Friday, August 31, 2007

SWNID on Hypocrites Good, Goldberg Better

Q: Why does SWNID share opinions for free while others get paid for theirs?

A: Others are better than SWNID.

One such is Jonah Goldberg. We were good on the hypocrisy of politicians. Goldberg, by comparison, rocks.

Read his whole thing, but here is a sample:

One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can’t violate your principles if you don’t have any. Another solution: simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle. My own perfect moral code would mandate a strict regimen of not enough exercise, too much scotch and a diet rich in cured meats. Men would be religiously barred from taking out the garbage until their wives told them no less than three times to do so. “Thou Shalt Not Shave More Than Thrice Monthly”: I’d never be a hypocrite if only the Bible gave us commandments like that.

But the Left has another solution. Under its system, you can still be a moralizer. You can still tell people what to do and how to live. And, best of all, you can still fall short of your ideals personally while guiltlessly trying to use government to impose your moral vision on others. All you have to do is become a liberal moralizer.

Fernando North Sentenced

To be sure that all gentle readers know, we draw attention to the news that the legal saga of Fernando North has come to its conclusion. Sentenced to 70 years yesterday, he will spend the rest of his earthly life as a prisoner of the State of Ohio.

We affirm the courage and dignity of our friends, his victims, who testified at his sentencing. We also explicitly affirm their call for retribution, imperfect as it inevitably is in the human legal system. Justice is by nature retributive.

And "recovery" is by nature perpetual. Let's all continue to support our friends as God's Spirit enables us to do more than we are able to do.

Advocating Philosophical Education, Columnist Unintentionally Illustrates Need for Same*

We began the day hopeful but quickly became discouraged.

Our hope came as we perused the day's offerings on Inside Higher Ed, a web-based news service that most days provides the backdrop to our SWNIDish morning cup of tea. Therein (in Inside Higher Ed, not in our cuppa), a certain Alan Contreras, an academic bureaucrat in Oregon, offered an opinion column advocating the importance of philosophy as the means of breaking the impasse in public and educational discussion between religion and science (note our order in those two items: we deliberately reverse the common order to dethrone science from default preeminence).

Now that's a great idea. Except that, in the reading, we discover that Contreras is not much of a philosopher. Hence, our discouragement.

Here's a line that epitomizes Contreras's problem:

Religion and science are in different families on different tracks: science deals with is vs. isn’t and religion, to the extent that it relates to daily life, deals with should vs. shouldn’t.

Good philosophy would help Contreras understand that that characterization lies at the heart of our failure to communicate on this matter. He needs a good dose of epistemology, the foundational branch of philosophy, to sort out his flawed way of describing what's up here.

Yes, science deals with what is. But the issue here is to understand that by its nature, science can deal only with aspects of what is, essentially the observable or measurable ones.

Yes, religion deals with what ought. But good religion doesn't start there. It starts with what is, in areas that are by definition inaccessible to science, namely, God stuff. It moves from what is--who God is--to what ought--who people ought to be because of who God is.

We'll allow that Contreras's weasel phrase "to the extent that it deals with daily life" qualifies his constriction of religion's arena in a way that might excuse his oversight. However, we would insist that this qualification itself is problematic, as religion is daily life for its practitioners. Contreras seems to view religion as something trotted out on special occasions and kept in storage the rest of the year, but that's another matter.

To be sure, Contreras unconsciously reveals that he had a disadvantage in coming to this understanding: he grew up in a Christian denomination that eschewed is for ought:

I was raised in Quaker meeting, where we had a saying: Be too busy following the good example of Jesus to argue about his metaphysical nature.

So pity the poor, young Quaker who speaks up in the meeting to ask, Why should I follow Jesus' example, and what exactly makes it "good," anyway? The answer he gets from Contreras: answering that question would involve discussing the metaphysical nature of Jesus, and we don't do metaphysics here, just ethics.

The sum of Contreras's problem is this: he doesn't understand epistemology (how we know), so he doesn't want to do metaphysics (describing reality) except through science, the limitations of which he doesn't understand because he lacks epistemology, and so he doesn't have a connection between metaphysics and ethics (what we ought to do), and so he confines religion, which he thinks lacks anything but ethics, to ethics alone.

What, in Contreras's lexicon, is "philosophy," then? Essentially, it is time-honored, secular wisdom that might provide some non-religious grounds for ethics apart from religious belief. Of course, some philosophy is that, but as a whole philosophy aspires to be--and at its best is--a whole lot more: a means of figuring out what is true and having a reasonable assurance that our judgments are warranted.

