Contra Mozilla

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Few Good Links (vol. 19)

So many links, so little time:
  1. My favorite living sci-fi author is profiled by the New Yorker. They fail to mention my favorite of his works, however, which is the fantasy duo The Wizard Knight.
  2. Why don't religious liberty arguments work better, particularly in regards to the question of Christians and "gay marriage?" For one thing, it's because there are a number of people who aren't religious, and therefore don't really understand or care about the religious rights of others; they therefore don't see the importance of defending religious liberties when these conflict with something else which is desired. Others are openly hostile to religion, and so will support any cause simply because it will conflict with (and thus could destroy or hamper) the recognition of and preservation or protection of religious liberties. Further, there is a divorce between religious doctrines concerning "theology" or "beliefs" (the "creed" part of religion) and the morals which are sometimes not so obvious from those beliefs (the "code" part of religion). Finally, because religious liberty arguments are perceived as whining; nevermind that most feminist or homosexualist arguments also sound like whining--the people who present (and thus, largely narrate and at times frame) the debate are friendly towards gays and feminists, but not towards people of faith. Bottom line: we need to do a better job of evangelizing and then catechizing the culture.
  3. The world needs more everyday heroes, but it also needs for everyday men to be heroic when called upon. Sometimes they are.
  4. We need more moral and religious heroes, too. Unfortunately, being a morally, religiously, or virtuously heroic man is often a harder road to toe, in particular because the world hates this kind of hero more than any other. Thus, for example, a bishop who is on the whole doing his job in a meaningful manner looks like moral hero, for the simple reason that he faces much backlash for it, and for the reason that there are no other men of valor to march with him in the field. There are a few, however, who lend there pens (or keyboards) to the cause.
  5. Actually, heroism isn't all we need. A simple return to virtues, basic morality, and even simple human kindness and decency (soft virtue, those) would work wonders for society. Unfortunately one side in the culture wars is increasingly (though not surprisingly) warring against private morality or public virtue.
  6. Speaking of good witnessing to the culture, have I mentioned that I love the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist?
  7. There is a certain romance to rituals, religious or otherwise.
  8. Churches have been vandalized in the name of homosexualism. These vandalisms are under-reported in the name of "tolerance." 
  9. Elsewhere, we see that holding beliefs against the homosexualist agenda must be punished on a personal level. Meanwhile, those who are being fined--and whose businesses are being shuttered and thus whose livelihoods are being ruined--are now being denied aide via such sources as crowdfunding. And of course, the real reason behind the push for "gay marriage" should be obvious to any with eyes to see or ears to hear. Happily, there's still Samaritan's Purse, which won't be so easily shut down.
  10. A nice flowchart to answer the important question: "Did I buy a good whiskey?" However, the chart should flow through "taste it" more often.
  11. Fear of the Lord means hating our sins--and we should pray that we are given a holy fear of the lord, and thus that we hate our sins enough to overcome them.

With great tragedy and great calamity often comes the opportunity for the harder virtues to be practiced. Let us hope that we see more fortitude, and indeed even some heroism, emerge from these increasingly hot culture wars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A UNC Professor's Workload

I see that the North Carolina General Assembly is considering legislation which would require a 4/4 load of all professors in the UNC system. That's 4 courses in the fall, and 4 more in the spring (one would hope that they consider how many credit hours each course is worth, and that they factor for "special courses" like labs).

To put this into some perspective, I work at a mostly 4-year university (we offer a few masters degrees, and one or two Ph.D.'s) whose focus is supposed to be teaching. My load is 4/4. Starting out, this is a heavy load. I am then required to do service to the university (code for doing a bit of extra work outside of teaching and research), plus some research to get tenure. If I do not get tenure, then I get one "grace" year and then get fired.

This is  a pretty heavy load, all things considered. This year I was a visiting professor, meaning that I conducted next to no research. I have been on campus every day between 8:30 and 9:00, and have gone home closer to 7 than 6 most nights. I also come in to work on some Saturdays for a few hours, but as the semester is finally winding down, I am getting to have more weekends to spend time with family. My research starts back up this summer, and unless I teach during the summer, I don't get paid (even if I do work full weeks here on research). I am expecting longer days in the fall semester as a consequence.

I also spent 8 years getting a Ph.D., with my typical work week exceeding 90 hours for the last year and a half or so (and usually over 60 in the years prior to that), while being paid barely enough to make ends meet. My salary now as a professor is well south of 70k per year for all of this, and I live thousands of miles from my family because this is the job which was available. I happen to really like my job, so these are not all complaints, only observations.

