Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Keep in Mind as "Millionaires and Billionaires" Get Taxed

As the debt ceiling starts to fall in and politicians scramble to make their final points, we urge gentle readers to remember these immutable truths:
  • That effective tax rates (how much tax gets collected as a percentage of GDP) matter more than published marginal tax rates (how much of a particular band of income is officially taxed before credits and deductions).
  • That as tax rates declined over the last generation, tax receipts went up and the effective tax rate remained essentially constant.
  • That the so-called "tax breaks for the rich" enacted a decade ago yielded a more progressive pattern of tax collection, as roughly 50% of Our Republic's citizens now pay no federal income tax while the top percentiles pay the largest share of federal taxes.
  • That the tax on corporate jets proposed by the President would yield revenue equal to some tiny decimal of a percent of the federal deficit.
  • That people with control of wealth inevitably alter their economic decisions to avoid taxes when taxes are high.
  • That taxes on oil companies simply make petroleum products more expensive in the future.
  • That, as Milton Friedman pointed out a generation ago, the fundamental problem is not government debt but government spending: whether the government taxes a dollar or borrows it, by so doing the government decides what will be done with that dollar, and over time, governments tend to make poorer decisions about how to invest money than do private citizens. (Why? Because governments make decisions for political reasons, and citizens who handle their own money care a lot about how it's handled. That is, no one takes better care of your stuff than you.)
So SWNID expects that in the end, our Public Servants will agree to a lot of spending cuts, the elimination of a couple of fiscally insignificant tax deductions or credits, both sides will claim credit for themselves, assign blame to the other, fire up the base by noting the threat that the other side poses, and appeal to the center with fear about the future (Dems) or impatience with the present (GOP).

If only we could agree also that:
  • The real problem is massive malinvestment from the real estate bubble fed by low interest rates and government-sponsored borrowing incentives.
  • The business climate still is awful; hence, cash is sitting around waiting to be invested.
  • Insofar as federal policy can affect the business climate, it could do so positively by phasing narrowly defined tax credits while also gradually lowering tax rates. Effect: decisions would be made on economic merits instead of for tax-avoidance purposes, improving the quality and prudence of investment and lessening the boom and bust that are fed by tax policies that aim at social engineering.
We won't get any decline in business tax rates in return for an end to energy subsidies, for example. And the resulting tax revenue will not make much difference, and not nearly as much as the long-term growth fueled by a less complex, less restrictive tax code.

Historic Footage Provides Trenchant Political Analysis

Is it a coincidence that this 31-year-old video is again available? You decide!

Monday, June 27, 2011

What If Alexander Campbell Were a Cool Guy from Cali with a Shaved Head?

That's the question raised by yet another video clip featuring the hyper-popular Francis Chan (a SWNIDish hat tip to gentle reader Matt for providing the link):

Next up, we hope to be directed to the stuff that's lambasting Chan for taking this stance. If it's not there, we'll know we've reached a new stage in the reconsideration of the ordo salutis by North American evangelicals.

More Incarational Bibliology

Here's part two of the article on the history of the Christian Bible by the theological writer with whom SWNID most often agrees.

How Not to Resuscitate a Dead Movement

Emergent churches need to "reach the young people!" They're "just a generation away from extinction!" They've "got to be more appealing and relevant to a younger generation!"

So they're holding a camp with cool stuff like sprinkling each other with water, smearing each other with mud, listening to oldsters like Campolo and McLaren and Claiborne, celebrating liberation from 80s televangelists with the Bakker's son, and appropriating hyper-popular Celtic Christian images by calling the affair "Wild Goose," reportedly a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

Doubtless, this brilliantly conceived affair will lure away droves of suburban evangelical kids into the clutches of the neo-Gnostics who comprise the Emergent Conspiracy. Who could resist the appeal of an event like this one?

Hide your kids. Hide your wife. And hide your husband.

The surest sign that a movement is dead is when it makes lame moves to attract the young folk.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Become a Political Anthropologist!

For a glimpse of the politically exotic, we recommend a trip to These dudes hold to every hardline left position there is, with a take-no-prisoners kind of vengeance that makes the breath come in short pants.

We especially recommend that one take the "candidates survey," by which the organization hopes to identify True-Blue Progressives to give Americans what they truly want.

