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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why Common Core Sucks

As the Obamas know, the Common Core test questions are outsourced to companies like APass, who pay "consultants" piece meal rates to produce questions, generally between $5 and $15 per question, with the low-end going to multiple choice and the high end for essay questions. Projects generally run a week or two, and speed is of the essence. There are only a set number of questions associated with each project. The more questions you can write, the more money you get out of that project (and the less the other writers assigned to that project get). The questions themselves are often edited and approved by a different group of piece-meal workers under the same conditions.

Now, the questions have to include all kinds of "competencies" from various competency lists (if they don't pass the "internal standards", you don't get paid for the question), so the test question writers and editors are essentially being given a test of their own when they write - how many buzz words from the competency list can you fit into a question in the shortest amount of time so that you can maximize your income?  

So, the test questions aren't about what 7th graders can do. The test questions are all about how much piecemeal test creators can earn. Nobody really cares if the questions are appropriate or adequate. All that matters is that each question match the checklist that is required to get paid. The idea is to crank out as many of the damn things as you can in the shortest amount of time.

The people doing this generally have to have a minimum of a graduate degree, so it's adjunct professors all the way down. It is a timed test with a check at the other end. But we aren't testing public school students. We are testing adjunct professors' "speed writing" competencies. Can they produce enough copy to pay their mortgage? That is what is being tested.

You know the old saying: "There are three aspects to any job: good, fast and cheap. Pick any two." The government picked "fast" and "cheap." They got it. Why is everyone complaining?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Clive Bundy's Question

"And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Clive Bundy's remarks have set off a firestorm, in which Bundy has been called every manner of racist. A look at the historical facts might be in order.
"[B]y age 16.5 American male slaves were taller than factory workers and laboring classes in England, the poor of Italy, students in Habsburg military schools, the middle class of Stuttgart, German peasants, and factory workers in Russia. As adults they also exceeded the aristocrats of Stuttgart, Moscow middle school pupils, and were about one-half inch below the Swedish schoolchildren, and less than one inch below the nonlaboring classes in England. At age 17.5 American female slaves exceeded Boston women of American or Irish parents, factory workers in England or Russia, and the upper class in Italy and were slightly more than one inch below the tallest group (schoolchildren in Sweden)."
And from another source:
This interpretation for average height has led to their use in studying the health of slaves, health inequality, living standards during industrialization, and trends in mortality. The first important results in the “new anthropometric history” dealt with the nutrition and health of Americans slaves as determined from stature recorded for identification purposes on slave manifests required in the coastwise slave trade. The subject of slave health has been a contentious issue among historians, in part because vital statistics and nutrition information were never systematically collected for slaves (or for the vast majority of the American population in the mid-nineteenth century, for that matter). Yet, the height data showed that children were astonishingly small and malnourished while working slaves were remarkably well fed. Adolescent slaves grew rapidly as teenagers and were reasonably well off in nutritional aspects of health.
Table 5: Life Expectancy at Birth by Country and Year
United Kingdom40506977
United States39476877

In terms of another kind of growth, population growth, it is the case that both slave and free populations in 19th century America grew at twice the rate of any European country. In fact, the American slave population grew by a factor of four between 1810 and 1860, an increase which was entirely due to reproduction, since importation was illegal by 1808. That kind of population growth is impossible without high fertility and relatively low mortality rates. High fertility, in turn, is not possible on an inadequate diet or in inadequate living conditions. In America, both slave and free infants were being conceived, born and were thriving at rates higher than that of every European population of the time.  

This fact was not lost on slave owners. Many American slave-owners made an argument in support of slavery based exactly on these facts: life as an American slave might not be ideal, but it was superior to life as a free "savage" in Africa, and even superior to the lives of many poor white men in both America and Europe. And, if we consider only nutritional and life expectancy data (as liberals generally do), the argument is quite strong.

Of course, there is more to living in a just society than simply good food and long life. There is freedom to consider. But that is precisely the question Clive Bundy raises - can living on government welfare be considered "freedom"?

When one considers that WIC and food stamps restrict what you are permitted to eat, government housing restricts where you are permitted to live, government schools restrict where you are permitted to be educated, government Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare dictate what doctors you are permitted to see and what conditions they are permitted to treat, given that government subsidies allow the government to dictate so many aspects of the recipients' lives, what is the precise difference between the old slave owner and modern government? 

That is the question Clive Bundy asked.
By calling him a racist, that is the question the government and the media avoid answering.

Clive Bundy feeds his cattle on land the government took via eminent domain, but he refuses to live according to the rules the government wishes to impose on him as a consequence of "allowing" him to use the land which his family owned before the government seized it.

Slavemasters used to strip and publicly whip uppity slaves. Mr. Bundy's family has been stripped of their land, and, as Alan Keyes has pointed out, they are now being whipped in the media. Despite the passage of two centuries, not much has changed.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Papal Foot-Washing, Take 2

Pope's making history again - washing the feet of a woman and a Muslim.