My thoughts on the matter are that universities should consider allowing two paths to tenure. The first is the research path, in which the classroom teaching load is lighter (a 2/2 or 3/3 load seems about reasonable), but in which more quality publications are required; this path makes more sense at Ph.D. granting institutions (which should be on the whole less common). The second is a teaching path, in which the professor has a full 4/4 and research is more akin to a hobby, an "extra" thing which he is allowed to do but not expected to do.

There can also be a change in how tenure and promotion are awarded: begin by promoting to associate professor after 5 years or so, then grant tenure after another 5 years, and finally promotion to full professor another 5-10 years after that (increment size may vary). The requirements for each promotion might be thought to vary somewhat, too, for example by allowing either a very light teaching load to start out along with ht research, or allowing a very light research load but a full teaching load. After all, classes do actually get easier the second time around,  and the third, and so on. But that first time around, they can be a lot more work than you'd guess, and for a young professor who is just starting out, there are many different classes which he will see "first time around."

Bottom line: I have no problem with requiring a 4/4 load out of people (I have such a load right now), or even with requiring this plus research and service (in small quantities). That is, provided that it be made possible to fit all of this activity into the same 40 hour work week that the people who are passing the laws often enjoy, or at least that such work weeks become attainable in short order. A 4/4 is also much easier when you've taught through all courses 2 or 3 times, but if there's also a full research and service (and in many cases, administrative) schedule in place to boot, then those 4 courses are going to start to look very static after the second or third time through.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I gave an exam today, which had a Fermi problem which is meant to help visualize the national debt. The first part of the problem is to estimate the national debt. According to Forbes, this has just recently passed the $18 trillion mark. That's $18 000 000 000 000, or roughly $54 000 per person living in the US.

In grading the exams, I notice that many of my students would estimate the national debt to be $1 billion or even $100 billion. One guessed $670 billion and commented that she was sure this was too large. This makes me a) sad at how badly informed they are, and b) realize how depressingly large the national debt actually is. It is so large, that many of these people cannot even conceive of it, and cannot conceive of a country which owes so much money.

There is a third thing which I realize: the federal government gets away with it, largely because the people who will likely end up having to pay this thing off (those between my and my children's generations) are unaware of the scope of the problem. If the debt were only $1 billion, it would be easily rectified (that's $3 per person in the US). Even $ 100 billion is solvable in a short period of time.

What we have now might be solvable, if it is approached as the equivalent of paying off student loan debts, or maybe a house payment. But the first step is to start living below and not above our means as a country. There is no sign that this will be happening any time soon, at least not of our own volition.

Friday, April 24, 2015

We Will Be Judged

We repeat this fact every time that we recite the Creeds, which for Catholics means at least once per week: Christ will judge the living and the dead. I was reminded of this as I read through the opening editorial of the May/June 2015 edition of Touchstone Magazine, "Ashamed of the Gospel: The End of Comfortable Christianity." Near the close of the editorial, Robert P. George writes:
Powerful forces tell us that our defeat in the causes of marriage and human life are inevitable. They warn us that we are on "the wrong side of history." They insist that we will be judged by future generations the way we today judge those who championed racial injustice in the Jim Crow south. 
But history does not have sides. It is an impersonal and contingent sequence of events, events that are determined in decisive ways by human deliberation, judgment, choice, and action....The idea of a "judgment of history" is secularism's vain, meaningless, hopeless, and pathetic attempt to devise a substitute for the final judgment of Almighty God. History is not God. God is God. History is not our judge. God is our judge. 
One day we will give an account of all we have done and failed to do. Let no one suppose that we will make this accounting to some impersonal sequence of events possessing no more power to judge than a golden calf or a carved and painted totem pole. It is before God--the God of truth, the Lord of history--that we will stand. And as we tremble in his presence, it will be no use for any of us to claim that we did everything in our power to put ourselves on "the right side of history." 
One thing alone will matter: Was I a faithful witness to the gospel? Did I do everything in my power to put myself on the side of truth?

