Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Do You Really Need That HS Diploma?


Now this article in today's Times got my attention, Can't Complete High School? Go Right to College. Of course it strikes straight at any high school teacher, like myself, who is often asked by kids "Why do I need this?" Good question, why should you learn how to work out a net-ionic equation, write a compound's formula correctly, understand the quantum leaps of electrons, and a long list of things that, on the whole, you're not going to remember much about by the end of this summer (for many of them it'll be the end of the mid-term or final) and which, on the whole, doesn't necessarily do much in any concrete way for the quality of your life - why is it important?

I'm maybe focusing a bit much on my specific area of concern, so why is the HS diploma that important? Clearly a there are colleges out there that are coming to the conclusion that it's not that important and are letting in students who don't have one. So maybe we should do away with high school all together -- ok, maybe that's something of a stretch. The question is, should students without HS diplomas be allowed to enter college? My answer to this is an emphatic no.

I suspect that I come by my perspective from a slightly different view than most teachers. Having done 22 years in the Navy, and of that a thankfully short tour as a recruiter, I know that from the military's point-of-view that what you learn in high school isn't what's important, what was important was that you made it through the high school and walked out with a diploma. From the military's perspective high school was more a right of passage than it was a place where it was expected that specific knowledge was imbued. With the military the question was more along the lines of did you have the self-discipline and the drive to get yourself through HS. This was an important question because if you couldn't hack the requirements of HS it was reasonable to expect that you weren't going to be able to hack the far more arduous and at times critical requirements of the service. The fact was that the military had a lot of experience with non-high school grads and they were a proven liability - they didn't finish training in higher numbers than their graduate equivalents, they were far more often discipline problems than their high school grad counterparts, and therefore they were a bad investment of time, resources, and money.

Here, with the colleges that accept non-high school grads, I think we have a far more pernicious problem. The fact is that the difficulties associated with non-grads are little different for colleges than they are for the military. When a college lets in a non-HS grad he or she is then entitled to financial aid, aid that's essentially a bet on the student that he or she will make it through to a degree. But the fact is that the student in question is high risk to begin with, and from that perspective is a bad bet. Maybe in more flush times taking such a bet wouldn't be much of a problem, but in today's environment of stingy financial aid non-HS grads are taking money away from students who in fact are a better and more reasonable bet, i.e. the ones with HS diplomas or, the next best thing, GEDs. And let there be no mistake about it, getting a GED, which for most colleges is accepted as a HS diploma equivalent, is not that hard to do.

However I look at accepting students into college without HS diplomas I see it as wrong. While I question that high school should be looked at as not much more than an obstacle course that students make their way through, I don't question the numbers that show that kids who make it through to a HS diploma do perform better in college and in the "real" world, and, therefore, are far more deserving of the money available to help students through college.

Do You Think You'll Ever See One With
Mohammad In It?

I found this at my buddy's Hedwig's blog, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), and I just had to have it posted on my blog. Don't be fooled by the play button in the middle of Jesus' chest, go with the standard play button and you'll get the video.

Could you even imagine a Muslim version of this? In fact I'd guess I'm pissing people off for even so much as mentioning that. Oh well, for those with religious tolerance or indifference, I hope you enjoy.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Let's Remove the Radioactive Metals Spewing Out from Coal-fired Power Plants!


Did the title to the blog get your attention? Good - a bit misleading to start, but bear with me and you'll find I'm not pulling your leg here.

This isn't the first time I've written about this, in fact either indirectly or directly I've written about it twice before. What has me on it again is Sunday's article in the Times, 2 Industry Leaders Bet on Coal but Split on Cleaner Approach. As you might guess the "cleaner" approach is tied to Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Technology (IGCCT), and as you might otherwise guess it's on the losing end of the split.

I first ran into IGCCT in a Times article back in May of last year, Dirty Secret: Coal Plants Could Be Much Cleaner. Knowing that at present coal provides about 50% of the energy for producing electricity in this country, that with the increasing cost of a barrel of oil the option of using coal even with its traditional dirty reputation goes up, and, most importantly, that this country is presently an exporter of coal and has enough of the stuff to meet a significant portion of our overall energy needs in one form or another into the next 100 or so years, I therefore know that ignoring something like this isn't smart. No matter how much any of us don't like coal there's nothing coming anytime soon that'll replace it so finding more "green" ways of using the stuff does seem like a smart move - that's where IGCCT comes in.

