Whither the economy?

I’m no economist, and that gives me an advantage when talking about our economy because I don’t know what I’m talking about and I can be snarly at economists, which is important right now because it seems safe to say that we are well into a crisis that only economists could have created. Adam Smith dealt with economics as a moral science. Indeed.

The layers of folly that are unraveling on Wall Street and in the American banking system run so deep, are rooted in such persistently foolish ideas, that I feel compelled simply to pontificate a little bit and hope I can get some good ideas out of it. I feel confident when I say things like “Greed is bad,” or, “Gambling beyond your means is dangerous,” or, “It isn’t safe to do dangerous things.” But when it comes to the details of economy, I don’t know any more than the next guy what will happen. That’s why I fall back on platitudes like, “Greed is bad,” or, well you get the picture.

I worry about people who know the world so well, who are so versed in economics, that they can eliminate the badness of greed or make dangerous things safe.

Let me add that I don’t consider myself a capitalist either because I’m not a materialist. I think I’m probably a distributivist (that is nothing like a communist, in case you are worried) if anything, but I don’t know enough about the fine points of the theory. What I am opposed to is vast bureaucracies who replace the wisdom of elders with their expertise – whether they are corporate or government is not the primary concern. Whether they can act lovingly and wisely is the decisive matter. I don’t believe that the world is better when people have more shirts to wear that don’t last very long.

That’s context.

This economic crisis is the result of pride: first, the pride of the economists and politicians who thought they could control an unspeakably complex system with their simplistic solutions; second, the pride of the bankers who thought they could survive reams of thoughtless loans that, maybe, assuaged their consciences; third, the pride of those of us who thought we deserved things we couldn’t afford and gambled our futures on it.

It is also the result of sloth: first, the sloth of the bankers who made careless loans; second, the sloth of those of us who couldn’t wait till we made the money we felt we deserved; third, the sloth of everybody who thought we could spend our way into prosperity.

Sloth and pride are enough to pave our way to hades. But I suppose I could go out on a limb and suggest that greed might have something to do with it.

Taking on debt unnecessarily is an evil thing to do. Maybe I say that with a tinge of resentment because I have had to take on debt; but even when I did it was the result of my own presumption that put me in the situation where I had to do it.

What gets me is this: we are so in love with, so trusting of centralization that we can’t resist it. I take that back. We don’t love centralization at all; we love its lies. For example, we actually believe that we are all better off buying crumby shirts from Wal-mart that cost less than shirts from a local vendor because, well, because they’re cheaper.

Could Wal-Mart possibly have shipped so many jobs overseas if they were not so centralized? Isn’t that why we oppose monopolies in America?

Could the banks possibly have caused so much financial damage if we had not experienced yet another merging frenzy? We feel better if our banks have vast sums of money in their vaults. Of course. But what makes us think a bank with those vast sums of money is more trustworthy than the local trust company?

Where’s the analysis of the point at which the benefits of the merging and centralizing of power are undone by the cost. I was tempted to say this is not an economics issue, but then I realized that in fact it is an economics issue, if the word has meaning. And it used to.

Economy comes from the Greek for household customs or household laws. It used to have to do with the best way to run a household. Now it means the statistical analysis of the movement of money and how I can get more for myself. Autonomous economics is a death wish. It no longer has any interest in the household, the health of which is often in conflict with the so-called health of the substitute economy created by economists so they could have something that fit into their calculators.

i quote Edmund Burke: “The age of chivalry is past; that of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators has come.”

I will be watching closely if I am able what happens to our economy over the next decade or so. I am not optimistic. The baby boomers have put little thought into reaping whirlwinds or raising children and both are alive and kicking. We thought if we could number our people, all would be in order. It was an evil spirit that led us to this blindness.

Thanks to our readers and a rhetorical analysis of the Obama/McCain debate

First of all, I have to say thank you to you who visit and read this blog. I often wish it contained earth-shattering insights instead of the ongoing wrestling of a lethal mind, but this month more of you visited this blog by 25% than ever before. Thank you! I hope it has offered you some insight, some information, maybe even some inspiration.

Also, a comment on the debate between McCain and Obama, preceded by a funny talk-show call in I heard last week (4:15 Wednesday). Somebody was ripping on McCain and came up with this priceless gem:

I don’t care if it’s Osama or Obama. We need change…

Make of that what you will.

But in more serious vein, consider the exchange between the two presidential aspirants over funding the troops. McCain pointed out that Obama voted against funding them, and Obama responded by pointing out a fine distinction that matters.

Obama said (I paraphrase): Senator McCain voted not to fund the troops if there was a time limit on the troop withdrawal while Obama voted not to fund the troops if there was not a time limit on the troop withdrawal. Personally, I don’t know military strategy or the particulars of the circumstances in Iraq well enough to know what they should do. But I do know, from classical rhetoric, how valuable a little thing called division can be in a debate.