History, too, will be judged. That is notwithstanding the ruling and/or chattering classes' insistence that we ought to change all--even our very beliefs--to bend knee to their whims, also known as "being on the right side of history." We will all be judged, not against history, but against eternity. I pray that I will be found on the right side of eternity--that is the only judgment that ultimately matters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


James Chastek has a series of short posts challenging agnosticism. Most recently, he states that the term is improperly defined. The question is not so much whether we can be certain of God's existence (or non-existence), but whether we can be certain of the possibility of His existence.

It's an interesting argument--he claims to be borrowing it in part from Leibniz. It seems to me that this is an interesting variation of the ontological argument. Specifically, if it is possible for God to exist, then He either actually exists, or exists contingently. But God by definition is a necessary being, and thus is not contingent. Therefore, if it is possible for God to exist, then it is necessary that He does exist. Therefore, a consistent agnostic (and not an intellectually lazy "lukewarm" would-be agnostic) is committed to arguing the it is impossible to know whether it is even possible for God to exist.

If this argument is valid, there is a further implication: an atheist must therefore maintain, not that God does not exist, but that God is in fact impossible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Dose of Pessimism via a Few Quick Links

I'm glad I don't live in Wisconsin, because I continue to oppose the Democratic Party and what they stand for. I consider the Republican party to largely be the stupid (or at time duplicitous) party, and they do support a few things which I think are evil. But the Democratic Party--leadership, line, and major operatives--is just plain monstrous.

Sadly, the "conservative" side of the culture war often goes through the same motion (in reverse) as the "progressive" side.

We need only look across the ocean (this time, the "other ocean") to see where things are heading. It may be sooner than later.

There's a reason why I am a pessimist. It's the same reason why my hope must always be centered in heaven.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monsignor Pope on the Spiritual Works of Mercy

Monsignor Charles Pope has a nice reflection on his blog about the spiritual works of mercy. Excerpt:
We tend to reduce charity to caring for people’s bodies, forgetting the needs of their souls. Indeed this oversight often proves self-defeating, since many of the corporal works of mercy become necessary because of defects of the soul. Some (not all) are imprisoned, poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, and so forth as a result of deep spiritual issues in their lives or in the wider culture. Yet so easily we overlook these spiritual issues....

Sadly, we often consider that our care for the poor has been accomplished by having provided clothing, shelter, or food. It is astonishing that we almost never even ask them to come to church or to listen to a sermon. In the old days at the old gospel mission downtown, or the Salvation Army soup kitchen, or the Catholic cafeteria and shelter, the poor who filed in were often expected to listen to a sermon, receive some Christian instruction, and surely to pray before the distribution of the meal or before bed at the shelter. This is rarely true today and most Catholic outreaches to the poor are almost indistinguishable from those of the government or nonbelievers. I pray you know of exceptions and will inform me of them, but the general pattern is very secular and corporal in its focus....

We think we are done when we have handed out the Christmas baskets. But where will most of the poor, whom we have blessed with this food and these toys, be going to church for the Christmas feast? Most of them, I can tell you from experience, are not going anywhere; they don’t belong to any church. And this is often part of the problem. Quite simply, many of them are disconnected from the wider community including the Church.
One thing which the old Baltimore (or Penny) Catechism did nicely was emphasize the fact that we are creature possessed of both body and soul. It follows that we must care for both body and soul--but the more important of the two is the soul. Thus, the spiritual works of mercy are the more important set of works. Feeding a hungry man and quenching his thirst may help him to live another day in this life; but offering him correction and counsel can help to sustain his soul into the next life.

Obviously, both are needed--but if we only offer food and drink and clothing and shelter, without offering community or fraternal correction or the consolations of faith, then we are showing kindness but not really love.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Misleading Misreading of the Day--Matthew 5:41

I've finally encountered an actually interesting attempt to argue that people of faith should bake the cake. It hinges on the teachings in Matthew 5 about how to respond to those who wrong you:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
The argument of the article hinges in particular on Matthew 5:41 t argue that if someone forces you to bake a cake for a "gay wedding" then your response should be to bake two. The author of the post also leaves the disclosure that she does in fact support "gay marriage," and this is one of the few arguments I have found which cannot simply be reduced to "Do this because we told you too, bigot," and so I commend her for making it. In these polarized times it is far too rare to see any attempt at making a good-faith argument as to why people should be forced to violate their consciences as the price for doing business (read: making a living for themselves).