Here are some of the particulars on IGCCT from last year's Times article:

The operating savings of such plants start with more efficient combustion: they make use of at least 15 percent more of the energy released by burning coal than conventional plants do, so less fuel is needed. The plants also need about 40 percent less water than conventional coal plants, a significant consideration in arid Western states.

... the primary virtue of integrated gasification combined-cycle plants is their ability to chemically strip pollutants from gasified coal more efficiently and cost-effectively, before it is burned, rather than trying to filter it out of exhaust.

Proponents say that half of coal's pollutants - including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to acid rain and smog - can be chemically stripped out before combustion. So can about 95 percent of the mercury in coal, at about a tenth the cost of trying to scrub it from exhaust gases racing up a smokestack.

The biggest long-term draw for gasification technology is its ability to capture carbon before combustion. If greenhouse-gas limits are enacted, that job will be much harder and more expensive to do with conventional coal-fired plants. Mr. Lowe, the G.E. executive, estimated that capturing carbon would add about 25 percent to the cost of electricity from a combined-cycle plant burning gasified coal, but that it would add 70 percent to the price of power from conventional plants.

As far as the carbon dioxide that results from these plants is concerned that's still a problem, but with IGCCT it's easier than it would be with a standard coal-fired plant to adapt the plant to some mode of sequestering, should such a mode be found. But let's look at this apart from the CO2 issue: More efficiency, less acid rain, and less mercury. Mercury wouldn't be the only heavy metal you could more easily scrub from the plant's gas emissions and the fact is that we'd all be interested in pulling out radioactive heavy metals, which occur naturally in coal as well. Oh, you weren't aware of this? Gee, go to Coal Combustion (an Oak Ridge National Laboratory paper posted to their web site, for those of you immediately skeptical of where I'm heading here) and you'll find the following:

Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants" in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. This ironic situation remains true today and is addressed in this article.

The article, while not talking directly about IGCCT (the technology hadn't been considered for coal-fired plant use when this article was written in 1978), mentions that it'd be possible to pull the radioactive metals out from the stack emissions with technology that existed back then.

So, however you cut it, with the fact that coal isn't going away anytime soon and there's a strong likelihood that it's use in this country will increase, what would you rather have, a traditional coal-burning power plant, or one that uses IGCCT to burn that coal? Well, you'd think that this was something of a no-brainer, at least I certainly would, but no, that's not the case at all. Which brings us to the article in yesterday's Times, Industry Leaders Bet on Coal but Split on Cleaner Approach - New York Times. Michael Morris represents one perspective in the coal-power industry: while IGCCT may be initially 15 to 20% more expensive to build than regular coal-fired plant they're the right thing to do for reasons to do with the expected eventual imposition of carbon caps, something that will strongly bear on the energy-producing sector in this country, and because on the whole the things are just plain better investments when it comes to greater efficiency and green-friendliness, something that consumers are increasingly concerned with.; it's also believed that over time the plants will re-coup their higher cost. The other side to this issue is represented by Gregory Boyce for whom there's not enough proof to justify anything IGCCT brings to the table. Boyce clearly represents how we're doing business in this country as of the 140 new coal-fired plants to be built in the coming years, only 12 will use IGCCT.

This blog post is a bit longer than I expected, so I'll cut to the chase here: Boyce and his crowd tend to throw out two things to justify their position. In this case one of those things Boyce specifically throws out to justify his take on where coal-fired plants should be going, i.e.:

Mr. Boyce was chairman of an advisory panel for the Energy Department, organized by the National Coal Council, that produced a controversial report in March calling or exemptions to the Clean Air Act to encourage greater consumption of coal through 2025. The thrust of the report, which Mr. Boyce outlined in an interview, is that improvements in technology to limit carbon dioxide emissions should be left to the market instead of government regulation. [Italics added by the blogger.]

I love this - the market, NOT government which specifically represents the majority of the people and their collective interests, should determine whether we primarily invest in IGCCT or not. How does Mr. Boyce measure when the market has made its determination, and what specific part of the market is he looking at? It can't be the fishing "market" which finds itself having to work under a government recommendation that pregnant women and young children eat no more than 1 helping of fish per week due to the mercury found in fish these days. Of course that mercury will continue to come from Mr. Boyce's new plants as it does from his old ones.

