similarly expressed in a memo penned by Laurie Garrett before she retired from Newsday earlier last month (please do the Ctrl-F thing for "Laurie Garrett"). In it she writes:
When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone. All too many journalists seem to mistake scandal mongering for tenacious investigation, and far too many aspire to make themselves the story. When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday – guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs – I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism. Theirs was not a perfect world --- too white, too male, seen through a haze of cigarette smoke and Scotch – but it was an honest one rooted in mid-20th Century American working class values.
In both passages the working class and its attitudes and perspectives have been seemingly silenced by more *sophisticated* groups--be they academics or white-collar professionals. This transformation and loss of a large group of people seems utterly lamentable, given the need to bring people together for debate and create some form of unity throughout the country during times of debate.

As voices like the academic Left--voices that Garnett's white-collar journalists probably echo--become more prominent, it seems that the Left loses some of its ability to actually connect with the vast majority of the country--including those swing voters who don't know if they will vote Republican or Democrat. When neo-Marxists and socialists, ready with their sophisticated political economy critiques, are speaking and listened to, it is no wonder that many folks are not willing to vote for Democrats. Even though these far-left types hardly represent the majority of the Left, or the whole country, through the institutional power and cultural background that the academics speak from--possibly the same type they critique in businesses and government--they have gained a primacy and significance that seems disproportionate.

In my own department, I sometimes get the sense that my fairly moderate political stance (when forced, I declare myself to be a Joe Lieberman Democrat or John McCain Republican) might easily and relatively be taken for far-right reactionary-ism. Of course this is silly; after all, I, like most people, am not a fascist! But, in this type of environment, it becomes difficult for the Left to create a genuine stasis with the Right, because the fairly-fringed wing of the party that, at times becomes embarrassingly vocal, makes it seem like the Democrats are the party of collectivization and Revolution!

To start a conversation you need some common ground and a sense of some shared system or logic.