Category Archives: Culture

On ACA, Theology, and More

I’ve been having interesting conversations via email and FB on the question of the ACA and certain theological questions, ranging from Biblical exegesis all the way to Gould. They’e been fruitful and have jogged many things out of memory.

I’ve just completed my typical readings of the Supreme Court language on the ACA and my reaction, at least at this time, is that Justice Roberts’ and the Scalia lead dissent are somewhat strange. The majority opinion and dissent appear to be talking past each other, though more on the dissent side. The dissent is particularly flavorful in its rejection of Justice’s arguments.

Their’s a chasm in this ruling. Withal, Roberts holds that

it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.

He writes on page 50: “The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.” Earlier above D, he writes:

The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.

This is one of the key logic principles:

Congress’s use of the Taxing Clause to encourage buying something is, by contrast, not new. Tax incentives already promote,for example, purchasing homes and professional educations.
See 26 U. S. C. §§163(h), 25A. Sustaining the mandate as a tax depends only on whether Congress has properly exercised its taxing power to encourage purchasing health insurance, not whether it can. Upholding the individual mandate under the Taxing Clause thus does not recognize any new federal power. It determines that Congress has used an existing one.

I can understand this in terms of renters vs homeowners. But I think this logic misses a finer point: that indeed, people who have health insurance are involved in transactions some of which contribute to those who don’t have it.

Weird Political Writing: More on the Bizarre

I caught this Fallows entry through the feeds (meaning RSS). Fallows is, I imagine, reporting on the Romney campaign. In this report he makes remarks about shit Romney does, which just seems odd as “reports from the road” genres go. We learn that Romney is taken by touch pads and talked to a doctor about changes of address, who may or may not have been exaggerating. I don’t see how this “information” makes sense.

A brief spat developed over this piece at The Daily Caller in my FB feed. It’s an example of the “irony thing” again from a Conservative organ, wherein there’s a bit missed about the definition of hypocrisy, context framing, and the ability to construct an argument not with evidence or appeals but rather with a humorless grin.

Since we can’t get a million infrastructure jobs up and running, we need something better to do, I guess.

Learning by Doing and Other Observations

When I took up the guitar a few years ago, I hardly knew what I was getting into. I’ve since gone through the tips of several pairs of shoes kicking myself for the decision. But I’ve learned a lot about learning over the course of my thousand or so hours of practice.

Because I don’t have the benefit of the typical lessons, I never know if I’m developing bad habits. This may or may not matter. One way of getting around this to to watch lots of YouTube videos. I type in the name of a song and find that the performance bears little resemblance to months and months of my learning the notes. Conclusion: learning the notes is not the same as playing the song.

The relationship between the left and right hand is partially the issue. I’m going after two modes: classical guitar and bluegrass/folk/Celtic. Conclusion 2: while folk uses a picking style, classical mode does not because of the range of polyphony possibilities on the instrument. They’re both totally cool forms, but one can’t play Sor with a pick. The modes here require different forms of math and complement the problem of notes and songs, or, perhaps better, music and copying. One can copy the notes to memory and not really play music. In classical mode, the right hand is playing simultaneous voices to a high degree of approximation. In folk, two guitars are required for this, but this has a lot to do with arrangement and, I would assume, the influence of the fiddle on scoring. I don’t know enough about this to be confident, though. But the violin is defined as monophonic, while the guitar is just as bizarre as a harp.

I struggle with the right hand, to find the proper structure of a song’s texture. These renderings of Stanley Myer’s Cavatina illustrate what I mean. The first is by Peo Kindgren. The second by Ana Vidovic. When I observe each these, I’m looking at the right hand, but not for too long as to become overwhelmed with grief at my own inadequacy. The skill here partially requires some sort of loosening up of the brain over many many years.

In any event, I’ve learned to be patient and to listen. I’ve also come to appreciate even more the significance of process in learning. For some skills, following patterns of developing–and thinking about those patterns–is critical to creative rule breaking. For example, I started to take strumming a little more seriously these past few weeks. Yesterday, I got into strumming for reel patterns and found that this is an interesting way of training the left hand to move faster, while at the same time being more precise about clipping the proper string with the right hand. The finger nails have to pluck the “noted” strings. Once this is done, the player can put some rhythm to work. Time to work on some rhythm.

Process learning. Traditions are important in this regard.

The Irony of So-Called-Gaffes

When Eric Fehrnstrom said in explaining the “reset button” theory of the campaign season–“Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”–he was put through the wood shredder as having uttered a “gaffe.” The latest comes from Obama

The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone.