Apparently our nation is a mess because Democrats are compromising wimps about everything.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On the Religious Identity of Religious Colleges

Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick J. Reilly weighs in on the controversial NLRB decision that St. Xavier University isn't Catholic enough to claim an exemption from federal labor law that would otherwise allow the university to prevent the organization of adjunct faculty. His point, simply put, is that the NLRB has no business deciding how religious an institution is.

SWNID, of course, agrees with Reilly in excoriating the NLRB, recalling that a group that cites Boeing for building a plant in SC hardly shows the discernment to mark the boundaries of the world's largest religion's largest denomination.

But we note nevertheless the dilemma for organizations like St. Xavier, namely, how to thrive in the mainstream of higher education and maintain a robust religious/sectarian identity.

Most Christian groups have started institutions of higher education. They do so because of the obvious convergence of higher-ed aims and religious aims: to nurture (a particular kind of) knowledge and wisdom in people. It's always a both/and proposition: our IHE will provide what all the good IHEs provide, plus a vital faith perspective that aligns with and supports the mission of our religious group.

And thus is born a litter of conflicts and dilemmas. Education is about personnel, and a growing IHE needs a lot of them, specifically of rare folk who are experts. Finding enough who can pull off the both/and proposition, who know their academic discipline and their faith, is daunting. Living in a world that prizes debate while standing for an orthodoxy is paradoxical, to say the least. Adhering to the explicit and implicit standards of the educational "mainstream" and of the religious community, both of which suffer chronic identity crises, is well nigh impossible to do singly, let alone in tandem.

So we sympathize with those ardent Catholics who find themselves in grief-stricken agreement with the NLRB. It's rather tough to see what makes most Roman Catholic institutions Roman Catholic these days, at least if one focuses on the content of instruction and the faith outcomes of students rather than the identity of senior administrators and the architecture of the campus.

Of course, the same pressures affect non-Catholic, Christian IHEs. A historical narrative that dominates the consciousness of many evangelical Christians is that of the institution that is founded on solid faith principles but over a few generations moves from ardent faith to nominal faith to anti-faith. Harvard, Yale, Princeton: gentle readers know the roster.

So, sensing the pressures and knowing the narrative, many live in fear that every move made by their sect's IHEs is another step in the inevitable decline of the IHE into rampant secularism.

And so we turn to the issue of the hour for those in SWNID's sect of choice: the renaming of IHEs. Those that once announced "Bible" in their names now call themselves "Christian." The "college" is now the "university." And now one has made the latter move while dropping altogether any adjective that boldly claims a distinctive: Johnson Bible College is now Johnson University.

And they're the object of scorn for so doing. And once again, SWNID finds ourself compelled to defend our colleagues in Tennessee.

First, let's realize the situation: while Roman Catholic IHEs are barely Catholic these days, and while many prominent IHEs that once were proudly Protestant are so no more, presently evangelical Protestant IHEs remain visibly committed to faith distinctives in ways that are readily noted and measured. Recent publications demonstrate what is obvious enough: that in the main (we aren't interested in naming exceptions), evangelical colleges demand curriculum and behaviors that go against the grain of the higher-ed mainstream. Like same-sex dorms, strictures on sex and alcohol, required courses in the faith tradition and its authoritative documents (a.k.a. the Bible), required attendance in worship, and all that. The same studies show that the students, in the main, do think and behave differently than their peers at mainstream institutions, and they do so gladly. Exceptions abound, but Christians who read their Bible know that exceptions are nothing new.

So despite their fears, evangelicals can chill out in the knowledge that their IHEs are mostly doing what they're supposed to be doing.

At the same time, evangelicals want their IHEs to expand their influence. They want a wider and broader population to attend, including some people who are less committed to the faith or the sect than they are at least interested in it (the notion is that many such will be persuaded, given what believers believe about the potency of the message). They want more opportunities for employment and influence for graduates (the notion is that such opportunities expand the reach of the potent message). So it would help if the prestige of the institution were enhanced too, inasmuch as institutional prestige tends to drive admission to graduate and professional schools, employment opportunities, and other avenues of influence (a.k.a. wealth, but we won't talk about that).

At the same time, evangelicals want their IHEs to be what they've always been: homogeneous institutions that serve their supporting sect by keeping the sect's progeny safe from outside influences and ready to serve in the sect's institutions.