The second argument in favor of the status quo with regard to coal-fired plants is that third world countries don't have to meet the more stringent environmental standards and our doing so costs us money, so why should we? This is the quintessential Republican line, the party of Christianity, where "do for others" is somehow lost in the Christian message. We had over 100 years to foul the environment and the air with our industrial detritus, it seems to me that both India and China, and any other third world country for that matter, should have some time to get themselves on their feet before they're expected to meet a standard that a conscientious and concerned rich first-world country should be able to meet without too much hassle; of course I'd be wrong about the leaders in the "concerned first-world country I happen to live in.

Coal is not going to go away, and using it conscientiously and with concern for the environment demands we use technology such as IGCCT. No, the market should not be what makes this decision as the market is a mystery to me, as it well is to anyone who tries to follow and understand it, and I would much rather have some input and control over my future, not leaving it to some invisible hand which cares not a wit, and why should it really, for my existence or that of those I love. If we're going to use coal, and God knows it's likely a deluded person who thinks we won't, then we should be using IGCCT and doing what we can to influence decisions in that direction.

Patrick Henry College and Dominion

A picture of Patrick Henry College (PHC) taken from Affordable Building Concepts

Last week on Fresh Air Terry Gross interviewed Patrick Henry College's Michael Farris. I highly recommend listening to the interview, first for all the usual reasons to do with listening to an excellent interviewer such as Terry Gross, and second because if you listen to Farris you realize that whatever this guy may be he's not a foaming at the mouth zealot who makes no sense and shouldn't be taken seriously; Farris and those like him need to be taken very, very seriously.

Two weeks ago Gross had Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism to discuss Christian Nationalism. I've just started the book myself but Farris has no small part in it, at least in the Introduction titled "Taking the Land":

Michael Farris, the founder and president of the evangelical Patrick Henry College, calls his campaign to turn Christian homeschooled students into political cadres Generation Joshua. The name has a very specific biblical and martial meaning. Joshua was Moses's military commander and successor as leader of the Israelites; while Moses brought his people out of Egypt, Joshua led them in seizing the holy land. Farris's Generation Joshua has a less bloody mission, but it is imbued with an Old Testament dream of exile redeemed by conquest. The holy land is America as Farris imagines it. The enemy is America as it exists now.

And then on the next page:

What Farris wants is a cultural revolution. He's trying to train a generation of leaders, unscathed by secularism, who will gain political power in order to subsume everything -- entertainment, law, government, and education -- to Christianity, or their version of it. That might sound like fantasy, but it's worth pondering what Farris has accomplished so far.

Goldberg then goes on to detail how PHC, with an overall student population of about 500, has the highest placements of interns, 7%, of all colleges/universities in the U.S., with the exception of Georgetown. Generation Joshua students, not just PHC students, actively work on the campaigns of politicians they believe will support the PHC agenda - this certainly is their right and there's no question of this, but we're talking about people working on issues that are equivalent to what the Taliban imposed on the Afghanis, though with a Christian flavoring. These aren't people out there simply demonstrating, they are very much intertwined into our political system and are very much interested in using that system to project and impose their Christian perspective.

It's worth being aware of this so that we don't kid ourselves into thinking that there aren't people out there who don't believe in the secular foundations of the Constitution, who believe that this is a Christian nation destined to carry out Christ's work, and who are very much interested in all of us living under the Christian version of Sharia, the Islamic flavored legal system imposed in many Muslim countries. Farris and those who believe like him want to take over this country in a very real sense, and in the course of this completely change what many of us take for granted as fundamental freedoms and inalienable rights. Don't think that these people are out there roaming the streets proclaiming the imminent end of the world; no, they're out there working to end your way of living and what you're expected to believe, and they're very, very serious about this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let's Stop Those Non-Existent Iranian Nuclear Missiles Now!


Monday I ran into U.S. Is Proposing European Shield for Iran Missiles by Michael Gordon in the NY Times. The Bush administration wants to shield Europe, apparently with Poland and the Czech Republic at the top of the list, from Iranian nuclear missiles which don't exist yet - well, of course the Iranians would have first to get their hands on a nuclear weapon that was small enough to stick on top of a missile that could fly far enough to reach Europe, and all indications are that neither is going to happen any time soon. But I'm sure that Poland and the Czech Republic, both mortal enemies of the Iranians, countries that have had long-standing bad blood with the Iranian government over ... well, I haven't a clue, and I'm sure neither does the average Pole or Czech who likely is somewhat surprised to learn that the U.S. government feels it should be necessary to defend them against missiles they have no reason to believe are aimed at them.