For good measure, we'll throw in that this is why Contreras thinks it's perfectly possible to teach philosophy to high school students, objecting to those who say philosophy is too hard for teenagers. Certainly, if philosophy is merely the Moral Musings of Great Men, high school seniors can read it and decide whether they like one view or the other, just as they decide whether they like clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch or Hot Topic. But if they have to do actual philosophy, starting with thinking about how we know and how we know that we know, it's the exceptional, precocious thinker who developmentally has raced past his peers to the level of abstract thought necessary to engage these questions. It's usually sometime after the freshman year of college that the brain's epistemology switch gets turned on. And frankly, for some students, even those who do very well academically in other areas, the switch is not connected to the power grid.

Contreras is right, however, that people who will teach public school--high school, really--need to know philosophy, and especially those who teach science. That is, they at least need a shot at understanding that science and religion are dealing with is questions, and that science cannot exclude religious ways of knowing about things that science by nature can't come to know. Like, say, God (whom we like, and we don't mind saying it).

*We're sending the Bat-Signal to Batman, a.k.a. JB in CA: Commissioner Gordon, a.k.a. SWNID, needs you to weigh in on this topic, as extensively as you are willing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sign of the Times: Mr. Deity

We thank gentle reader Prodigal Son of SWNID for pointing us in the direction of "Mr. Deity," a slickly produced short video series hoping to be picked up as a TV series.

"Mr. Deity" is a satiric portrayal of God as a Hollywood producer (hence the title and the title character, obviously). The short segments--at least those viewed so far by SWNID--focus on paradoxical aspects of Christian theology (the problem of evil, trinitarian relationships, the incarnation, unanswered prayer). Mr. Deity interacts with an assistant producer who points out problems in his production, a star figure (Jesus) who takes the burden for the show's success while being marginalized by the producer, and other characters in later episodes.

The producer/director/star describes himself as a former believer who isn't hostile to faith and is trying to poke sympathetic fun. We think he's described his endeavor pretty accurately.

Ours is an age preoccupied with issues of faith, as all are, but also immersed in the entertainment medium, consumed by professional relationships, and suffused with sarcasm (we proudly acknowledge our contribution to this last item). "Mr. Deity" is an apt compendium of these features of our cultural landscape.

"Mr. Deity" is not the thing that so many Christians think they need: a brilliant presentation of Christian theology via the entertainment medium. It is, however, something that presents what should be understood by people who care about communicating the gospel to this culture. These videos pose the problems we face in communicating the faith, not the solution.

(Gentle readers with problems accessing "Mr. Deity" on the show's site can find the videos on YouTube beginning here.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Logical Error Update

We thank gentle reader CSS for directing us to this delightful list of updated logical fallacies. Read it because we said so!

Election 2008: Choose Your Hypocrite

In American two-party politics there are two fixed realities: that the Republicans, the party of traditional values, are hypocrites about sex, and that the Democrats, the party of populist economics, are hypocrites about money.*

We need only refer to the two most current political scandals for illustration.

On the right, we have Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, who plead guilty to a minor misdemeanor charge related to soliciting sex in an airport men's room but who, now that the whole matter has come to the attention of the press, insists that it was just a big misunderstanding. Right, Senator Craig: everybody knows what it's like to wave at someone underneath a toilet partition and have that gesture misunderstood.

On the left, we have Senator Hillary Clinton of New York (by way of Illinois, Arkansas and DC, of course), who has decided she won't return donations which, if they aren't the consequence of money laundering for people with connections to the People's Republic of China, must be the result of an economic and political miracle. Right, Senator Clinton: everybody knows what it's like to receive thousands of dollars in political donations from a working class family with no discernible interest in politics and a close connection to a shady businessman with ties to foreign governments.

If we go back a few weeks, we have on the right Senator David Vitter, patron of "escort services," and on the left former Senator John Edwards, toniest of limousine liberals.

Of all these, Vitter is the only one publicly to own up to his inconsistencies. For that we commend him and wish him the very best.

But what do we learn from this? To summarize in a SWNIDish apophthegm:All politicians are dogs, but Republicans are our dogs.

Voters who seek the most honest, virtuous politicians will be forever disappointed. We do indeed favor political judgments that are in limited measure influenced by one's best estimate of relative virtue, but such judgments will be always imperfect, often of minor consequence, and frequently headed toward disappointment. Humans tend to be fairly evil, and the lust for political power doesn't balance that tendency much. So we say that guessing which pol lives most consistently with his principles is not the best first means to decide how to vote.