[Please forgive our repeated use of "sect": we employ it as a social descriptor, not as a disparagement.]

So, how can an institution be mainstream and sectarian simultaneously? It is, of course, a paradox.

But to the case of JBC/JU. What drove the decision to rename this storied IHE?

The institution has answered that question clearly, and at length. We summarize.

First, "college" doesn't signify "postsecondary education" in global English as it does in American English. "University" does. Johnson is an IHE with a global mission. 'Nuf said.

Second, any modifiers in an institution's name that indicate a distinctively Christian identity are problematic for people who come from or want to go to countries where religion is regulated, i.e. countries where a majority of the world's peoples reside. Take a big one, for example: China, where Johnson has developed significant ties. Johnson's Christian friends in the People's Republic quietly told Johnson's leaders that anything in the institution's name like "Bible" or "Christian" will create problems with the government. As to that once-popular placeholder for such terms, "International," Johnson's Chinese friends said, rightly, that this term has become associated with institutions of questionable quality and integrity (that is no reflection on Hope International University, gentle readers, and we mean that).

As to one expedient--operating under two names, one explicitly Christian for domestic consumption and the other a "DBA" that omits the Christian label--why do so? If someone wants to suspect the institution because it omits a Christian label, the suspicion is hardly put to rest if the institution does so with an assumed name.

So what is the result? Johnson University, obviously.

And you'd think that the devil went down to Kimberlin Heights. The internet is alight with "SMH" remarks about how a once proud Bible college is now ashamed, ashamed of the faith and its authoritative book.

Mind you, Johnson, as it always has, requires a major in biblical studies of every student. Mind you, students at Johnson who aren't aiming at a career in ministry deal every day, as do students at many similar IHEs, with a campus culture that barely acknowledges the presence of students who won't earn their living from the church.

But Johnson University has lost the faithful way on which Johnson Bible College once tread proudly.

Folks, get real. Take the measure of the moment. Make factual comparisons, not fanciful ones to a selectively remembered, idealized past and a counterfactual present. Realize what you've got, which is some of the leading institutions of higher ed that are deliberately pursuing a distinctive approach to higher ed, one that is intensely focused on biblical instruction, that is faith-active and not just faith-based, that has always graduated more than preachers but still graduates more, better preachers, in balance with demand, than most other contemporary institutions.

Remember that there are narratives besides "faithful college goes secular." Like "faithful college grows out of touch," "faithful college turns inward," or "slander assassinates character."

Rowling Performs Avada Kedavra on Publishing

And speaking of survival of the fittest . . .

J. K. Rowling is allowing digital publishing of the Harry Potter franchise.

Well, sort of.

Rowling has announced that she will self-publish Potter ebooks. Welcome to the World of Pottermore.

We hope you sold your Scholastic stock yesterday.

Rowling's move provides all kinds of advantages to her, and probably to readers too. She now controls the price and presentation of her work in digital form. Of course, she also controls all the profits, which is exactly as it should be if she can also manage distribution.

And she can. The great advantage of ebooks is that they can be distributed without the massive manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping efforts of traditional publishers. Talented authors and talented editors can now partner up as individuals, then join themselves to talented marketers to get their stuff out to the world's billions more or less instantaneously. And, if the laws of economics have not been repealed, more cheaply too.

This raises a significant question for many authors, we believe, especially academic authors, especially Christian academic authors. Few such creatures make much money on their publications, and so few depend on that income for their survival. Most publish for the contribution that their ideas make to their academic/faith communities and the world at large. And of course, for the the prestige attached to publication. If they did it for the money, they'd be writing other stuff, like The Purpose-Driven, Left-Behind Prayer of Jabez That Provides Chicken Soup for the Left-Handed Bowler's Soul. With pictures of themselves on the cover, of course.

Getting a publisher to publish one's book is, in such circles, an endorsement of quality more than a necessity of publishing. Self-publishing ventures have existed for quite awhile, but because they were tied to paper publishing, they had paper-publishing costs, which had to be underwritten by authors. And their distribution stank. So at least to avoid out-of-pocket costs and to get the book in people's hands, authors in the faith/academic niche needed publishers, whose editorial decision then provided readers with an endorsement of quality.