The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government. Oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, Governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. (emphasis mine)

These are two instances where the tigers pounced and the ads come a pouring, the echo chambers shaking with reverb. But in a rational world both would simply be taken as points of debate.

In the first case, the speaker uses a perfectly fine metaphor. Reasonable people know that the “enemy” will become the “latest savior” once the winner is determined. “Oh, all those nasty things I said about Romney, they were just part of the game. You know how it goes. When I said he was a liar and a fraud, I meant he was just being colorful and creative with his toys.” In the second case, the speaker might have been asked to define what he meant by “private sector.” “Oh that, I meant all those people making money hand over fist, even as the middle class struggles and the unemployed or underemployed go about their business. You know, where a company can lose $3 billion and not even break a sweat. Or Industry lobbies can dump millions into a perfectly reasonable campaign to kill a bill. They’ll obviously doing fine enough for that sort of thing.”

I’m pretty sure the insurance lobby or J.P. M could’ve found other uses of those millions or billions. If their group members are defined as being part of the private sector, then we would have to conclude that they’re doing “pretty well” or, at least, “fine enough.”

Now would you just pass me my cards, please.

Soft Skills and Other Definitions: Problematic Logic at Demos

David Callahan at the Policy Shop writes about masters degrees in this post. He begins by posting numbers on graduates. He writes

Here’s a statistic that I found surprising and also troubling: Roughly 730,000 master’s degrees will be awarded this spring. And it’s estimated that another 2.2 million master’s degrees will be handed out over the next three years.

I’m assuming he means “this spring” as in “now.” It’s a good estimation to make, also, in that more will be coming. But then he writes this:

Investments in education are often positive, and it’s good to know, for instance, that over 40,000 young people will receive master’s degrees in engineering and technology this spring. This country badly needs a more skilled workforce.

I don’t know why the author uses the qualifier “more skilled.” Engineers may have other skills than poets, but they are certainly not “more skilled.” The logic is important. The poet may not be of much use to Space X but because Space X requires engineers does not mean that Space X engineers are “more skilled.” This goes to my critique of our current administrations “science and math” priority.

This muddying of language creates a false sense of a problem, much as Steve Jobs did in claiming that the U.S. doesn’t produce the kinds of workers to sustain tech.

It’s definitely a problem if a whole bunch of masters degrees are given in fields that don’t require them. For example, if a million people graduate from masters programs in teaching and there are only 100 teaching jobs, then this represents a problem, I would assume. In the United States, however, we need excellent teachers with lots of effective ability. But it’s also true that we don’t prioritize this need, in my opinion. I also suspect the rigor of these degrees.

So, the bottom line: is the issue for Callahan a question of rigor or a question of structure? He writes

This spring, over 185,000 people will received master’s degrees in education. Many of them will carry student loans that won’t be easily paid down given that the starting salary of public school teachers is under $40,000 in every state and, in many states, it’s under $30,000. Moreover, even as credentialization and debt burdens have gone up for teachers in recent decades, salaries have generally stagnated.

He makes an interesting point about over-credentialing but the evidence needs development.

Start with business. While MBA students certainly learn a lot of useful things, it’s also true that many of these same skills can and should be taught by employers.

How does he know this?

In our current economic state, and the state of college entrance numbers, we will certainly be seeing labor problems in the future. But remember, while the big banks were bailed out, the education institutions were not.

Modern worlds and interesting reading: The Swerve and De Rerum Natura

Thanks to Timmons, I’ve read and read Stephen Greenblatt’s book The Swerve. Greenblatt’s study tells the story and influence of Lucretius after his text is found by Poggio Bracciolini. One thing I learned in the text was surprising. I hadn’t realized Montaigne’s copy of De Rerum had been found, complete with notes.

Regardless of some odd conclusions by the author, especially those having to do with Lucretius’s influence and the implications about the “modern,” Greenblatt has sent me back to Lucretius, historical context or no.

A PS on the Lessig Post

Another interesting point to make about Lessig is that he and writers like him provide a framework for determining why the Pay Equity bill just went down in Congress. Answer: follow the money.

Forms of Corruption

I just finished Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic, Lost. The author places a nice frame on the disappointment of Obama’s approach and his credibility problems but focuses on the larger issue of dependency corruption in modern American government. There’s nothing new here, but the author is sharp in critically evaluating the available studies and research. We all have something to lose with our current problem. This is not a partisan issue.

His principle solution to this corruption is a general limitation to campaign finance: 100 bucks per “voter.” It’s a good solution. Most important, however, is how Lessig concentrates on Congress’s role and how big money and K Street messes all this up: it’s responsibility is to the citizenry not to funders. This is an important principle for reformers. I’m with it and have been for years.