But there remains the matter of political philosophy. That's where we see the difference between parties. Neither party may live according to its principles, but one has principles that, if enacted as policy, stand a better chance of benefiting the body politic. Because socialism impoverishes people and pacifism kills them, that party at present is the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Dubya.

Good dog, GOP!

*It is a tribute to Bill Clinton's ability to triangulate that he managed to be a hypocrite on both.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stephens on Global Warming: Keep Cool Heads

The exquisite opinion page of the Wall Street Journal (motto: "Anybody noticed signs of corruption since Murdoch took over?") today carries what SWNID labels the Best Discussion Yet on the issue of global warming.

WSJ editorialist Brett Stephens essentially makes trenchant statements like, "And yet . . ." and asks penetrating questions like, "So what?" Of course, he does it more thoroughly and eloquently.

We urge gentle readers to digest the superb reasoning of this column, even as they contemplate the scorched landscape of late August.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales Resignation Needed, True to Bush Form

As news breaks that embattled AG Alberto Gonzales has resigned, we make two observations.

One is that we still agree with the judgment of many Bush loyalists that Gonzales needed to resign, not because of what his opponents call his unconstitutional approach to surveillance or political approach to appointments but because he has so mishandled the politics of his office.

The second is that his resignation is consistent with the pattern seen in earlier big resignations, notably Donald Rumsfeld's. When an appointee becomes the target of criticism from the opposition, Bush will dig in. When the public pressure lessens with the passing of time, then his embattled appointee resigns.

Bush is alternately loyal to his supporters, a quality SWNID admires, and hostile to his opponents, a quality that probably contributes to his success as a politician (and he is successful, as only 43 people have managed to get themselves elected POTUS). He neither wants to kick his political friends when they're down nor concede even a small bit of ground to his political enemies. But he does know an albatross when he sees one.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Giuliani Leading Clinton Again

After a few weeks of vacation from their senses, the American electorate has decided to get serious again.

Rasmussen reports that its latest polling has Our Man Rudy ahead of Nurse Ratched 47%-40%.

Mommy Dearest's negatives are also back up over 50%, with very little uncommitted ground between her positives and negatives. She's stuck on unelectable.

We SWNIDishly offer that America has already made up its mind about Hillary. She has substantial support among Democrats, assuring her of the nomination. But independents have already decided that they don't like her and never will.

But independents have also decided that this time they want something that doesn't feel as Republican as Dubya. That's why Rudy does better in the head-to-heads than other Rs, even those like Romney who would probably make superb chief executives. He's what McCain was in 2000, while McCain is unable to recapture whatever appeal he had in that bygone era.

Meanwhile, has Fred Thompson returned anyone's calls lately?

Independents will take their bitter Hillary medicine if the Republican is a party retread.* So that's why it's gotta be Rudy. He's the one who can appeal to independents enough to make sure that Hillary's negatives are decisive.

*Kindly forgive the mixed metaphors. We're in a hurry today.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

For Cool Heads as The Market Tumbles

While stocks are selling off today, and while the media is trumpeting the selloff, it's useful to remember that equity investment is a long term matter.

Consult the chart here, the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the last twelve months. As you watch the short-term losses from today and the last couple of weeks, note the gains for the year. And remember that a year isn't that long to be invested in equities.

This isn't the end of the world, the beginning of a major recession, or a lesson not to invest in stocks. It's a correction, the kind of thing that happens to a market that over time consistently rises.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rove Donates Dark Arts Devices to Ripley's

Evil Genius Karl Rove, who yesterday revealed his resignation from the Bush White House, today through a spokesperson announced that he is donating his collection of magical dark arts accoutrements to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Included in the collection are various horcruxes, shrunken heads, skulls, potions, cursed objects, pickled brains and hearts, and odd bones from humans and various exotic and magical creatures. Rove reportedly used the objects to manipulate the minds and hearts of voters and politicians to advance his Evil Plan for World Domination.

Among the most prized objects are cursed ballots from the 2000 presidential election in Florida. Rove had applied the famous "butterfly jinx" to the ballots so that votes cast for Al Gore showed up as votes for Pat Buchanan. Other ballots received the "chad abortion curse," making so-called "pregnant chads" recede so as to obscure the "voter's intent."

Also included are cursed voting machines from Ohio in 2004. These magically repelled Democrat voters, creating the illusion of long lines and identity requirements that discouraged Kerry voters from casting ballots in the state that proved decisive in the Electoral College.