What does this signify?

The washing of feet is an optional rite that is rooted in two different traditions:
a) the “Mandatum Pauperam,” or washing of the feet of poor people, and
b) the “Mandatum Fratrum,” the washing of the feet of “the brothers.” (e.g., the woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears)

When the rite was folded into the Mass in 1955, women weren't allowed in the sanctuary, so the rite of foot washing took on a third meaning: Jesus' washing of apostle's feet at the Last Supper. That is, it was now associated with the ordination of priests.

Pope Francis is dispensing with the new, third meaning and emphasizing the first two.

For Christians, a brother or sister is a baptized person, so when he washes a Christian's feet, his washing the feet of a brother or sister.

But in Christian theology, the poorest of the poor is the person who hasn't heard or accepted the Gospel. Muslims aren't baptized, that is, they haven't accepted the Gospel. So, when he washes the feet of a Muslim, he's washing the feet of the poorest persons.

Muslims might respond in one of two ways:
a) Some Muslims see this in terms of a Christian serving a Muslim. Since Muslims consider non-Muslims second-class citizens, a Christian who acts like a servant towards a Muslim is acting in a perfectly appropriate way. He is acting like a dhimmi, as he should.

b) Other Muslims see Christian acts of physical charity as a serious threat. When a Christian feeds, clothes, or otherwise physically cares for a Muslim, this "perturbs the mentality of a good Muslim" because it tends to make the Muslim think that Christianity may be true. Physical acts of charity lead the Muslim away from Islam. Christian charity is such a serious threat that in 2010  there was a “fatwa promulgated by 7,300 Moroccan Muslim doctors who recently declared that Christian charity ought to be considered religious terrorism.” 

What Christians call charity, Muslims call terrorism. Worse, not only is this an act of physical charity, some Muslims may be aware that this act can be seen as denigrating Muslims, casting them as the theologically poorest of the poor, unfamiliar with the ways of God. Even though it is intended as an act of service, it could be taken as a theological insult. In fact, given that Muslim nurses find the simple act of washing hands to be an offense against modesty, it could be taken as an insult in more than one way

The Pope is certainly aware of this element.

By returning to the traditional meaning of the washing of the feet, what Francis is doing is very seriously engaging the Muslim world, and he's taking a significant risk to do so.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Alternatives to Obamacare

Here are some alternatives to Murderer-Care

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Observing the Seder

Some Catholics like to practice a Seder meal at some point prior to or during Holy Week. The Seder meal is only a pale shadow of the richness of the Catholic Mass. While it is understandable that the study of the Seder meal can bring a greater appreciation of the Mass, it is kind of silly.

First, how do you decide which traditional Jewish seder you want to look at? They aren't the same. For instance, the Ashkenazi have lamb at their Seders, the Sephardic and Mizrhaic Jews do not. Why the difference? Because the Ashkenazi say the lack of the Temple does not limit their ability to sacrifice the Passover lamb, while the other sects insist that no Passover lamb can be properly sacrificed anywhere but at the non-existent Temple.

Even if you decide on the tradition you want, what Seder ritual should you use? This is no small argument. I once had a discussion with a parish employee who insisted that the parish only use a Seder ritual which was acceptable to a(n Ashkenazi) rabbi. When I pointed out the absurdity of having a Jew tell a Catholic what kind of ritual could be carried out on parish property, she replied, "Well, how would you like it if someone did a parody of the Catholic Mass?"

I replied, "That happens every day. It's called Anglicanism."

The question of the Temple is important in another respect. Most parish Seder aficionados insist on having the Ashkenazi lamb at their Seder. Yet, even though they want the Seder and the lamb, the same people almost never also insist on ritually killing the lamb by slitting its throat in front of an observant audience. Why not? If you're going to do the Seder, why not do the whole thing? 

Bring the kids in, especially the young ones! We like teaching them about the Eucharist by handing out Hawaiian bread and grape juice, why not help them gain an appreciation for Christ's sacrifice by slitting a lamb's throat and skinning it right in front of them as well? I promise they would never forget the lesson.

And if we're going to sacrifice lambs for the Seder, why stop there? Why not perform ritual animal holocausts on a regular basis at the parish church to commemorate the major Jewish feast days? So many Catholic feast days are built on the foundation of Jewish feasts that we should not overlook the opportunities the liturgical calendar affords.

Bring cows, sheep, lamb, doves! Wring doves' necks, slice throats, let the blood flow freely! Let them see what Temple Judaism really looked like! Then everyone will have a greater appreciation for the crucifixion.

Performing a Seder meal in order to appreciate the Mass is a lot like buying and playing with a Matchbox Hotwheels car so that you can better drive and appreciate a 2014 Toyota Camry. It just makes sense, right?

So, while you're sharpening your knives for the parish Seder, think on these things.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Salvation for All

Many people argue that there are human persons in hell, or that some subset of human persons MUST end up in hell. Part of their argument invariably involves an invocation of private revelation.