But such is no longer necessary. Now it's possible to do exactly what Rowling has done, bypassing the middle man. Endorsements can come from the same people that the publishers have solicited for dust-jacket blurbs: already-established folk in the field (we won't digress into a discussion of the awful churning of clichés that such blurbs actually are, but if we did, what we wrote would be "destined to become a standard work that will be consulted by scholars and students in the field for the next generation").

So we expect in the coming months and years to see aggregations of scholars/leaders creating digital editing/promotional cooperatives to bypass established publishers, taking their wares directly to their publics. That'll drive down cost, expand offerings, make possible quicker translation and distribution of materials in languages other than English . . .

. . . and maybe provide a more effective means of circulating ideas. Why? Because the capital investment in production and distribution will have been reduced to the point where investors will not have a stake in keeping bad ideas alive, as they did when they were printed on expensively produced remains of majestic trees.

We'll see the emergence of operations rather like Project Gutenberg, which has made the public domain truly public.

Adieu, Eerdmans! Farewell, Baker! Adios, T. & T. Clarke! Your reluctance to embrace digital technology is regrettable, but in the end it will be inconsequential. Authors rule now.

Worthwhile Dip into Origins Controversy

AOL/HuffPost blogger Jonathan Dudley has a decently thoughtful polemic piece on the problems of young-earth creationism for Christian believers. We find it most useful for its litany of unsolved problems in young-earth creationism, which, to borrow a paleontological phrase, merely scratches the surface. For those who are used to hearing polemical pieces that list problems with Darwinian evolution, the list should at least provide some measure of reflective concern. The reality is that the convergence of evidence for an old universe with an old earth on which living things developed over time is ginormous, while the reasons to think that evolution is antibiblical hinge on interpretations of "day" and "kind" in Genesis 1 that are at best debatable. And the biblical refrain, "Before the mountains were formed" suggests something rather more ancient than "a week ago last Tuesday."

We're not sure how Dudley links the ignoring of science in young-earthism to his closing remarks about mistakes regarding the etiology of homosexuality or the value of stem-cell research. We assume those are teasers to induce purchase of his book. We aren't teased enough to part with our hard-earned earnings, however. Call that "survival of the fittest."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is New York City the Most Hostile-to-Christians City in North America?

Maybe so.

The indispensable Terry Mattingly details the controversy (about to be a crisis for many churches in NYC) precipitated by the US Second Circuit Court's ruling that NYC public schools can rightfully exclude religious groups from renting facilities for worship, overturning the effect of a decade-old Supreme Court ruling that religious groups are entitled to the same access as nonreligious ones.

The argument is based on the notion that holding a worship service somehow transforms the space into something other than what that space is. Oddly enough, that seems to concede to religious groups a power not available to nonreligious peoples, the ability to do a kind of sacramental magic.

Of course, the religious groups renting NYC churches are almost without exception evangelicals who eschew sacramentalism in its more magical manifestations. So it's the opponents of these groups, not the groups themselves, with the overestimate of the religion's mystical powers, it seems.

Mattingly notes what's really at work here: a deep-seated fear of evangelicalism among NYC's prosperous, nervous hipsters. SWNID has seen that fear in our limited involvement in ministry in NYC, as dark rumors have circulated in chatrooms and bulletin boards about sinister evangelicals infiltrating NYC from the benighted "Midwest" and "South," having attended shadowy academies of brainwashing to become "church planters," luring people into a mind-control cult that oppresses women, gays and minorities by offering them coffee, casseroles and camaraderie. Light the torches! Gather the pitchforks! Throw them tarred and feathered into the Hudson!

All this comes despite the self-conscious, deliberate, consistent efforts of these churches to reach out with meaningful, sacrificial gestures of love and acceptance. No one said that this would be easy: quite the opposite, in fact. Seeds and soils and all that.

This is serious: we know of at least one established congregation with a decade of happy relations with the school from which it rents that now has about two weeks to find another locale for services unless something gets reversed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Incarnational Bibliology

The theological writer with whom SWNID agrees most tried mightily to avoid the clichés attendant to the subject when asked to write an article on "how we got the Bible" as part of a year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV. This is part one of the result.

Part two appears next week. The author overwrote.