The Ripley's Museum announced that it will produce a traveling exhibit of some of the objects. Featured on the tour will be voodoo dolls of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, used by Rove to manipulate the pair to act narcissistically through the controversy about Plame's alleged "outing," thereby destroying their credibility with the public and preserving Rove's appearance of innocence.

Rove's spokesperson did not reply when asked whether Rove had also donated the giant poisonous snake allegedly used by the political mastermind to devour his enemies.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Qualls to Council Means Charter Party, Council Moribund

News that the term limited James Tarbell is stepping down from his Cincinnati City Council seat to make room for Roxanne Qualls inspires SWNID to new vistas from which to contemplate the profound sameness of Cincinnati City Council.

Qualls was a council member and mayor, under the old system where the mayor was the council member with the most popular votes, in the 1990s. Her gentle, inoffensive demeanor and blandly liberal political outlook established her popularity, rather like lowfat vanilla ice cream. But her period on council could also be described as among the least productive in the city's recent history. Those who have lived here awhile are likely to say that what ails the city in the new millennium is a consequence of what happened--or didn't happen (like reduction of taxes, improvement of city services, reorganization of schools, and redevelopment of the downtown core and neighborhoods)--in the 1990s.

What Qualls did manage was to support county efforts to build the stadiums. That move may be unpopular now, but we can't imagine the city's ongoing prosperity without the entertainment district that the riverfront has become, on both sides of the river, thanks to that capital investment.

The bigger story here is that Cincinnati City Council is being managed in a way that perpetuates the status quo. Term limits have forced established councilmembers to end their service. But now they resign a few months before their term is up, so that their party can appoint a successor who can establish some name recognition for the upcoming election and so hold the seat for the party establishment.

In this case, the party is the Charter Party, a Cincinnati local phenomenon arising from the reform movement of the 1920 that eschewed Republican bosses and their no-less-unattractive Democratic counterparts. Today the Charter Party is essentially the effete wing of the Democratic Party in Cincinnati, with little reason to exist except to provide a veneer of idealism to its pathetically few members.

That's not much to go on. So the Charterites need some powerful name recognition to maintain a seat or two. Qualls has it, so she's coming out of retirement to rejoin the Circus at Eighth and Race.

So this is what term limits has bought us. We wanted some turnover on council. What we got is a revolving door.*

But don't blame the politicians. Blame the voters who keep sending them back.

*On SWNID's doorstep last night were fliers for two other recycled council candidates: Charles Winburn and Sam Malone. The maligned Malone, whose star fell with the charge of child abuse, seems to have hitched his star to the compulsively busy and noisy Winburn. It's not a pretty picture.

Farris Pursues Quixotic Objective

We commend gentle reader Farris for his dogged determination to visit every NCAA Division I-A football stadium, recently detailed on CBS Sportsline. You can keep up with the quest, dubbed "Project 119" for the number of stadiums represented, plus one recently added to make the less interesting number 120, at the blog chronicling the journey.

In light of our recent dialogue on learning outcomes for traditional versus nontraditional students, we applaud the way that Farris and his wingman Wuske have put to use what they acquired in four arduous years of traditional study, certain that nothing short of four years' (plus?) confinement in classrooms and dormitories would drive a marginally sane person to cross the continent to stand in empty stadiums.

You go, Farris!

Why SWNID Hates Dispensationalism, And Those Who Misunderstand Its Influence

We thank gentle reader Carl for directing our attention to the interesting but hyper-loquacious blog "Slacktivist," which seems partly occupied with laying bare the silliness, biblical and otherwise, of the Left Behind series.

Our contempt for Left Behind and other dispensationalist sensationalism is probably too well known. So we are glad to direct gentle readers' attention to another's bloviation on the subject.

However, we note that our Slacktivist friend does what many of the political left tend to do with the excesses of the dispensationalist-prophecy-and-futurism crowd. Namely, he seriously overestimates the influence that the details of such stuff has on the political thinking of religious adherents. Specifically, we note this passage from the blog, offered at the end of the analysis of how Left Behind interprets the warrior horseman of Revelation 6:2 as a global peacemaker, through the opaque lens of Daniel 9:27:

That right there is why "peacemakers" are suspect. More specifically, that --precisely that passage of scripture and a supposedly "literal" reading of it -- is why millions of American evangelicals believed it was wrong for President George H.W. Bush to work with the United Nations to build a multinational coalition for the first Gulf War. That verse is why millions of American evangelicals supported President George W. Bush's refusal to do so for the current war in Iraq. It may even be part of why Bush fils himself has such contempt for the U.N.