Many of the problems of this interpretations of Matthew 5 have been addressed elsewhere. One which stands out in particular to me are the fact that there is a difference between going along with somebody you don't like, even doing something for them which you don't want to do (or permitting them to wrong you in some way); and willingly helping them to do something which you know (or at least believe) to be wrong. Another is that there is a difference between being extra kind to others, including those who want to wrong us (which is what the teaching in Matthew suggests), and helping these people to wrong us.

Christ tells us to turn the other cheek, even to become servants; but a servant is not a doormat. As one commentator notes, turning the other cheek was a very edgy teaching precisely because the expected reaction was to grovel in the dirt, quite literal to fall down at the other's feet (doormat, much?). The teaching is to not resist evil with more evil--which in turn means not participating in the other's evil and helping him to commit it. Refusing service is not in and of itself evil, and if there ever was a good reason to refuse service it is because the service is known to be for an evil end.

To go back to the (imaginative, I'll grant) misreading, the lady who wrote the post which inspired this response attempts to set the stage (with [my comments]):
To the Israelites, the Romans were evil and ungodly. They had no place ruling over God’s chosen people in God’s chosen nation. That land had been promised to Moses and his descendants when God brought them out of Egypt. Their very presence in the land was blasphemous. [There's a problem with this statement as it is. That problem is that the Temple in Jerusalem was built with an outer court for the Gentiles, which would presumably include Romans. At worst, it was an outrage that the Romans were present as conquerors--but their very presence could hardly be a blasphemy in and of itself].

One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the Sermon on the Mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case:

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

Go with them two miles. That was not the advice that most of the people in the crowd that day had been hoping for. That was not the conclusion that they would have come to on their own, following this man that they hoped would lead them to victory over the Romans. That was certainly not respecting their religious beliefs [Jesus was God. He is the source of religious truth, and so He need not respect a false "religious belief." But the state is not God. The state is more akin to Caesar. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's...] — go with them two! What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? [This is a false equivalency. Part of the objection to providing services to sinful events is the possibility that doing so will lead to scandal, but at this point in time (and cultural decay) it is a very minor part indeed. The bigger problem is that this is participating in those events, and thus to some extent in the sins which they represent] What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? [Is this even an argument which has actually been made? If so, I am not aware of it. It can't be a really serious argument, since it presupposes that the subjugated person in question would otherwise be spending all of his time doing good works and acts of charity, or at the least otherwise providing for his and his family's needs. The argument in religious liberty cases is precisely that we should be allowed to turn down opportunities for doing this, not because we have something better to be doing with the time, but because it is better to do nothing at all with the time then to do something which violates our consciences.]
Ah, but therein lies the rub. There is nothing actually wrong with marching with the soldier for a mile, or two, or ten. That Christ is telling us to do this rather explicitly means that there is nothing sinful about providing aide to the soldier, even if that soldier was part of an army occupying Israel. The law in question was not particularly set up to oppress the Israelites (or any other conquered people), and there weren't in all probability soldiers going door-to-door to ask after Israelites who might object to carrying their load for a mile. Finally, the Israelite would not (or would not necessarily) know whether the soldier in question was taking his gear off to some evil purpose. Might the soldier be planning to participate in an unprovoked campaign of terror or Genocide? That seems out of character for the Romans (the phrase pax Romana is not for nothing). They would seem to be more interested in putting down uprisings (keep order) or perhaps expanding their territory than ridding their empire of their own subjects, however troublesome.

Even supposing that the Roman soldier was planning to do such a thing, merely carrying his equipment does not make the Israelite in question a willing participant in the campaign. This is true for the simple reason that the Israelite pressed into service does not know that this is what the soldier is planning to do, or that this is the purpose for which he is being pressed into service. Odds are rather against it, in any case. So at worst, the Israelite Disciple of Christ in question becomes a material participant in evil, and not a formal one (to make use a of a significant distinction delineated here). But to bake a cake for an event whose sole purpose is to give witness to an untruth, and whose major result will be the celebration of a grave sin? That seems to me to be a bit closer to providing support for that event, and thus for that sin. Such support is itself a sin, and thus must be resisted. Nor should the laws of a really free nation compel men to violate their consciences in this way. Such laws do not promote "equality" or "charity" or "tolerance/acceptance", but rather tyranny.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Today's Serving of Doom

Today's serving of Doom is brought to you by New York Times (which is almost assuredly cheering the doom on) via Rod Dreher (who is almost assuredly hoping to warn us of the Doom). Here is a passage from the New York Times (behind a paywall, unfortunately):
Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms 
In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism....