The aim is to not just to answer the usual questions about how the Bible arose but to provide a practical theological context: though the Bible doesn't match what many people think a divinely inspired book ought to look like, those differences arise largely out of its being the product of history, reflecting the work of the God who works in history, especially by entering history in the person of Jesus.

Incarnational theology is messy, and so is the Bible. People who object to the mess are simply asking for another kind of god, one who doesn't address us in our untidy humanity, which we really don't want addressed because we'd prefer not to acknowledge it.

Not just a river in Egypt and all that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SBC Condemns NIV. Sisters and Brothers Shrug.

The increasingly inward looking, numerically declining and institutionally sclerotic Southern Baptist Convention has condemned the 2010 revision of the New International Version of the Bible for its use of gender-neutral language.

And no one cares.

SWNID won't review the silliness of the controversy about gender neutrality in the translation of the Bible, except to say that it is linguistically legitimate because the relationship between sense (a particular word's specific definition in a particular setting) and referent (the thing in the world to which the word refers in a particular setting) can vary from language to language and era to era (in Greek adelphoi has the sense "brothers" but readily refers to members of both sexes, not so the English "brothers" in much usage presently).

Well . . . and also to say that the NIV does not extend gender-neutrality to language about God, who remains "Father" and "Son." SWNID isn't down with those who ignore the historically countercultural stance of the Bible in eschewing the pervasive depiction of deities as women.

Rather, we observe that the SBC, once the "anchor of evangelicalism" as an SBC conventioneer described it still, has through its recent generation of internal squabbling, politicking and recriminating, become so inwardly focused that its once rapid rate of expansion has become a rate of slow decline. Christians with ties to the SBC who care about what the NIV translators cared about have or eventually will migrate out, to churches of other denominations and no denomination who do deliberately and well what SBC churches used to do deliberately and well: invite people to follow Jesus and nurture them in the subsequent following.

Those who prefer to find inconsequential issues on which to separate themselves as the "true church" from others who claim to follow Jesus will continue to find a big, big house in the SBC, one with "lots and lots of [empty] rooms."

Incidentally, we collate, if not correlate, the increasingly inward focus of the SBC with the triumph of Reformed dogma among its visible leadership. Once known for its commitment to evangelism, the SBC is now known for spokesmen like Albert Mohler, who can precisely split any hair, indifferent to the evangelistic consequences because it's all been preordained anyway.

There's an eerie similarity between the insistence that adelphoi not be translated "brothers and sisters" and the insistence that "because all sinned" means that Adam's sin made all humanity guilty and unable to respond to the gospel without a divine zap. It's a habit of reading Scripture to find what has always been found, a commendable commitment to historic orthodoxy if one recognizes the historic debates and the historical constraints on them but an excuse for reactionary self-absorption otherwise. Ironically enough, the Reformed shouldn't worry so much about their biblical translations, since for them the Spirit is mediating the message directly anyway, with the Word as a coincident element not strictly necessary to the process except by divine fiat. Really, aren't those who will be misled by "brothers and sisters" just proving by their being misled that they are predestined to perdition?

CUA Eliminates Co-Ed Dorms. Duh!

To much publicity, Catholic University of America is phasing out co-ed housing. Why? To battle the epidemic of binge drinking and hooking up, which are integrally related, of course.

We offer two SWNIDish observations.

First, this is one of the few noticeable moves of late by a large Catholic university to do something Christian (as opposed to Catholic in a sectarian way, like de-certifying non-Catholic Christian groups on campus). Per recent research, Catholic universities, like IHEs with lingering ties to mainline Protestant denominations but unlike evangelical institutions, have students whose beliefs and behaviors are virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts at Big State U.

Second, this move exposes the hypocrisy of institutions that claim to be concerned about binging and hooking up (mostly the former, of course). Colleges make much of their efforts to promote safe drinking, given that parents don't want their youngsters self-poisoning while away at the prestige factory preparing for survival in the upper middle class). Some college presidents have of late advocated the contrarian position that a lower drinking age would lead to less binging, as underage undergrads would be liberated to drink in the open, where it's harder to overindulge. Never mind, of course, that European nations with lower legal drinking ages see parallel problems at younger ages: a lower legal drinking age makes the underage issue the high-school principal's problem.