Well, we agree that the exegesis is without merit, to put it mildly. However, we insist that there is no sociological data whatsoever to suggest that "millions of American evangelicals" made anything close to these connections in the run-up to either phase of the Gulf War, or that thousands of their preachers made such a point, or that Dubya ever thought any such thing. It is pure fantasy to imagine as much.

Politically, the influence of dispensational prophetic interpretation has extended in one area and one only, albeit with considerable power: evangelicals' enthusiasm for America's support of Israel. That point has been extremely well documented. We do agree that lots of American evangelicals think it's their biblical obligation to support Israel unconditionally, as at least part of their blessedness in eternity is conditioned on such unwavering support.

But anything else is hardly palpable. The truth is, the details of dispensational prophetic interpretation are of interest mostly to people who are deeply into the stuff, and whose interests in the matter are regarded as eccentric even by those who adhere broadly to dispensationalism. Call those people "prophecy geeks," and recognize that they are as rare as they are unusual. Regular folks just aren't that interested. They'll maybe get a bit excited that a specific event, like 9/11, might play a role in biblical prophecy, or listen now and then to a broadcaster who likes to talk about the stuff, or occasionally get worried when a particular book, like 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988, but that fearful enthusiasm has a way of fading, and quickly. Their enthusiasm fades, we think, because the reasoning in this line of thinking is so unfathomably unreasonable and because the specific conclusions and applications so often shift with changing political events that few can sustain their attention.

But our friend "Slacktivist," who doesn't seem to spend a lot of time actually hanging out with real evangelicals in significant numbers, sees the particulars as so pervasive that they determine questions like whether the US ought to seek a coalition to invade Iraq.

SWNID stipulates, insists even, that many dispensationalists have a pessimism about government actions in the future that borders on fatalism. We attended a professional meeting not too long ago in which a Christian educator, commenting on the Spellings Commission's attempts last spring to enforce standardized assessment measures in higher education, say that he thought such measures were inevitable because "I believe the Bible teaches that we're headed toward one world government."

That was a seriously weird moment. But note what that outlook engenders. It does not merely suggest suspicion against international organizations. It also prompts suspicion of the United States' government's attempts to extend its power.

So our counter observation to Slacktivist would be that dispensational theology isn't what props up the so-called religious right's support for Bush's Iraq invasion. It can just as much prop up someone else's suspicion of anything that comes out of imperial Washington. It's much more complex than Slacktivist's oversimplification. Dispensational theology probably plays very little role shaping political opinions at this level of detail.

Folks on the left, however, including some evangelical Christians of the left, would like to make it as influential as all that. Leftist rhetoric in part depends on portraying the right as immoral or stupid, thereby preserving the image of leftist ideology as moral and informed. Claiming that those nuts (mis)believe the Bible literally* is a means of aligning them with the stupid, in turn taken advantage of by the immoral.

We are on a personal campaign to help people understand that the Bible doesn't really present a God who does lots of stupid stuff, all covered by CNN, on the way to a bitterly unfair final judgment. But we're also on a campaign to stop people blaming such points of view for effects that they don't actually have.

*Our repeated call that we desist making grossly imprecise utterances about people taking the Bible literally are going unheeded. Literally.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

From the SWNID Files

We offer this relic to enliven the dog days:

A man goes to a Unitarian Universalist service for the first time, and later is asked what he thought of it. "Darndest church I ever went to," he replies. "The only time I heard the name of Jesus Christ was when the janitor fell down the stairs."

Taranto Gives Definitive Analysis of 08 Presidential Race

SWNIDish favorite James Taranto today leads his must-read "Best of the Web Today" with a note that the AP is reporting that several Democrats are admitting to military progress, even the emerging prospect of victory, in Iraq.*

Good enough. But what we love is the way Taranto then summarizes the 2008 political landscape:

Actually, when you think about it, it's amazing how similar the 2008 race is to the 2004 race. We have a formidable establishment candidate who originally backed the war, then changed his mind (John Kerry then, Hillary Clinton now); a challenger who has opposed the war all along, and who is clearly out of his depth (Howard Dean, Barack Obama); and a third guy who stands around looking pretty (John Edwards, John Edwards). The biggest difference is that Mike Gravel doesn't quite have the gravitas of a Carol Moseley Braun.

This year, of course, everyone seems to think the Democrats are very likely, even guaranteed, to win. That's because, unlike in 2004, George W. Bush is very, very unpopular. The biggest danger for the Dems, then, is that their nominee will figure out that Bush is not on the ballot and won't know what to do.

