Wednesday, February 29, 2012

economic freedom and prosperity...

From Economic Freedom...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hochschild's "To End All Wars" on World War I

A really important and under-emphasized war...

I knew too little about it, something remedied to some extent by Adam Hochschild's excellent book, To End All Wars.

Changes in warfare (by creation, extension, or reduction):
-the use of barbed wire, poison gas, and flame-throwers
-trench warfare (not new but extended in length and duration; defense was more probable, given the difficulty of offense and the use of machine guns for defense)
-the importance of cavalry (this is a recurring theme in the book-- that the Brits and French kept expecting that the cavalry would eventually play a pivotal role, as it had in the past)
-the use of (highly effective) machine guns (the Brits had used them in their African "wars" to great effect)
-the use of colorful uniforms
-the origin of tanks (although highly ineffective until the end of the war)

Cause and effect:
-led to World War II
-dramatically reduced the power of the British Empire
-triggered the Russian Revolution and a bloody civil war (this concerned the European governments which feared the same sort of uprising, especially given the pain of the War)
-sped up the women's suffrage movement
-led to the Great Influenza of 1918 where about 50 million died, starting at an army base in Kansas and brought to Europe by American soldiers (If you include the Flu deaths, WWI was more deadly-- in absolute numbers and especially in terms of percentages than WWII.)

Some amazing stats: 
-700 million rounds of artillery and mortar
-the front-line trenches ran for 475 miles
-German U-boats sank more than 5,000 merchant ships
-8.5 million men killed; 21 million wounded
-35% of German men between 19-22 years old were killed
-50% of all French men between 20-32 were killed
-Britain lost 722K men; France lost 1.4 million; Russia lost 1.5 million; Germany lost more than 2 million
-civilian war deaths are estimated at about 20 million, including the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and the Russian Revolution
-the Brits lost 57,000 men on July 1, 1916 during "the Somme offensive" (almost half of the troops there) and another 30,000 on a single day in September
-the French lost 300K troops in a one-month period
-in a six-month period, the Russians lost 1.4 million men
-20,000 men refused the draft in Britain (the peace movement is a key part of the book)

Some other interesting factoids: 
-Until 1871, British officers had to purchase their commissions.
-Compared to soldiers, a significantly higher proportion of officers were killed.
-Coming into WWI, the leaders of Britain, Germany and Russia were kin.
-German leaders estimated that they would defeat Belgium and France in 42 days. (From there, they planned to turn on the "real enemy": Russia.) But the Belgians blew up bridges and roads, slowing down the Germans, giving the French more time to prepare, and giving the Brits more time to jump in. 
-The Germans got within 23 miles of Paris in Sept 1914, but couldn't close the gap further.
-The Germans sent only 500K troops to face Russia at the beginning of the war. Vastly outnumbered, they were still largely successful because the Russian army was so inept.
-The "Christmas Truce" (a one-day event that was replicated often afterwards): both sides left their trenches and engaged in not simply a lack of conflict, but pleasant interactions. This is a terrific "game theory" example.
-During the War, the Brits traded rubber to the Germans for precision optics through Switzerland.

Hochschild provides context to explain how the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife set off the War. The Austro-Hungarians were "looking for any possible excuse to invade, dismantle and partition Serbia." Other contributing factors: the strength of rival alliances made the threat of war more prominent; the long time required for mobilization made steady preparation more important; and the advantage of attacking first (and the perception of the problems stemming from being attacked first). At least to an economist, it's interesting that game theory and imperfect information play such a key role here.

And finally, although it's difficult to summarize succinctly, Hochschild spends much ink on the Peace Movement, the War Propaganda, and key players-- the most famous of which were Rudyard Kipling (pro-war) and Bertrand Russell (anti-war).

HP Religious Discussion forum

The Honors Program has a "Religious Discussion Forum" on Thursday, March 15-- and they want questions for their panel connecting the forum to this year's "Common Experience" theme of social justice. The deadline is this Thursday.

Here's what they have so far. Do you have anything to add?