It works like this: you note where you and your opponent agree and then identify the precise point of disagreement. To fail to do so is inevitably to argue about things you don’t even disagree about, something with which we are all all too familiar.

Of course, in a presidential debate, the goal is to simplify your opponent’s position so that you can position him for the watching public, and I give credit to John McCain for successfully doing so in this case. However, when you want to know reality, that isn’t the best way to get there. I commend Obama for coming close to a clarifying division in his reply.

Here’s what I think he should have done: he should have explicitly stated, “John, you and I both agree the troops should be funded. We both also agree that the funding of the troops should be provided under certain conditions. You believe they should be funded without a time line for withdrawal. I believe they should be funded only with a time line for withdrawal. So let’s discuss the real question here: should there be a time line for withdrawal?”

If you are teaching The Lost Tools of Writing, this comes in around lesson 6 or so under arrangement. You might want to use this debate as an example, but, of course, every debate provides an abundance of examples.

What I liked about this debate was the direct interaction of the debaters and Mr. Lehrer’s insistence that it take place. I believe the viewers actually learned something substantive about the potential supervisors of our decline into economic dismay over the next four years.

Sadly, mainly we learned that both of them have way too much confidence into impersonal bureaucracies to run our lives. I’m working on my campaign platform for 2012. I’ll be as experienced as Obama in an executive capacity!

One last thought: the upcoming generation will like Obama’s style a lot more. His eight acknowledgements of McCain’s ‘absolutely right” ness would be considered pansy by most people over 40, but people under 30 and especially under 25 are more like that. They place niceness as the ultimate value, remember, not truthfulness (often offensive) or strong leadership (often demanding). So it may or may not work for Obama this time, but I think he might represent a trend for the future.

Or maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.

not on the test

I’m guessing this one will get around or even maybe already has, but I have to go ahead and post it here. My first successful video blog!. Enjoy (and thanks to Steve Elliott for letting me know about it):

Reflections

We are not trained to think organically. Too often we don’t consider and maybe don’t know how to consider the extent to which the health of the organs determines the well-being of the organism.

The great enemies of the soul are lying and flattery, sloth and thoughtlessness – especially in academics.

Celebrity replaces honor when life becomes a performance, when appearance replaces reality, when perception is reality.

Temptations change; people don’t.

Hurricane Follow Up

I’ve been asked how my friends in Houston are doing, particularly the church where we held our last conference. You’ll all be pleased to know that, apart from a couple dozen trees being uprooted, there is no extensive damage to the property and none to the building at Our Savior Lutheran, one of the most beautiful churches in America.

Some concern was expressed about how the media covered the issue, complaining about the government response and all that, as though it were possible to turn back the hurricane and overcome every single person’s trials. We do need a substitute God, don’t we?

Who’s Lying Now?

I’ve never read Stuart Taylor before, so I can’t say anything about his positions or politics, or even credibility, but this article analyzes the political ads and the responses to them by the media. He affirms some concerns I raised earlier and goes into quite a bit of detail I couldn’t get to.

Reviewing or Designing a Curriculum

Reflecting on the previous post, I thought that one great difference between Christian classical education and conventional metrics is that the former is personal and the latter is abstract. The root concept of Christian classical education is that there are wise men and women to whom we should listen and whom we should imitate. In so doing, we can become wise like them.

This involves relationships and all the nuances implied in love. Standardized testing, for example, lacks nuance.

So then I got thinking about curriculum. How are we to design them and review them in a manner that honors the nature of the Christian classical approach. This is where things become challenging – not so much because it makes it harder (it doesn’t necessarily) but because it calls for a level of honesty we might not want to reach.

The thing is, Christian classical education is theological and metaphysical. Conventional education is not allowed to be theological, and I don’t just mean legally. And most conventional testers or administrators or teachers get a little annoyed when you bring in metaphysics. They pretty well echo Dewey’s attitude that education is practical, not metaphysical.

But Christian classical education is shamelessly metaphsysical. It goes beyond physics. It believes there is a realm that is not understood by the tools of the natural sciences. It believes that the mind can perceive things that the senses cannot.

It follows that if you want to design a Christian classical curriculum, or even just a classical curriculum, you are going to have to implement metaphysics into it.

If you are a parent or teacher, you will want to fulfill your duty and review the materials your school is using. So how do you do so? You need to look at it from each of the following perspectives:

Theological
Philosophical/Metaphysical
Epistemological
Ethical
Aesthetic
And after all that you might as well look at the content too.

Are you still here? If so, you are probably ready to stab me. “How am I supposed to review a curriculum on all those levels?” You are asking, and not calmly.