Indeed. And so we join many other prescient politicos today in welcoming to the Queen City of the West the man who will be on the ballot, Our Man, the Next President of the United States, Rudy Giuliani. We hope that he enjoys his visit to our city, and we hope the well-heeled Republicans of Indian Hill send him away with lots of boodle to crush Hillary a year from this November.

*For more on the changing political tides generated by the changing phases of military success, see the impeccable Victor Davis Hanson's summary at NRO.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Robertson's Regent University in Financial Difficulty

Virginia Beach news sources report that Regent University, whose founder and chancellor is the esteemed Pat Robertson, is in financial trouble.

Now, that's an interesting statement to make for a university whose endowment, based on a $100 million founding gift from its founder's Christian Broadcasting Network*, now stands at $277.6 million, ranking it 203rd largest among American universities whose endowments are large enough to bother ranking. But the difficulty is that Regent has now operated at a deficit of between $12 million and $14 million for four years, financing the deficit by drawing down its endowment at a rate roughly double the recommended payout from university endowments of 5% per year.

In addition, Regent borrowed $99 million a few years ago to build residential facilities.

So, while there's lots of cash in the bank, unless income increases or expenses decrease, Regent will eventually run out of dough. Not next week, but not 300 years from now, either.

Regent's plan for recovery is massively to expand its nascent undergraduate division, which consists entirely of online courses (enrollment by headcount stood at 239 in 04-05 and 1046 last year; the goal for this year is 2500). Spokespeople say that they expect a surplus of tuition relative to expenses from online undergraduates and believe the potential pool of such students to be unlimited (Robertson, never one for understatement, once stated that he expected a quarter million online undergrads). They further suggest that because online students do not require classrooms, expansion can proceed indefinitely.

SWNID is skeptical of this plan, for several reasons, some of which we enumerate:
  • Online courses can be unexpectedly expensive to administer. While they do not require bricks and mortar, they do require considerably more personnel hours than traditional courses. It is now legendary that universities underestimate the expense of online education.
  • Expansion of online offerings requires expansion of the number of instructors who teach those courses and of administrative structures to maintain quality. There is a limited pool of folk who are qualified and willing to take on such tasks, and if Regent's enrollment were to expand rapidly, thanks to the immutable laws of supply and demand they'd be concurrently forced to pay more to get teachers and administrators, eroding their margins that they hope will balance their budget.
  • Trends in online enrollment indicate that the majority of students who take online courses use them to shift time or fill in while they pursue a degree in a more traditional classroom. If such is the case, and if Regent continues to enroll only online undergraduates, we believe it will find that it will mostly enroll students from other universities in a course here or there, not full-time students who will take 40 courses from Regent to receive Regent's degree. It's no surprise that Regent is reporting headcount, not full-time equivalency, for its undergrad enrollment. We venture a guess that it has a very small number of students taking the equivalent of a full-time load of online courses, and not many more than that who are genuine degree candidates at their institution.
  • The for-profit University of Phoenix is starting to look as if its bubble of online enrollment has burst. Meanwhile, it continues to pursue other delivery systems, largely in-person, nontraditional degree completion at scattered sites convenient to learners, which sustain its operations. Regent looks like it's getting on the bandwagon for the very strategy that Phoenix pioneered and from which it is now transitioning.

Regent University is saddled with other financial difficulties as well. It now owns the Founders Inn, a hotel built by CBN and, in a deal between Robertson-led entities, transferred to university ownership awhile back, which also operates at a deficit. Having once been a guest at a hotel (to conduct a most delightful wedding for a most delightful couple), we express an expectation that thanks to the location of the hotel away from the main tourist district of Virginia Beach and the mismatch between its cosmetic opulence and structural weaknesses (translation: it's a pretty colonial building with some of the worst noise and ineffectual plumbing we have experienced in a recently built hotel, and its starting to look shabby on the margins) it is probably doomed to bankruptcy. We've had better sleep downmarket.

Our interest in this matter is, we hope, not just Schadenfreude over the difficulties of an institution associated with a public figure whom we are accustomed to ridicule. We think that there are lessons here for our SWNIDish self and our colleagues in Christian higher education. To wit: the solution to budget deficits is not to wager everything on a new program that will generate income. It is first of all to look critically at patterns of expenditure while focusing on the health and quality of core operations. It is to do better what you do best and to bring expenditures into line with income, painful as that move is sometimes, than to throw a hail Mary downfield.