"What about the vision of Fatima!?!?" is a common wail.

Well, let's think about Fatima for a moment.

On July 13, 1919, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself taught the three visionaries this prayer:
O my Jesus, 
forgive us our sins, 
save us from the fire of hell,
*lead all souls to heaven,*
especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.
Now, think about that. 

Is prayer ever useless? Obviously not. 

Would Mary ever insist we pray for something that is useless? Again, obviously not. 

God doesn't have us do useless things. 

So, if human souls were in hell, why would Mary ask us to pray in 1917 that all souls be led to heaven? There is no way to get out of hell - that's de fide. Yet we are asked to pray that all souls be led to heaven. 

Now, prayer is a timeless act. It's effects can ripple backward in time as well as forward in time. Therefore, it must be possible for us to have theological hope, rooted in God's own divine mercy, that all human persons be saved. Hell would still exist, and would still be occupied by the fallen angels. It would not be empty. There would simply be no human persons in it.

If we didn't have the theological right to hope for this - indeed, the duty to hope for this - then Mary would never have taught us this prayer and asked us to pray it. And this hope cannot just be a natural hope, for no one can have a natural hope for heaven. If our entire basis to hope for heaven lay only in our human nature, then we are all doomed to hell. The only way we can attain heaven is through God's own gift of supernatural grace. That is why our hope for heaven, whether it be for ourselves or someone else, must always be a supernatural hope, for only God's supernatural grace can accomplish this end. To say we can only pray this prayer with a natural hope is to say that Catholics are allowed to be Pelagians, which is absurd. 

So, Fatima has a certain tension within it. On one hand, we have the visionaries seeing people falling towards hell, on the other, we have Mary teaching them to pray that all souls end up in heaven.

Conclusion The only conclusion we can reach is this: the souls the visionaries saw moving towards hell, even at the moment of their death. even those who died in the past, can be saved for heaven at the moment of their death by our (future) prayers and sacrifices before God's throne. The timeless nature of prayer is also about the only thing that would explain why none of the nasty events Mary described at Fatima actually happened: Russia would eventually be properly consecrated at some future point, so none of the described disasters actually took place. 

If anyone wishes to stand on Fatima in order to demonstrate that not all human beings are saved, s/he stands on a very weak reed indeed, for in the very same visionary event, the Blessed Virgin Mary commands us to pray a prayer that assumes all human beings can, in fact, be saved. Since Mary did teach this prayer and command we pray it, we can correctly conclude no human being is yet in hell, and we can also conclude that it is our duty to hope every human being attains heaven. 

The papal preacher apparently agrees with this view.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Bankrupt Philosophy

As I was researching for a class lecture, I ran into the map below. It shows the amount of "homophobia" in the world, according to Gallup's international survey from 2012:
As I studied it, the map reminded me of something I had seen somewhere else.
Hmmmm.... what was it?
Ah, yes! It was this:

The color scheme is switched around (red is always bad, of course, while green is good), but as you can see, the map is pretty close to identical.  Wherever the national debt is high, homosexual activity is very much encouraged. Wherever national debt is low, homosexuality is very much discouraged.

In fact, I even ran a scatterplot to check the correlation, using the same trick the Atlantic article used, doing a log of the currency values in order to increase the r-squared value. Lo! and behold! The r-squared value came in at a very respectable 50.3% correlation.

So then I checked within the United States and I found these maps. The first presents the areas that permit homosexual unions:

The second shows the areas with high state and local debts:

As you can see, while the match in America isn't perfect, there's quite a bit of overlap. Generally speaking, where debt is high, homosexual "rights" are powerful. Where debt is low, homosexual "rights" tends not to be powerful.

Homosexual "rights" seems to be, quite literally, a bankrupt philosophy, or rather, the philosophy of the bankrupt.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Just So Stories

Rudyard Kipling wrote a series of stories for children about animals - how the leopard got its spots, how the elephant got a long trunk, etc. - that he titled "Just So Stories". The little volume became so popular that the title became a byword. If you create a "just so" story, you create a story that matches many of the known facts but is, in all other aspects, completely fabricated. It just sounds so nice that it must be true.
Le Gros Clark knew that genuine fossil discoveries ignite brighter sparks of controversy than any cranial con job ever could. given limited evidence about long-gone populations of our predecessors, researchers devise competing evolutionary scenarios that are often difficult to disprove and that can easily accommodate whatever ancient bones turn up next. (Science News, Fossil Sparks, Nov 3, 2007, Vol. 172, p 280, 1st column).
Science News is not a hotbed of Intelligent Design theory or of Creationism. It is very much wedded to evolutionary theory. But, among friends, it explicitly admits the facts: evolution is not a theory, but a bunch of contradictory theories, each one hard to distinguish from a "just so" story.

I'm not a fan of creationism, but it is admissions like this which make it hard for me to get enthusiastic about macro-evolution.