Colleges have co-ed housing for one reason: it's easier to administer. If the number of students of either gender can flexibly be housed in any and every room on campus, the college doesn't need to sweat some of the particulars of shaping and managing their entering cohorts. The fact that even in our culture of lewdness many (most?) students would prefer to live in single-sex dorms is immaterial, as is the demonstrable fact that students behave more safely in same-sex housing.

So we think that CUA's move will not spark a trend. The interests of colleges are too entrenched to let a little thing like behavioral patterns interfere with policies of self-interest.

And as to current CUA students' complaints that they will be hindered in making leading-to-marriage friendships, we believe that nubile youngsters will still manage to find each other somehow.

Why Mormons Run Companies

Because their church's work ethic, corporate structure, volunteer culture, and quasi-requirement of a two-year mission stint inculcate skills and habits that make for success in business.

For a peek, see this extensive article in Business Week.

SWNID Has Worked at This Place

We have experienced this aggressive type of objectivity. Have you?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Obey the Golden Rule: Illness Unit

Since mortality is endemic and serious sickness commonly precedes death, we think that everyone ought to listen to what seriously sick people and formerly seriously sick people say about what they need from other people when they're seriously sick. So this little article in Sunday's Gray Lady is required reading for humans who think that doing to others what you'd want them to do to you is the way to go. Cancer survivor and journalist Bruce Feiler lists dumb things that people say and helpful things that they say and especially do (summary on that point: just take up some practical task without asking what needs to be done).

So why do healthy human say so many stupid things to sick humans? The SWNIDish view is that we have an underdeveloped capacity for empathy because in our efforts to do right, we keep thinking about ourselves instead of the people we are supposed to be loving. Our interior question is, "How can I do the right thing?" instead of "What would it be like to be that person, and what would that person need from someone like me?" The first question is not bad, but the second is more direct, and more in keeping with that important story about the God who becomes human and lets himself be tortured and killed for undeserving rebels: it's focused on the object, not the subject, of love.

Sometimes the answer to the object-oriented question is, "I would want almost nothing except to know that I still matter in my weakened state and then to be left alone to rest." Which we hate, because we healthy friends want to end up the beloved hero in the drama. Hence our failure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Francis Chan Is a Campbellite!

Maybe better than a Campbellite:

The last time SWNID heard something this good on the subject, we were in a Baptist church in Scotland. It seems that the best sermons on the Campbellite theology are delivered by non-Campbellites.

In our non-blogging life, we've written about the growing consensus around what the Stone-Campbell Movement has historically said about baptism. Chan is now a notable example. Thanks, St. Francis! See you at the NACC!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Satanic Verses of Ayn Rand

We give a hearty SWNIDish recommendation to Joe Carter's First Things discourse on the connections between Anton LeVey's Satanic Bible and Ayn Rand's so-called Objectivist so-called philosophy.

There's no need to elaborate except to excommunicate from the SWNIDish community anyone who doesn't read the article, expect the die-hard members of Rand's fan club to express indignation, and provide a delectable morsel of quotation:

You can replace the pentagrams of LeVayian Satanism with the dollar sign of the Objectivists without changing much of the substance separating the two. The ideas are largely the same, though the movements’ aesthetics are different. One appeals to, we might say, the Young Libertarians, and the other attracts the Future Wiccans of America.

What is harder to understand is why both ideologies appeal to Christians and conservatives. My guess is that these groups are committing what I’d call the fallacy of personal compatibility. This fallacy occurs when a person thinks that because one subscribes to both “Belief X” and “Belief Y,” the two beliefs must therefore be compatible. For example, a person may claim that “life has meaning” and that “everything that exists is made of matter” even though the two claims are not compatible (unless “meaning” is made of matter). This take on the fallacy has long been committed by atheists. Now it appears to be growing in popularity among conservatives and Christians as well.

But to be a follower of both Rand and Christ is not possible. The original Objectivist was a type of self-professed anti-Christ who hated Christianity and the self-sacrificial love of its founder. She recognized that those Christians who claimed to share her views didn’t seem to understand what she was saying.

P.S.: Don't miss the delightful way that Carter opens his provocation of an essay.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

If You Don't Have a Landline, You're Against High-Speed Rail

Americans are shedding their landlines. Why? Because they're an expensive redundancy.

If Bell's wired telephone had not yet been invented but the mobile phone existed, would anyone bother to implement a plan to build a landline infrastructure? Of course not.