Up to now missile defense has shown itself to be a pipe dream. To date no U.S. test of a missile defense system has shown itself to be capable of anything like defending against even rudimentary intercontinental ballistic missiles, and those are "controlled" tests, ones where the variables associated with the test are stacked in your favor, unlike what you'd find in a real-world anti-missile situation. Of course it begs one to wonder why missile defense, issues of practicality aside, is such a hot item. The main reason offered has been to defend ourselves against North Korea and Iran, both countries neither owning an intercontinental ballistic missile system worth the name. In addition last I checked Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon (when that will happen depends on whom you ask, the Israelis say months, the CIA says ten or more years, the Iranians say never ... I get so confused sometimes) and while there's rumor of North Koreans having an atomic bomb one hasn't been tested, and having a nuclear weapons in no way means it's anything you can stick on the top of an intercontinental rocket that's yet to be made.

The whole thing is classic: Create a threat and then offer up the solution to the threat, especially when it's one that shows you're strong on defense and supporting those all important defense contractors who circle the D.C. beltway.

Here's the deal: If any nation was so crazy as to want to nuke Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, it's not apt to do so via ballistic missiles. They'll use bombs concealed in trucks, ship containers, the inside of the hulls of ships, in planes, or any of a huge number of possibilities where the origins of the weapon are not easily traceable, unlike a ballistic missile which the U.S. would be tracking almost from the point of its ignition and would then invite a rain of nuclear weapons from the U.S. But you and I the taxpayer will be paying for missile defense for here, AND for Poland and the Czech Republic, and I'm sure we'll all go more peacefully into the night, though the Poles and Czechs, and the truth be told most Americans, too, won't quite know why.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

If you have some time, take a look at:

Carnival of the Vanities, this week hosted at Blog d'Elisson

and the Carnival of Liberty, this week hosted at Left Brain Female . . . in a Right Brain World

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Israel and the U.S.

How it's seen to work by the world at large - courtesy of Aljazeerah

An interesting article in the The New York Review of Books, The Storm over the Israel Lobby. It raises a question I've often pondered, and that is how it is that a country we pour some $3 billion a year into is one that provides no small amount of grief to us in return. I'm talking about Israel in this case, which is the only country that gets that much money and is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, followed by Egypt which gets somewhere on the order of $2.2 billion a year. We don't get very much out of Egypt for our money, either, but then on the flip side we don't get nearly the trouble as well.

The NYRB article addresses a paper by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" which was published in the London Review of Books and then posted to Harvard's The Kennedy School of Government (KSG) web site as a working paper. From the web site we get the following abstract:

In this paper, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government contend that the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy is its intimate relationship with Israel. The authors argue that although often justified as reflecting shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, the U.S. commitment to Israel is due primarily to the activities of the “Israel Lobby." This paper goes on to describe the various activities that pro-Israel groups have undertaken in order to shift U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

I didn't read the paper inasmuch as the NYRB article, by Michael Massing by the way, hit on the central issue behind the article, and addressed some of the weaknesses contained within it, and on the whole made a very strong case for why the paper addresses a legitimate issue and problem that this country has with its apparent unqualified support for Israel. What I found especially interesting in Massing's article was how the Mearsheimer/Walt paper has been received, and on the whole it's fair to say that it hasn't been well received by many - Alan Dershowitz, also of Harvard and author of The Case for Israel, apparently has a particularly scathing rejoinder to the paper which can also be found at the KSG working paper site.

What's galling about this are the charges of anti-Semitism that come with many of the comments. Frankly I'm of a mind that many of the Jews who went to their deaths during the Holocaust would have a hard time with how Israel has comported itself lo these last 55 off years, and I'm pretty fed up with anyone who's response to criticism of Israel is to throw the Holocaust in one's face. Many Israelis and not a few American Jews ("not a few", but FAR from all, a point Massing makes in his article regarding specifically those individuals involved with funding the DC lobbying effort and unequivocal support for Israel) need to stop hiding behind the Holocaust, an event which was the emodiment of evil and horrific in its magnitude but it's too often used a manure shield to deflect any criticism of Israel and that's becoming something of a worn record. I also love when I hear "Never again!" - I have such a hard time understanding why anyone says this these days when we have so many hundreds of thousands dying in other countries over these years since the Holocaust, recently many of them Muslims such as in the Sudan, or whatever denomination or ethnicity in a number of other African countries - though few if any Jews - why is it that "Never again!" isn't a rallying cry for action to stop post-Holocaust genocide, with Israelis at the head of the line screaming it at the top of their lungs?