But some conservatives say lawyers and scholars who support religious liberty and oppose a constitutional right to same-sex marriage have been bullied into silence. “The level of sheer desire to crush dissent is pretty unprecedented,” said Michael W. McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who teaches law at Stanford.
 Here is Mr. Dreher's summary:
When lawyers believe that even terrorists deserve a fair hearing in court, but do not believe that people who believe that what has been a near-universal standard of marriage for centuries, even millennia (at least in the West) is worthy of advocacy in court — well, it tells us how the religious liberty of orthodox Christians is likely to fare in the coming decades.
God help us.

Bonus Doom courtesy of Buzzpo:
During the controversy over Christian-owned businesses refusing to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, Feuerstein called a Florida bakery with gay owners and requested a cake with the message “We Don’t Support Gay Marriage.”

Naturally, the Long Beach bakery’s owner, Sharon Haller, refused....

Haller asked Feuerstein to take the video down, and he graciously did so. But then the baker turned around and reposted it herself, to attack the pastor.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Haller also called the FBI and demanded that Feuerstein be charged with a hate crime. “I’m just afraid because of the type of calls that we were getting that someone is going to attack me in my home,” Haller told News 13. “Please help put a stop to people like Joshua Feuerstein,” she pleaded online.

Apparently, if you’re a Christian who refuses to bake cakes for same-sex marriages based on your religious values, you can be sued and harassed and lose your business. But if you’re a gay baker who won’t bake an anti-gay marriage cake, you get to press charges against a person for simply making a request.
"Tolerance." Also, "equality." Once it was "Liberte'. Fraternite'. Egalite'." Now it's "Tolerance. Diversity. Equality." Different motto, slower build-up, but the end results may well be the same.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Total Culture War

The pejorative term "social justice warrior" seems to be a good fit for those who wish to turn every aspect of life into one more front of the culture war. It's worth noting that while there are two sides in the culture war, one side tends to enjoy escalating it more than the other side; one side is perpetually playing defense, and the other side is perpetually offended. As The Federalist's Robert Tracinski puts it, we live in an "era in which we are all being drafted in the culture wars." Indeed we are.

Would I fight in the culture wars otherwise? Probably, primarily because they are simply the visible face of and one facet of an even bigger struggle, and secondarily because I think that the culture is worth fighting for. But to the extent that they have spilled over into every facet of life--this is a bad sign indeed:
By now, we know the basic ingredients of a typical skirmish in Culture War 4.0. It goes something like this: a) a leftist claque starts loudly pushing the “correct” Culture War position onto b) a field previously considered fun, innocuous, apolitical, purely personal, or recreational, and c) accusing anyone who opposes them of being a racist, sexist, bigot who relies on oppressive “privilege” to push everyone else down, while these claims are d) backed up by a biased press that swallows the line of attack uncritically and repeats it....

The innocuous field in which the personal is suddenly discovered to be very political might be fashion, music, toys, sports, or sex, not to mention weddings, flowers, cake-baking, and pizza.

Or video games. Or science fiction....

Science fiction has always been a fertile arena for exploration of big ideas—much more so, these days, than highbrow “literary” fiction. The use of fantastical science fiction premises allows authors to project a future in which everything is done differently, or in which human nature itself has been altered, and this leads them to ask questions about what is really natural, necessary, or essential to human life and what is merely conventional, artificial, and unnecessary. It has been remarked that “big-idea novels are more likely to have an embossed foil dragon on the cover than a Booker Prize badge.”

Clearly, all of this freewheeling exploration of ideas has got to stop.

So in marched the Social Justice Warriors, a term adopted in the Gamergate controversy to describe the kind of politically correct busybodies who decide that the output of every field has to be remade to promote the proper, “progressive” social agenda—or else.
Speculative fiction is a genre which is meant to be enjoyed. It may contain some serious ideas, and sometimes a serious treatment of everything from race relations to religion to hobbies to philosophy of mind. The treatment may be done well or poorly, and it perhaps goes without saying that these treatments might be woven into the story, but that the story is also an important part of why we read fiction in general.

I know where to find good essays on any of these things--and where to find bad ones, for that matter. I don't need them to be the sole motivator for every story I read. That's true even if I happen to agree with or find edification from the perspectives presented--which is often not the case in reading a variety of secular and progressive writers (they are legion, in science fiction and even fantasy as elsewhere). Certainly there are some SF writers, even some big names, who are basically on-board with the social justice warriors' program of co-opting the genre (along with everything else), or at the very least oppose any effort to oppose it.