I like it that Lessig tries hard not to be naive. As with all rhetorical theory, problems are simple to grasp. Solutions are painful.

More on Belief and the Language of Politics

This is really an epistemology post, but the question of birth keeps coming up, pushed not just by originators but by the people who love them. Mitt Romney is caught on film saying, in response to a question about the sayings of Donald Trump:

“You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me, and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney said. “But I need to get to 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”

We should break this language down, as a poet would. Number one, we could build an entire college course on this sort of hamming as an example of linguistic parsing. Romney here puts the question of relationship as a question of belief, which is a word I’ve come to dislike immensely. The question of Obama’s birth is not a question of belief but one of available records and standards of counting. For example, I just learned today that the number of Civil War dead was mostly undercounted. The question of how many people died is not subject to belief but to the technologies of arithmetic, even though we will never know the precise number. It’s based on available knowledge. And, of course, the technologies of knowledge change over time. Genesis would have been written much differently if the writers had had computer chips.

I have a running joke with history colleagues, people with Ph.Ds, about their own origins. (Note that the degree gives them little armament.) It turns out they themselves only know where they were born based on documents and on what their parents attest to, much like the President. I wrote a whole novel about this joke. I, for example, was born in El Paso, Texas at, well, at the moment, I can’t remember. And the hospital itself doesn’t even exist on any current map because they went out of business. But I do know I was born. It costs money to grab the certificate, which is required for things like travel. Good thing I’m not traveling.

Romney, a smart guy, knows the difference between belief in something and knowing that something is either valid or observably testable. To suggest that those who dispute the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth is simply a matter of belief is irrational and willfully cynical. It’s like a dispute between scholars about how many people died in the Civil War. One scholar says 100 people, another says 700,000. This is not a dispute of beliefs. Worse, if the former scholar says: “Well, I need the grant money, and those who will give it to me believe in a false arithmetic so I have to make shit up, so there.”

No. The eyes are glassy, quod Orwell (paraphrase).

On Cynicism, Politics, and the Bizarre

This is facing up to be one of the most cyclical and bizarre presidential campaigns in history. Well, maybe not. I didn’t live one hundred years ago, so I can’t say I was there. Follow:

One of the feeds I read in the morning go-round is ThinkProgress. The folks at ThinkProgress report on the other side’s sayings as if they’re serious. Romney says that Obama has been on a spending spree. Romney knows full well that this is a falsehood. Romney says Obama doesn’t know anything about how capital moves. Okay. ThinkProgress reports it as a political outrage for the left because this, apparently, sells. One the right, Red State goes on the offensive, illuminating the audience on economical fictions. They know the political winds, too.

The Romney website is packed with generalizations about most everything. It’s about as empty as an unwritten novel. The Chrome web browser gives this message if you drill on load

Click Don’t load in the alert to prevent possible security issues. As a result, parts of the page may not display. You might want to notify the website owner that their site isn’t properly secured.

Although not recommended, you can choose to override the alert for the page by clicking Load anyway. Chrome will refresh the page and load its content, including any insecure content. The URL in the address bar will show to indicate that the page is not fully secure.

The website’s info on Education (I know, I’ve studied years of this language) and the Economy (same) are an “inside” joke. Do you know what I mean by “inside joke”?

The birther issue is a classic case of our current problem. People are perfectly aware that this is a none issue, but they know it’ll work as a political wedge, just something to generate print space. Anybody selling the “Obama citizenship” issue knows exactly what they’re doing. That’s the sad part: that new media can be “wedged” or “forked” as intrinsic artifice.

Pretty simple stuff if you work in the world of political strategy: use Twitter to spread the word about what we know is BS and pretend we believe it. But if you work on the farm or in a salon, it’s worse than hair wringing.

I think people want as close as they can get to generosity and authenticity as they can get in their reps, whatever the party offiliation. But don’t look for it in politics. You’ll find it in poetry and fiction. Poets have nothing to lose.

My disclaimer is that I’m an Obama supporter. I’m one of his small supporters. But I’m a sad supporter, and I don’t agree with him all the time. But if he came to my house and said, “Hey, Steve, would you help with this?” I’d do it. If Romney came, I’d offer him a glass of water and a bit of advice. Go do what you’re good at: making money. Just because you made loads of money doesn’t mean you’re qualified. IMHO!

But then I remember: he knows this. It’s not about being qualified. If it were, the friends I have who’d love a job would have it.

I could certainly be more articulate about this. But, at the moment, reader, I’m just too POD.