The point Massing makes is pretty simple: there's an Israeli lobbying effort afoot in DC (funded by American Jews, NOT Israel) that can make life hard or easy for many a money-sucking politician. When you read the article you begin to appreciate how much of a problem this really is. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from Middle Eastern and Iranian friends about how they believe that the Jews run our government. That's old hat and definitely not true and frankly too many people from the Middle East have far too much of a fascination with conspiracy theories and paranoia regarding Jews. But have little doubt, this article makes you wonder to what extent our system of government has bent itself to the interests of Israel over the interests of ourselves, and you also get to appreciate why non-Americans looking from the outside in, especially those from the Middle East, begin to think as they do.

I am not suggesting that we not defend Israel's right to exist - unfortunately in this case I believe that the sins of Europe in fact do get to be paid for by the Palestinians and the rest of that region of the world. It's not fair, it's not reasonable, but it's a done deal and I don't see it changing. That said, the Palestinians are owed recompense for what they've given up, they're owed a state, and some dignity, and this country is owed more for well over $75 billion given to support Israel and its often anti-Arab policies than the grief we have to show for it up to now, specifically when it comes to peace in that part of the world.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Reach Out and Touch Someone ...


Courtesy of The Economist

Given all else that's going on lately this is sort of old news, but maybe not ...

This week's US News & World Report ran the following articles: The United States and Iran are locked in a test of wills over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Is there a way out short of war? , The man in Tehran in his own words, Much rests on whether Iran's leader is a shrewd nationalist or an end-times nut, and Fouad Ajami: Son of the ayatollah, all of which will give you more than you're likely to find about Iran in nearly any other American publication (unlike say, The Economist, a British publication, where you can find regular articles on the country, starting with Search Results) and more than I'd guess many Americans would care to read about the country - but then that's the way of it with us Americans, understanding why a country is the way it is isn't so much the issue as whether or not it's doing what we expect or want it to. Anyway ...

I'm very interested in the country, for a number of different reasons, and in turn tend to follow the news about it quite closely. Ahmadinejad, the current president, is legitimately a bit scary, a man with an apocalyptic perspective apparently. U.S. News focused on his being a populist president, having beaten out the "reformist" Rafsanjani in the run off election - which just goes to show how we tend to oversimplify things here in the media. Rafsanjani is old news in Iran, associated with endemic corruption at least indirectly if not directly, and had been president for eight years nearly ten years ago, and the Iranian people on the whole didn't seem to think he'd be much better on a second go around - go figure. So it's not as simple as Ahmadinejad beating out the reformist he was up against, instead he was really for many people the only palatable option, especially after the ineffectual presidency of the honest-to-God reformist Khatami, who had been president for the 8 previous years.

I read that the administration is looking to take a new tack in how it's negotiating with North Korea (U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea). Well if we're looking to take a new tack with North Korea I can only hope it's something that we're starting to consider with Iran. I don't think Iran should be treated with kid gloves or in anyway coddled, but then at the same time I think that the level of animosity in the relations between our two countries have been out of line with any reasonable rationalization for why things should be that way and fundamentally detrimental to a long list of considerations for both countries. Maybe by taking a new tack we can also help to more subtly undermine an Iranian president who, frankly, comes across as a whack job. There are many Iranians, even conservatives, who can see the virtue in trying to better relations between our two countries, and maybe a reasonable effort on the part of both countries to move towards some level of reconciliation would cause a lot of bad behavior to go away, making things better for all concerned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I guess I hit some sort of blogger’s this week, with posts at three different carnivals. Of course it goes without saying that since they’re plugging me I should plug them, so here we go:

The Carnival of Education at The Education Wonks

Carnival of the Vanities hosted at Accidental Verbosity-Yay!