The social justice warrior type sees a free field in which ideas are able to flourish--both right ideas and wrong ones, I might add--and demands that it be made to conform. Other ideas must not be given voice, even in the field of fiction*. I'll grant that ideas have consequences, but this? It's almost as bad as the digital "lynch mobs" which are formed against bakers and florists and pizzerias anytime the proprietors of those businesses suggest that they would be unwilling to cater a "gay marriage" ceremony (though not one of these has said they'd refuse services to "gays" as such) as a matter of conscience. Actually, I have a sometime friend who is still getting flak for a blog post which she wrote four years ago protesting that she couldn't even take her kids to the park anymore without having certain immoral actions assault their senses**. And the demonizing of Faithful Christians by secular progressives seems to be escalating rather than plateauing.

It's as if the progressive social justice-warriors types have decided that every aspect of our lives must be made to serve their agendas. If this can include our private thoughts (and beliefs), then I suppose it comes as no surprise that it would come to include less private things like the fiction we read (or write). The good news, small good news perhaps, is that this is one front of the culture wars which we seem to be winning (for now).

As a weekend bonus, it looks like Analog Science Fiction and Fact is posting pdfs of their Hugo-nominated stories.

*One wonders how many of these people have spent time complaining about the Religious and Scientific authorities of the day's censoring of Galileo, and whether they recognize the inconsistency in so doing. Galileo was at least told that he could treat his theories as theories (read: stories which make sense of the data). Not so with today's espousers of unpopular ideas.

**Her comment on the matter is
"I hate these distant media religious freedom debates. If you want to threaten my freedom, say it to my face. We'll deal with it right there....The 'gay rights' advocates still chide me about the 'Can't Even Go to the Park' post from 4 years ago. They never mention any remorse for one of their own wishing my children would be beaten, raped, and murdered. I decided a long time ago that they cannot be reasoned with."
That about sums it up.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Reservations on "Gay Marriage"

In "Brave New World," the reservations were portrayed as "backwards" places which were not under the same impositions as the rest of the world. This was in part because Huxley disliked Christianity (to put it mildly), which remained on the reservations.

Wonder of wonders, Christianity is still practiced in some form by many Native Americans on their reservations today. One consequence of this is that these reservations--which are technically sovereign and thus do not have to follow the laws invented and imposed by the US government (including the Supreme Court)--maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. The nine largest tribes all observe this law.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Remedial Classes and General Education Requirements

My personal rule of thumb, for what little it is worth, is that if the course is being offered and taught at a level that a 9th or 10th grade high school student could pass the exams based only on what he has learned in his high school classes, it shouldn't count towards a degree. This is not to say that it cannot still be required as a remedial class*, because there are plenty of students who set foot in the general level classes (general physics with algebra, pre-calculus, introductory computer science, history of western civilization, introduction to philosophy, etc) without the requisite skill set to succeed in those classes. The school system has largely failed these students--and quite probably their peers--which is a topic for another day. This is something which I have observed having taught in universities in three different states.

The frank solution is to require that all students take (for example) an Algebra-based physics class or a pre-calculus Algebra and trigonometry class--with physical science and lower algebra classes being remedial pre-reqs for those who aren't ready yet for the general physics and pre-calculus math courses. If a student hasn't been properly prepared for college when he arrives on campus, then he should ultimately expect to require some remedial coursework, even if this requires that he take an extra year (or summer) to complete his degree.

He can always opt out of the remedial coursework (or take it at a community college), but in so doing he also loses the right to complain about feeling like he is behind other students in his class. "But I came from Alabama/Mississippi/Arkansas/Inner City New York/rural Oregon, cut me a break." In that case, the remedial courses really may be meant for you. That really is the break which we can cut--lowering our standards only cheapens the value of the degree, and not only for you but for everyone else at your university. That's no less true when everyone else is doing it, too.