In fact, Regent seems to be doing what many other struggling universities have done, so much so that the narrative has become standard among the small cadre who consult with institutions of higher education. Rather than face the reality that its gift and tuition income are inadequate to support its current way of doing business (Regent's gift income has been, until fairly recently, less than the modest amount received annually by the much smaller and less famous joint of SWNIDish employment), it's pinning its hopes on something it hasn't done before and that others have attempted with, at best, mixed results. In essence, they're betting that their brand is strong enough to propel them to financial success in a new endeavor outside their immediate expertise, when in fact their brand is not currently strong enough to sustain what they already know how to do. Mr. Robertson's influence is diminished, his reputation tarnished, and with them the prospects are dimmer for the university best known for his having founded it.

For those who insist that it is a step of faith to embark in such a new venture on such uncertain terms, we counter that it is at least equally a step of faith to act on the conviction that God already supplies what we need to do our mission, if we rightly understand our need and our mission. "My God will supply all your needs" does not have the same behavioral outcome as "place your bets."

What's sad about this is that Regent has managed to create what seem to us to be some pretty good programs. Its law school has graduated some lawyers who are rising in conservative government circles, to the chagrin of the dominant left. Its doctoral programs in leadership, delivered as a hybrid of residential and online courses, are reported by SWNIDish friends to be beneficial. Its seminary program has recruited some fine scholars of the Pentecostal persuasion to do instruction.

It would be fine to sustain such operations to benefit more students. If they are not, however, Regent's alumni should remember that the real benefit of their education at what might eventually become a defunct university is not the panache of academic reputation but the intrinsic value of what they learned.
*Side question, what was CBN doing with $100 million in extra cash? Was it raised specifically for the founding of the university? The pervasive criticism of Christian television in the United States, aside from its addiction to bad taste, is that the cost of staying on the air almost instantly turns even the most sincerely motivated new programmers into 24/7 crisis fundraisers. When such fundraising is successful and generates surpluses, the fundraising is then typically not reduced but continued to finance other ventures that result in a short-lived empire under the direction of the charismatic figure at the top of the broadcasting venture.

Friday, August 03, 2007

CCU Alum's Church Buying, Transforming Surf Cincinnati

We applaud CCU alum and former student of SWNID Victor Couzens who, as pastor of Inspirational Baptist Church, is leading that congregation in the purchase of the derelict Surf Cincinnati water park on the northern portion of the I-275 beltway.

The Enquirer reports that the church's plan is to build a worship facility on the property but also to open a major pool to the public. They're also planning an indoor sports facility. Eventually they envision a hotel/conference center and a social service center.

SWNID hates vacant properties. SWNID loves churches--and Victor Couzens. So we like this very much.

Backgrounder on Korean Hostages in Afghanistan

Don't miss the brief backgrounder by WSJ Asia's Leslie Hooks on the Korean hostages in Afghanistan. In sum, they are Christians doing short-term, educational and medical mission work (no overt evangelism, by the way) in one of the world's most troubled nations.

The piece is useful because of its balanced, informed discussion of a phenomenon that American Christians need to get hip to: the fact that more missionaries are going to other countries from countries other than the United States than are going from the United States.

Keep praying for our sisters and brothers still held hostage.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Headline Writer Has Fun with Article Chronicling Socially Desirable Outcome

We applaud the headline writer at the Dayton Daily News who came up with the phraseology that introduces this brief business note about a development that the morally aware can only applaud.

We are reminded of the three immutable religious truths:

(1) Protestants don't recognize the Pope as the head of the church.

(2) Nonmessianic Jews don't recognize Jesus as the messiah.

(3) Baptists don't recognize each other at Hooters.

SWNID Plugs Book: By Any Other Name

We shamelessly recommend to gentle readers some gentle reading material, the book By Any Other Name recently authored by SWNIDish former student (one class, at least) James Abernathy, blogger at the recommended JamesThink.

We were honored to be invited to write the foreword for the book, which we reproduce here as a teaser:

Our time requires books like this one. We live, as the saying goes, in an interesting time. Our time is interesting not primarily because of new technologies or challenging events. It is interesting because of the stark clash of ideas that surrounds us. This is a book about ideas. And it certainly clashes.

Some do not care for the clash. Tired of argument, discouraged by what appears to be the failure of ideas to yield results, they prefer conciliation over conflict. In the body politic and the body of Christ, there certainly is room for seeking unity and understanding. But not at the expense of clear thinking. This book demands clear thinking.