Carnival of Liberty at Below The Beltway

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Places I've Visited

I suppose this would be even more red if I counted places I simply passed through in a car or airport, but then it's not a bad showing as it is. After seeing this, and appreciating that I've been to at least 16% of the world's countries, I had a better sense that indeed, I'm a fairly well-traveled fellow. Hopefully in the next few years I'll increase my percentages.

create your own visited states map or create your own visited countries map

Friday, May 12, 2006

Here Comes Killer Jesus!

Obtained from here

Ok, I've been sort of down this path before with Yo! Jesus Has Arrived, and He Ain't Happy. That was about an article written by Nicholas Kristoff in the NY Times regarding Tim LaHaye and his "Left Behind" series of books (if you're not familiar with them, go spend some time at
LeftBehind.com: The Left Behind Book Series and enjoy.) Yesterday I tuned into Fresh Air
and got to listen to Michelle Goldberg, a writer for Salon.com, talk about her new book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She's also written what appears today as the lead article for Salon.com, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism [Note: you may have to go through some advertising to get to the article based upon my recent experience - nothing too bad, and worth it to get to the content.]

I think many of us, to include myself, would like to believe that in this great society of ours, where tolerance and pluralism is an important consideration in how we shape policy and govern, that we'd never see anything like what we see in many parts of the world, but most vividly exemplified by the Islamic Taliban who are apparently undergoing something of a revival in Afghanistan as the Bush policy regarding that country continues to unravel. But we learn from Goldberg about dominion theology:

...dominion theology, which asserts that, in preparation for the second coming of Christ, godly men have the responsibility to take over every aspect of society.

Dominion theology comes out of Christian Reconstructionism, a fundamentalist creed that was propagated by the late Rousas John (R. J.) Rushdoony and his son-in-law, Gary North. Born in New York City in 1916 to Armenian immigrants who had recently fled the genocide in Turkey, Rushdoony was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and spent over eight years as a Presbyterian missionary to Native Americans in Nevada. He was a prolific writer, churning out dense tomes advocating the abolition of public schools and social services and the replacement of civil law with biblical law. White-bearded and wizardly, Rushdoony had the look of an Old Testament patriarch and the harsh vision to match -- he called for the death penalty for gay people, blasphemers, and unchaste women, among other sinners. Democracy, he wrote, is a heresy and "the great love of the failures and cowards of life." From Salon.com Books: "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism"

It seems pretty clear here that Rushdoony and his adherents wouldn't have a problem with a Rambo Jesus, out there clearing the world of gays, blasphemers, unchaste women, and heck, it's sort of hard for me to see how this wouldn't include a good chunk of just about any interesting neighborhood. Goldberg touches here on the Christian Reconstructionism, which she explains as follows:

Reconstructionism is a postmillennial theology, meaning its followers believe Jesus won't return until after Christians establish a thousand year reign on earth. While other
Christians wait for the messiah, Reconstructionists want to build the kingdom themselves. Most American evangelicals, on the other hand, are premillennialists. They believe (with some variations) that at the time of Christ's return, Christians will be gathered up to heaven, missing the tribulations endured by unbelievers.

I personally would like to think that reconstructivists were so far out on the fringe that no one could possibly take them seriously, but I'd be wrong. It's not just from Goldberg that I've heard his. I was aware of the fringes of this movement, though not its name, when I wrote Whether You Like It or Not, where I wrote about Patrick Henry College, a Christian right institution where the students by and large are home schooled prior to admission, and which has a primary goal of putting as many of its graduates into the government as possible. According to Goldberg in the NPR interview, PHC, an institution with only about 500 students, is matched by only Georgetown when it comes to the numbers of its students interning in the White House. Then there's Onward Christian Soldiers, Airmen, Politicians, etc. and from that piece I offer the following from Cong. John Hotstettler, Republican from Indiana:

The long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. It continues unabated with aid and comfort to those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage being supplied by the usual suspects, the Democrats. Don't get me wrong, Democrats know they shouldn't be doing this ... But like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians.

The Christian right, but specifically the reconstructivists talk about our being a "Christian" nation, hence our "Christian heritage", built by founding fathers who never intended for there to be anything other than a Christian focus irregardless of whatever they may have written into the Constitution, which shows up in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...

Now I personally see nothing here that says that this will be a Christian nation, but reconstructivists seem to have a unique ability to read into the minds of the framers of the Constitution which allows them to come to the conclusion that the intent was for there to be a
Christian nation, even if it's not explicitly put that way.