*Full disclosure, my salary ultimately depends on my having to teach some of these remedial classes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why The Tuition Is Too Damned High

Tuition is too damned high.
The New York Times managed to publish an opinion piece written by somebody other than Ross Douthat which is actually well-written and intelligently thought out. The piece is about the ever-raising costs of tuition at the college level:

"Some of this increased spending in education has been driven by a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who go to college. While the college-age population has not increased since the tail end of the baby boom, the percentage of the population enrolled in college has risen significantly, especially in the last 20 years. Enrollment in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs has increased by almost 50 percent since 1995. As a consequence, while state legislative appropriations for higher education have risen much faster than inflation, total state appropriations per student are somewhat lower than they were at their peak in 1990. (Appropriations per student are much higher now than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, when tuition was a small fraction of what it is today.)
College tuition has been able to continue rising because college has become the new high school, and is expected (if not actually compulsory) for a much greater number of people than in the past. It has become a necessary though not a sufficient "qualification" for many jobs which frankly do not need a college education to be done well. More on that in a minute, but first:
Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.
As a tenure-track college professor, I can vouch for this. Most contracts are not full-year, but mine would in principle pay me the same rate for the summer as for the months on contract; in total, my base salary under those conditions would fall closer to 50k/year than 100k/year. To get this job, I spent 4 years as an undergraduate, then another 8 years as a graduate student (barely making ends meet with my TA/RA/AI stipends). I am the lucky one in that I did not spend 2-5 years as a postdoc (typical salary in academia: ~40k/year in my field, which is relatively well-paid) or visiting professor/lecturer (typical salary 40-50k/year).
By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.
Both schools likely made money off of this game.
Administration is one reason for high costs of education. It is tempting to blame athletics as another, though many schools either rake in a net profit from athletics (my alma mater) or have little or no school-funded athletics programs (many smaller schools, including state schools); tuition at these schools has basically kept pace with everywhere else.

So athletics programs cannot really be blamed entirely for the rising cost of a college degree, nor the cheapening value of the education that the degree supposedly represents.

Rather, the problem lies with the fact that so many people are attempting to enroll in college. We have a surplus of students (though most smaller colleges, including the one which I work for, would claim that this is a good thing), which in turn means that colleges can get away with charging more and offering less. And, of course, because college loans are a particularly profitable form of usury, the banks are all-too-happy to comply with supplying the money for students to attend in the short term.

Furthermore, because many of these students don't actually want (or need) to be enrolled in college, they tend not to be particularly studious--but at the same time few want to do badly in the class. There is therefore an overwhelming pressure on teachers to "dumb-down" the material, and even to offer whole classes which are not college-level by their nature. Physical science, college pre-algebra, and computer information systems courses which teach the basics of typing and how to open word or excel files and make basic powerpoint presentations stand out to me as especially being remedial level classes. Practically every department has some "service" classes which meet a general education requirement and which probably shouldn't count toward the general requirements of a college degree, and yet which does. This is perhaps in part because every department needs to attract more students to get funding, but that's an issue for another day.

And yes, administration does siphon off a large chunk of change. So does playing the game of "keeping up with the Joneses," in which every state school attempts to add frivolous bells-and-whistles to attract more students, in a scramble to make MOAR PROFITS!!!. As a case-in-point: the small state university for whom I work is planning to open some more student housing--not necessarily a bad thing given that there is actually a shortage of student housing here. These new dorms include separate rooms for every student, each room coming furnished with a variety of amenities, including large-screen plasma TVs. Meanwhile, we have a shortage of space for classrooms, and a demand that all faculty at this small teaching university do research and write papers (=needing research lab space...).

The university at which I did my graduate degree seemed to be raising one new large building per year, some to replace functional if older buildings to do it. This was a very well-funded university, and many of the buildings were paid for in part by donations, so they could probably afford it. But the various smaller universities cannot, and they feel the need to be actively recruiting new students, which they do in part by attempting to keep up with the larger universities. These expenses are (not surprisingly) passed down to students in the form of higher tuition. Is it any wonder, then, that tuition has gone through the roof?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sharia and the Left

I have long wondered at the hypocrisy of the progressives in shrieking "theocracy!" every time a conservative, Christian person enters his opinion as a Christian into the public square, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the various Islamic enclaves which enact their own versions of Sharia. They may admit in principle that they dislike the real theocracies of the world--mostly Muslim countries, plus these enclaves--and they serve as a useful stick to beat Christians with (because all theocracies are alike, or something).

It occurs to me, however, that there is another reason why the Left is not so adverse to Sharia. It took the uproar over Indiana's (now-gutted) RFRA law to make it really apparent, but I have long suspected this: the Left does not decry Sharia, because they fully intend to implement their own version of it here. Under secular Sharia, non-Leftists are second-class citizens, and observant Christians will be second-class citizens at best.