And this is no merely theoretical construct. In countries where landline infrastructure has been underdeveloped, mobile phone service is expanding at breakneck pace. It's a lot easier and cheaper to put up a cell tower than to run cable everyplace.

Which is why high-speed rail is silly. You can fly with massively less infrastructure investment. Airplanes, like mobile phone signals, don't need physical connections between origin and destination.

Michael Barone notes today how completely silly is our Department of Transportation's determination to build HSR in California, beginning with a link in an underpopulated area and with the eventual goal of allowing businesspeople to travel from LA to SF quickly, something they already do on airplanes. Everyone who has thought about the economics of telecommunication should understand how deeply silly this idea is.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Saying Well the Obvious About Osteen

For those who rightly despise Joel Osteen, Baylor English prof Greg Garrett has a nicely turned-out "open letter" of rebuke at Patheos. There's no great insight here, just a nicely crafted statement of what all who understand the Gospel understand about Osteen. As in this:

You and other Prosperity Gospel preachers advance a vision of God that is transactional: if you do this, then God will do that. He has to, in fact. Because a verse here or there in the Bible says so, however little it reflects God's actual redemptive work in the world.
And I'm here to tell you, Sir, in the same language I use with anyone who imagines we can be in a transactional relationship with God, that this isn't what Christian faith is. Praying the right prayer often enough to get what you want, believing really hard in Jesus to get what you want are not true to the Christian story, or to logic. To imagine that you, or your followers, or the person out in the bookstore or TV land who is exposed to your message somehow influences the God of the Universe, the Creator of All That Is, by his or her personal actions is not belief in God.
It's belief in magic. Put your hands together, say a few faithful words, and the Universe will give you what you ask.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

College, too easy for its own good

College, too easy for its own good

Yes, it probably is in a lot of cases. Colleges have given in to the demands of their market for less engaged study and more of everything else. Mediocre students and mediocre colleges are complicit with one another in this regard.

We fully expect a bunch of sardonic affirmation, accompanied by finger pointing. So we gently point out that this situation need not materially affect any student at any college. If your courses don't demand much of you and your peers are fine with that, American college student, then go to the library and educate yourself. That's how it's always been done. The best students have never, at any institution, confined their education to the syllabus.

OK, let the rounds of self-righteous condemnation begin. Tell the world how you're so much better than those students and so superior to the place where you studied and got ripped off.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

If You Dislike Being Called Sanctimonious, Don't Act Sanctimoniously

The SWNIDish contempt for Jim Wallis is well known. His stentorian voice notwithstanding, Wallis is the epitome of the sixties relic who, as far as we can tell, has never questioned that the agenda of the political left is God's agenda. Feeding on the disillusionment and alienation of those who find the Religious Right repugnant (and who doesn't, really: those Philistines have no fashion sense whatsoever), Wallis asserts rather than argues, seduces rather than convinces. His persuasive appeal is moral superiority: we of the Christian Left really take the message of the Bible seriously, especially the canon within the canon that is Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets (which, by the way, would be a decent name for a rock band), as read by us in an anachronistic way that employs all the hermeneutical tricks that we decry when used by the Religious Right.

And he does all this sanctimoniously, we might add.

Recently our attention was drawn to the Rev. Wallis's collaborative blog. Its title is "God's Politics."

That's enough for us. Without a hint of irony, without the slightest note that the political implications of Christian faith have been a topic of lively debate for about two millennia, without the least acknowledgement that one might be earnestly mistaken, without self-depreciating humor, Wallis poses as a prophet.

It's been a generation since sixties radicals became self-parodies. Why isn't Wallis in on the joke yet?

Let bloggers everywhere imitate the lightly enlightened example of this blog: in the brashly narcissistic act of sharing your random thoughts with the world's billions, make self-depreciating fun of your pretensions via your blog title and other cute little acts of sarcasm. Don't admit directly that you're an arrogant idiot, or you'll seem sorry for yourself, in the dreadful manner of the passive-aggressive. Make your egotistical predicament the first joke, so that you get it out of the way early, clearing the ground for whatever provocation to thought that you can provide.

Maybe just add a question mark to the title of that blog, Rev. Wallis. It would imply something like, "We Report: You Decide."