According to Goldberg there are many mainstream politicians who may not directly associate themselves with this movement, but they're there on the fringes, they lend tacit and indirect support to the movement, and Sen. Rick Santorum, Cong. Hotstettler, ex-Cong. Tom Delay, Sen. Trent Lott, to name but a few, are tied to this movement. But let's hit the "BIG" name catering to those crowd of late, and that's John McCain. Here in The Economist we read about John McCain's soon to happen to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to give the commencement address. Let me quote The Economist as it certainly puts this wonderfully:

Mr Falwell is a hate figure on the left—one of the leaders of the now defunct Moral Majority and a man much given to fulminating against homosexuals (“brute beasts”), feminism (“a satanic attack on the home”) and all those whose search for an alternative lifestyle “helped” September 11th to happen [Blogger's note: does this man sound like a disciple of Rushdoony or what?]. Liberty University is a “Bible boot camp”, in Mr Falwell's words, that forbids its students to drink, smoke, dance or watch “R”-rated films and specialises in producing “champions for Christ”. Mr Falwell exhorts his students to burn the university down if it ever turns liberal. No wonder Jon Stewart, a particularly sharp comedian, asked Mr McCain whether he's “freaking out on us”.

McCain believes people like Falwell and support for issues of the religious right (creationism, anti-abortion, and supporting anti-same sex legislation, to name but three), are what's needed to build a base for his making it to the presidency. In essence, these whack jobs, who in the past we all figured were hicks who were easily ignored, are now considered king makers.

Our congressional representatives have already been involved in attempting to pass legislation that would re-define what cases courts in the United States would be able to rule on. Under this new way of doing judicial business, issues related to school prayer, state's putting in place laws respecting above all others the Christian faith (you see, per the reconstructivists, it's Congress that's restricted in its ability to "respect" an establishment of religion, NOT the individual states), and a long list of other reconstructivist issues that today are decided in our courts on the basis of there being no preferential religion, would not be admissible in court but decided first and foremost by legislators.

These people are out there, the reconstructivists and their ilk, and they want to take over, have no doubt whatsoever about this. I know myself that I'm seeing more and more of their kind and we should not kid ourselves into thinking that they're a whacko fringe that will never be in a position to impose their way of looking at the world and specifically this nation on the rest of us. Goldberg leaves us the following from George Grant, a leader of the Christian right, at the end of her article:

"Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.

It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.

It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.

It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less... Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ."

Gee, can you just see the Holy Rambos now? They mean it, they believe it, and they intend to make you believe it to - barring that, they'll make you live it if they have their way.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Have You Had a Day Like This?

The story you are about to read is true, the names haven't been included to keep me from having to worry about ... hell, in education these days, who knows? I sent this out to colleagues about ten minutes after it happened, thanking God the whole time that I had a free period in which to do it in:

Sorry to put this together this way but right now I'm a bit put out and I want to run this one to ground ASAP and since I don't know the perpetrators responsible for making me write this missive this is the quickest way I have of tackling this quickly, so ...

During second period advisory I made the mistake of leaving the door to my classroom open. Sometime around 12:25, as I sat at my desk, in slides, literally, a tall, thin young man, whose insouciance alone, which borders on sloth, surely makes him a standout amongst his peers (though, alas, I may be kidding myself). This takes me by surprise, but no less than his immediately starting to hawk something to do with Mother's Day. Mind you, I LOVE Mother's Day, especially now that I'm responsible for someone having become a mother who's not my mother, but you see there was no knock on the door, no, "Excuse me, may I talk to the class for a minute about something important", nothing at all to give me a sense at all that this young man was at all imbued with any sense of a finer appreciation for the rudimentary manners we'd hope that all of our students would understand and, better yet, exhibit in their daily behavior.

I immediately told the young man, "Hold on, you didn't even knock!" - of course I was thinking something else, but I, fortunately, do have manners. The young man got the message though, and proceeded with all the showiness of Harpo Marx in any of an innumerable number of Marx Brother's movies, to ostentatiously go out of his way to knock on my door, from the inside of my room, of course.

I said thank you, and then immediately asked him and his companion, who I adn't seen up to now as he had stayed out of the room, to leave. I then went to close my door, and oh how I had wished I had done this from the start of my advisory (C'est la vie, as they may say over in the foreign language department, and sometimes in science, too). It was at that point that the partner in alleged
Mother's Day blandishments informed me that I was "ignorant".