Equally appalling are these twin facts; that some many on the Left co not see this and appear to be willfully ignorant about it on a large scale; and that most of those who are not so ignorant, actually applaud this result.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


We are in the midst of the holiest time of the Christian year. Maundy Thursday is the night of the last supper, Good Friday is the day of the crucifixion, Holy Saturday the Sabbath day in which Christ lay in the tomb. Easter Sunday is the day of the resurrection. By the old Jewish reckoning, this all covers three days (Thursday night/Friday morning; Friday through Saturday morning; Saturday through Sunday morning), thus giving it the name Triduum.

I am more interested for now in the four actions than the three days, for these point to some possible destinations and way-stations of our lives. Thursday night is fr us on earth, that we may have our lives here sanctified. Friday points to our deaths, and we must pray that we will die well, persevering in our faith and hope and charity until the end of our lives in this word. Saturday is for those in purgatory--formerly, for those who were in limbo before Christ's redemption--and Sunday points to eternal life.

It may be said that Maundy Thursday testifies to life on earth, that it has some meaning and helps determine where we will spend eternity. Good Friday testifies to the reality of Hell, for without Hell there would be no need for Christ to have died. Holy Saturday testifies to the possibility of purgatory, and of a "pre-Christian" limbo, as Christ's "day of rest" might be spent ransoming the dead captives of Hell, or in awakening those who slept before His coming. And Easter testifies to the real hope of heaven, for in rising to new life Christ enabled* the gates of heaven to open and admit those who would die to their sins.

*No, I d not think that Enoch, Elijah, or Moses' bones are necessarily disproofs of this.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Words of Hope for Our Culture in These Dark Times

Our only final hope is in God, but as a culture there is certainly precedence that we may survive these dark times. And dark times they are. The LEFT seems to be ascendant in what remains of Christendom, which is perhaps another way of saying that Christendom is to have no remains in the West. We will not be granted any terms save unconditional surrender, and this it may not be enough:
Religious liberty is the terms of surrender the Right is requesting in the culture war. It is conservative America saying to the cultural and political elites, you have your gay marriage, your no-fault divorce, your obscene music and television, your indoctrinating public schools and your abortion-on-demand. May we please be allowed to not participate in these? 
But no. Tolerance isn't the goal. Religious conservatives must atone for their heretical views with acts of contrition: Bake me a cake, photograph my wedding, pay for my abortion and my contraception.... 
Even in abortion, the Left is tired of long-observed truces. The Hyde Amendment, which for decades has restricted federal funding of abortion providers while never intruding on the freedom of women to abort their children, is no longer tolerated by the abortion lobby, which even killed a human trafficking bill over it. 
As stunning as their ambitions of total victory is their continued pretense to be fighting a defensive war. It should be obvious to all that the Left long ago dropped its love of pluralism and tolerance — if that ever was their goal.
The Left is not interested in our terms for surrender--which is a very good reason for us not to surrender! To make use of an often-suggested metaphor, they are in the phase of the culture wars in which they are patrolling the wreckage of the battle fields in search of survivors to execute.

The barbarians of the last Dark Age came from outside the walls of Rome, had little trouble getting in because of the decay from within. We certainly have our barbaric outsiders--ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and I'm sure there are some who are not Islamic. We also have our interior decay, which shows that the barbarians are already running things here, too.

But, as I mentioned, there is some hope that our culture can re-emerge after this dark age, even if none of us will be alive to see it. Rod Dreher discusses the glimmers of this hope, whcih he calls the "Benedict Option." He quotes Alasdair Macintyre to the effect that we can hope that our culture, too, will find its St. Benedict:
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.
Dreher states optimistically that we may not have reached the point-of-no-return, but I am a bit more pessimistic on that point. It seems to me that victory is beyond our grasp, though I pray that I am wrong. Victory is the primary goal in the culture wars, I suppose, and (more importantly) peace. But the secondary goal, which persists long after the first is gone, is to hold off our culture's utter annihilation until the next Benedict can get these community outposts established. I am left to wonder what such things would look like. And, it seems to me that there is one other right response, the only one left for us laymen who cannot simply leave all to enter the monastic life: we must remain at our posts and do our right duties as best we are able, even as society crumbles around us.

It may be that for those of us in that position, the right patrons are Athanasius, John the Baptist, Thomas Beckett, John Fisher, and (most of all) Thomas More.