Well, how have you reviewed curricula up to this point? I would ask. No doubt it included some elements, at least, from those categories. And beyond that, you have probably turned to experts, like Laura Berquist, Susan Wise-Baur, and Veritas Press.

That’s what you should continue to do. Only now you can do it a little more aware of what you are doing. The mistake would be to not bear your responsibility for your students or children. You do need to reflect on the nature of what you are doing or asking a school to do.

What do you mean by education? What do you want from it? What worldview do you want your children to be nurtured in? What kind of environment do you want them to be educated in? How do you believe children learn? What is knowable, and what is not? How should knowledge be assessed? What is knowledge?

Rest assured, if you are a Christian and or a lover of classical education, the chasm between your answers to those questions and those of the conventional educator is, in some places, vast.

A Perspective on Accountability

During the Christian classical era in American schooling, say from 1640-1810, the curriculum of an American school was rather straightforward. You learned literacy and numeracy, largely at home and primarily with the Bible and maybe Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or some other important text.

Then when you got older you read a few great books and you learned Latin and Greek so you could do so. You didn’t study a lot of subjects because they were less concerned with a general education than with a disciplined mind. The belief seems to have been widespread that a well-trained mind would learn what it needed to learn on the practical side when it needed to learn it.

Things have changed, perhaps nowhere more than in the area of accountability. How could schools thrive in an era like that? And thrive they did. According to Ted Kennedy’s staff, literacy in Massachusettes before the 1840’s was upwards of 98%. How was this possible?

A number of unreproducible factors were involved, but one of them was community accountability. In other words, the children were being educated to become leaders and members of the community that was educating them. That gives an awfully concrete mind set to the adults in a community. If these kids don’t learn, the whole commuity will suffer for it.

Over the 200 years since that era, community has dissolved. So who is a school accountable to now? According to the law of nature and nature’s God, the school is accountable to the parents of the children in the school. But a whole stream of forces have eroded both the parents’ confidence and their willingness to be involved in their children’s education.

Consequently, schools now report to accrediting agencies, government agencies, and churches. Of these, the last has the highest potential for something like a community perspective, but churches are also governed by scientific management and marketing strategies, and even where this is not so it is rare for a church to be part of a community with a common worldview.

So we are left, necessarily, with a rather abstract reporting structure. Statistics and bell curves dominate accountability, rather than the personal involvement of the community elders.

As I say, this is necessary. We have chosen to be this kind of society in each of our elections and whenever we bought things because they were the cheapest available without consideration of who made them, under what circumstances, and with what end in mind.

It is wrong and harmful for any organization or individual to resist accountability, and therefore students, teachers, administrators, heads of school, and every other unit in a school needs to be accountable. It is best when the accountability aligns with the nature and purpose of the school.

Therefore, the practical problem is to determine how to maintain the purpose and nature of the school while submiting to forms of accountability that don’t necessarily align with that purpose and nature.

All of this assumes that there are two different natures at work and that the differences matter. That is the matter for a later entry, but let me start that reflection with a couple or few questions:

What is the nature of a Christian and or classical school?
How is it different from other schools?
What form of assessment arises from that nature?
How are conventional forms of assessment different?
How are they in conflict (if indeed they are)?
What should we do to protect the school while submitting to the assessors?

McCain’s lies, revisited

In today’s news, TheHill.com brings out the old Lilian Helmann, statistics, bromide, applying it to that dishonorable, disgusting John McCain. Here, according to Mark Mellman, is the case against John McCain:

Yet John McCain himself stands behind the lies and the dishonor. There is not a kernel of truth in the statement that Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig. There is not an iota of reality in McCain’s attack on Obama’s supporting comprehensive sex education for kindergartners. As we all know, he voted to help children avoid sexual predators.

On the sexual predator question, I would refer you to the article below that shows conclusively that either Obama’s intentions and his vote were not on friendly terms with each other or that Obama is dishonest. I don’t believe the second, so I go with the former.

However, the other horrific lie John McCain appears to have told is that “Obama called Palin a pig.” Before I can reply to that charge, I’d need to see where McCain claimed Obama called Palin a pig. i did find this on the Associated Press website.  

Did he call her a pig?” McCain was asked. “No, I but know that he chooses his words carefully, and it was the wrong thing to say,” he responded.

As I recall, the charge was nuanced, not arguing that he called her a pig, but that his words were, in the context in which they were spoken, easily taken that way. In other words, Obama didn’t directly call her a pig, but he knew that his audience would take it that way, as they did, or else he didn’t know and should have.

I have a hard time remembering what exactly the ad said because I can’t find it on line for some reason. And that matters, because all I’m commenting on here is whether John McCain actually lied about what Obama said. I would argue that, given the context, one could defend the statement that Obama was calling Palin a pig. It was indirect, if he was, but I think one could defend the statement.