I then stepped out of advisory, and asked the second student for his name, which
he didn't seem to want to give me as he and the skinny fellow walked away. The second gentleman was a big student, though not what I'd exactly call corpulent -
more the type you wouldn't want to run into on a football line or behind the back of O'Leary's on 44th and 8th in Manhattan. He also had a lovely diamond stud in his left ear, which I had opportunity to admire as I followed him a few feet, and, given my general sense of cold this day, the fact that he was wearing shorts caught my attention as well. As I attempted to get his name, at one point saying, "You, the large guy with the box" -- I think he was the one who took the money, a role I'm sure Tony Soprano would have conferred on him as well -- the skinny guy then made a comment to the effect, "Whooooa, he called you a large guy, you should give him his ass ...", or words to that effect.

So here, dear reader, I should hope you can appreciate my sense of ire, and moreover my heartfelt desire to see these young men identified and appropriately instructed, if not flat out disciplined for these incidents, all of which took place in the space of about 60 seconds, as well as their being instructed to come by to talk to me and hopefully render a soulful apology (yeah, well ...). Your help with this matter would be greatly appreciated.


At this point both students have been identified, I've had a discussion with the asst. principal who told me he appreciated my "subtle sarcasm" and he'd be seeing these young men sometime tomorrow, and I've tracked down the teacher they were doing this for and working to arrange a face-to-face, though what merit that may have is questionable at this point.

Education, ya gotta love it.

Update as of today, 5/11: The young men came by, separately, and both apologized. And, to top if off, I had the impression that they were sincere ... ok, yeah, I may be kidding myself, but it makes for a reasonably happy ending and I'll leave it at that --- too damn few of those in the world nowadays.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Look At My Underwear, Pleeeeeeease!

Courtesy of the 8 May edition of The New Yorker

I swear that some of my male students, sartorially challenged as they are to begin with (there's something about that XY chromosome combo that doesn't bode well for the average male fashion sense), expect that when they're fitted for that first business suit, that someone is really going to ask them the question in the cartoon. I mean why shouldn't they show their BVDs or Jockeys in the business world the way they do in the classroom?

If you teach in a fairly standard public high school you've at some point been inadvertently (well, not entirely inadvertently as the "intent" is there, though it may not have been directed specifically at you when it happened) you've been assaulted by this at some point. It happened to me, but again, yesterday. I had broken my kids up into groups and they had gathered around the classroom lab benches. I turned around at one point to see one of my students bending forward to get a pencil sharpened and there were his Jockeys in all their ... I can't say glory, I mean really ... whatever, and I just shuddered. I immediately yelled out across the room, "John, kindly hike up your pants." The underwear display was not due to the kid being without a belt. No, there was the belt and it was set such that his pants were accommodated to allow him to flash the world his un-metionables when his shirt hiked up just enough, and "enough" wasn't all that much.

I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting sociological reasons for why this became a fad in the black community, and frankly I'm not interested in them. But the community I teach in, though you would hardly tell it by the condition of the high school, is definitely upscale, high income, and the kids are as white bread as you'll find in any such community. Yet they're there emulating rappas and the like, doing their best to make themselves into the best imitation boyz-from-the-hood hoodlings you can find. So underwear is an "In-your-face" sort of thing, and maybe it's better than a safety pin piercing going through a kid's left eyebrow, but ... God forbid these kids ever have to run while they're dressed like this, I mean no way are they getting anywhere very fast with their pants around their kneecaps.

What I'm finding especially bothersome of late are the girls who seem to be moving in the same direction as the boys. They tend to be a bit more subtle, they're fledgling women after all (but try to convince some of them of the "fledgling" part, yeah, right ...), but they'll come in with just a hint of pink undergarment waistband showing. Now here male teachers have to tread carefully - call a guy on his underwear and you're ok, but you're not to do this with a girl, no, no, no. With a girl if you as a man call her on her inappropriate attire there starts a discussion as to why in the world you should have noticed that to begin with - one day some kid's going to come in naked and we'll see how far that travels and I'd bet a paycheck she'll get through at least the first two periods if no female teachers have encountered her. So you go and find a female colleague to take note and let her dish out the fashion correction.

I guess every generation has to have its "something" to put it in contrast with the generation before them, and in some cases the "generations" before them who are the gatekeepers of their learning and responsible for their education; I just wish they chose something besides their underwear to do it with.