Specifically, this is a book about the ideological conflict in the United States between the Christian worldview and the broad array of ideas that can loosely be called secularism. It is a book of applied theology, discussing how ideas inherent in the worldview of Christianity impact social and political issues. It is indirectly a book of apologetics as well, offering reasoning that affirms the cogency of the Christian worldview over alternatives as they impact the public square. Think of it as two parts Francis Schaeffer, one part C. S. Lewis, and one part William F. Buckley.

Of course, this book is all parts James Abernathy. Abernathy writes with muscle. His prose is muscular, and so is his logic. This book, thick with substantial philosophical argumentation and historical analysis, does plenty of heavy lifting. It is informed both broadly and deeply, at once rigorously objective and deeply personal. Those who know Abernathy will hear his distinctive voice, articulating his keen intellect, in every sentence.

Readers can expect this book not to commit the sins of many in its genre. Abernathy is no Chicken Little. He doesn’t flay about with apocalyptic language, screaming about imminent doom. Nor is he a fuzzy-cheeked utopian who describes the Eden that his ideas will inevitably yield. Nor does he wistfully yearn for some past “Golden Age” in which his worldview held beneficent sway. Readers sated with such pabulum will taste piquant, meaty realism on this plate. Abernathy has no time for anything that is not real.

I for one am refreshed by what I read here. I am personally weary of people who, discouraged by the lack of short-term results from the so-called conservative revolution, are ready to start judging policies by their intentions instead of their ideological foundations and their real-world outcomes. I am weary of those who are ready to experiment again with socialism and pacifism when both history and sound theology argue strongly that socialism impoverishes people and pacifism kills them. I am weary of those too impatient to engage a significant ideological struggle for more than the eighteen months between congressional campaigns. I am especially weary of people who don’t want to argue with a strongly held position. I like what I read here not because I agree with all of it—though I agree with plenty—but because I like its readiness to debate.

Let the clash of ideas continue, and may the best idea win.

Another Journalistic Salute to Intrepid American Troops

We direct gentle readers' respectful attention to the recent Cincinnati Post (motto: "just a few months left") article featuring recent CCU graduate and US Army Staff Sergeant Nick Hamm.

We particularly appreciate Hamm's expression of his military service as aimed at the betterment of life for people whose lives need betterment:

"How can any American tolerate tyranny, anywhere in the world?" he said. "We just want people to enjoy the lives that Americans live."

We safely assume that Hamm wants to extend the benefits of liberty to Iraqis, not the cultural trappings of burgers, malls and "reality" television. And when one people is willing to risk life, treasure and sacred honor for the liberty of another, that's an impressive thing.

So we honor those like Sgt. Hamm who on behalf of all Americans risk their lives on behalf of all Iraqis. We can't say or do enough to recognize the significance of such actions.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Angry Left Is Starting to Notice, But Trying Not To

SWNID is not the only one to notice that military progress in Iraq is getting noticed. So is the Angry Left. And they're getting angry about it.*

And, with characteristic overestimation of our own significance, we have to wonder whether this blog has had an influence in such matters.


The Angry Leftist blog "Think Progress" yesterday posted a long, angry piece in response to the timely and important Gray Lady op-ed by O'Hanlon and Pollack of the Brookings Institute suggesting that the surge is working. The posting consists mostly of accusing the authors of being closet conservatives. In sum, because they once thought that the war might be a good idea, their views are forever to be dismissed without further consideration. When facts interfere with one's opinions, retreat to ad hominem attacks and poisoned-well fallacies seems the common stratagem.**

What inspires us to new heights of egotism, however, is the post's title, "Always Wrong, Never in Doubt." The author uses this term to describe Messrs. O'Hanlon and Pollack, of course. But we suspect that he got the idea lurking around this humble blog.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Boyda deliberately left a committee hearing in which retired General Jack Keane gave evidence of military progress in Iraq. The Honorable Ms. Boyda apparently couldn't endure testimony that contradicts what everyone already knows to be immutably true.

We are left with the image of the three iconic monkeys who cover eyes, ears and mouth to represent their eschewing of evil. However, these monkeys of the Angry Left are different. The first two cover eyes and ears, but the third cup her hands around her widely opened mouth to amplify her apish yells. The motto: "See no facts, hear no facts, scream ideology."
*Question for reflection: why are so many who say they hate war so violently angry about it?

**The Angry Left condemns Bush for the Bush Doctrine that those who do not join us in our struggle against terrorism are thereby judged friends of terrorists and enemies of the United States. For the Angry Left, those who have even once supported any policy of Bush are forever friends of the Evil Bush and thus forever enemies of the Angry Left.