I don’t believe McCain should have accused Obama of doing so, if he did. I do think McCain has a case to make that Obama knew what he was doing and either did or should have known how his words would be taken IN THE CONTEXT they were delivered.

So it is wrong to say McCain lied. I’m not sure how much more is wrong. Maybe McCain’s ultimate goal was to show that Obama isn’t such a great communicator after all. If that was his goal and if he put questions in people’s mind, then he was successful. I’m not sure the success was worth it for him though.

Obama has great communication skills, especially on the inspirational, formal side. Then that is where he will also be most vulnerable to pride and therefore break down. Obama should have been aware of how these words would be taken. Maybe he still should have said them. Maybe it was a truly great line.

But he can’t accuse McCain of lying by making McCain say something he never said.

That nuance shouldn’t give the democrats and the media any problem, because everybody knows they are much more refined and nuanced than the red neck Republicans.

I emphasize “everbody knows” because that is what Mr. Mellman emphasizes in his, er, article. Give it a read. Look for the support for his points and see if he does better than your junior high student.

By the way, Mellman, who writes for the HIll, “is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.”

I must hastily add that I do these blogs for educational purposes (practicing the application of reason to the argument), not for political reasons. I am amused by the media’s strategy for dealing with McCain/Palin and find it deeply disappointing at the same time. When I consider how silly and one sided the coverage has been, I shake my head and wish for more educated news folk.

Now that nobody knows how to think, those who speak don’t have anybody whose presence shames them when they open their mouths. This is a greater loss than we think.

My point on the issue is that if they’re going to go after McCain for his character, they’ll have to pull their teeth out of the carcass they’re gnawing on (the lipstick and sex ed accusations) and recognize it’s an empty skin. They’re leaving the impression of political amateurity, which makes sense, since there are now so many news people that the skill level would have to drop without an extensive minor league system to prepare them.

When you boil down what the media have come up with, it seems as if what this election boils down to is whether John McCain lied about things he didn’t clearly lie about even though everybody knows he did and whether Barack Obama or Sarah Palin is more experienced. Go figure.

The McCain Sex Ed Ad: Who’s lying?

The politial season being fully upon us, I have this fantasy that every day I’ll be able to review a political ad for its content and determine the truth behind it. Of course, that won’t happen because I have other serious responsibilities.

Wait a minute; what did I just say? Our most fervent civic obligation, we are reminded repeatedly and redundantly, is to vote. I am an American and proud of that fact. So it is my duty to vote. But how can I vote if I don’t know the truth behind the ads? But how can I possibly know the truth behind all the ads?

I hate to come across as cynical, but once again this shows the fallacy of the way we do democracy here in America. Democracy as the fathers of our country conceived of it meant that everybody was involved in self-governance, not that they all voted for the president. They would participate in their local elections, involve themselves in the daily operations of their towns, and argue fervently over the little issues that make local life interesting.

Then some of them would be forced to go to the higher levels of politics, where they would represent their local areas.

Slavery, industrialism, and urbanization put an end to all that. “All that”, of course, being freedom.

So rather than try to review all the ads, I’ll pick one when I can and find an article that seems to take a thorough look at the ad itself. Today’s choice is the famous John McCain ad that accuses Obama of voting for a bill that calls for comprehensive sex ed for kindergartners.

The Obama reply has been pretty aggressive and uniform. In fact, when John McCain was on The View, he was told to his face by Whoopi Goldberg that this ad was a lie. Not incorrect, mind you, a deliberate lie. Thus the media and the Obama campaign have decided to go after McCain on what he has been most noted for in his political career, which is his integrity.

So this is rather a big deal. Either McCain is lying and has smeared Obama or Obama and his allies are smearing McCain.

My conclusion is that the wording in the bill for which Obama voted is pretty clear.

Each class or course in comprehensive sex education in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV.

Please note the words “comprehensive sex education” and “in any of grades K through 12.”

I believe that Obama was intending his personal vote to do what he said, to provide instruction to very young children on how to avoid sexual predators. But that isn’t all that he voted for, regardless of his intentions.

What he voted for was a revision to an earlier law, a revision that removed sections on marriage and abstinece, largely, it seems, because of the influence and information of Planned Parenthood, that mother organization of racist eugenics. The revision that he voted for was a call for comprehensive sex education for kindergartners under the leadership or at least strong influence of Planned Parenthood.

Here is how Byron York at National Review summarized his article, which, uniquely among the articles/attacks on McCain’s character, actually read, copied, and discussed the bill itself:

Obamas explanation for his vote has been accepted by nearly all commentators. And perhaps that is indeed why he voted for Senate Bill 99, although we dont know for sure. But we do know that the bill itself was much more than that. The fact is, the bills intention was to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten.  Obamas defenders may howl, but the bill is what it is.

Read the article here to take a closer look at the issue.