2012 Religious Discussion Forum: Potential Questions

I would certainly be interested in the question of how various faiths and faith communities perceive their roles in responding to issues of social justice. For instance, if we believe that the poor will always be with us, how does one also gather up the impetus to work on BEHALF of the poor?

What does justice even mean to each of these religions? I am sure they have slightly different, nuanced definitions.

What specific action verbs does their religious text use when addressing social need? What "commands" or "exhortations" or what have you play a central role in their faith's specific idea of social justice?

What is the ultimate goal of social justice for people of their faith? What is the vision that drives them?

F. Nietzsche writes in "Thus Spake Zarathustra" that charity is an ugly thing because it makes the object of charity less than human, reducing them merely to an object of someone else's charity. What is your religion's answer to that criticism?

Is there any room in your religious principles for government, secular NGOs and religious institutions to work together toward social justice? Or do you think that social justice should mainly be handled by the church/mosque/temple?

Should providing social justice also include sharing your religious worldview with those you are helping? For example, when feeding the poor do you believe it is imperative to also make sure they understand your personal religious beliefs?

What message of hope does your worldview have to offer those who are frustrated by the overwhelming amount of injustice and need in the world?

Many religious traditions support or promote the equality of human rights.  Given the various types of human rights (right to life, right to family, and so forth), are there precepts in your religious texts and teachings that support a hierarchy of support? For instance, are financial donations to charities viewed differently than directly feeding the poor?  In short, how does your religion prioritize human needs?

Monday, February 20, 2012

my notes for The Story, Chapter 2 (excerpts from Genesis 12-35)

à review:
-Gen 1-2's creation with purity/purpose; Gen 3's sin/death
-Gen 4-6’s Cain, Lamech, Nephilim leads to Gen 6-9's judgment/Flood and deliverance
-Gen 8-11's import of building on the proper foundation
à God’s next plan…
-from a new world (original and the sequel) to a new man and a new nation
-from the dispersion of all peoples (at Babel) to the election of one—as God moves to Abraham and eventually, a people who would be a light to all nations
-from thousands of years with God's focus on the human race vs. four generations of one family
-from uninstructed to instructed; Kass (252): “By the time the careful reader has finished the first 11 chapters of Genesis, he is well-nigh convinced that mankind, left to its own devices, is doomed to failure, destruction, and misery…God decides to take a more direct role in the matter, beginning with Abraham.”

à The Story’s Chapter 2 as “God builds a nation”; perhaps better titled “God chooses a man”: Abraham, Isaac (vs. Ishmael), and then Jacob (vs. Esau)—who then becomes 12 sons, and from there, a nation…

à first, who is Abraham?
-aside from the genealogy, seems to come out of nowhere; Sacks (81): “Nothing has prepared us for this [him]…We have not had a description of Abraham as we had in the case of [righteous] Noah…Nor have we been given a series of glimpses into his childhood, as we will in the case of Moses. It is as if Abraham’s call is a sudden break with all that went before.”
-most important, underlines the power/importance of God’s call/election
-Borgman (38) on Abram vs. Noah: “Noah is the prologue’s odd man out—as unnatural in his goodness as the others are normal in their destructiveness. We’ll never know about Noah, about how he came to be so good. God simply finds him that way…But in Abraham, God finds an ordinary man who needs to be taught a better than normal way of going about business.”

-a watershed moment in Biblical and world history; Sacks (73)—given Abraham’s obedience and what follows: “These words are among the most consequential in the history of mankind.”
à God’s two-part speech: 1’s command, 2-3’s 7-fold promise
-1a's “leave” x 3 (from/past)
-specifies “country” (land; nationalism; emigration), “people” (lit. “birthplace”; culture), “father’s household” (non-immediate family and its influences, dependence, trust)
-see also: friends, business contacts; Abram as middle-aged, prosperous, settled and pagan (esp. difficult in the quiet and tough times)
à in a word, all that’s familiar; end most worldly attachments
à why move at all? vs. form a new nation right there in Babylon? to be a “new man”
-clean start
-set apart; holiness—feel special and different behaviors (removing bad/old influences)
-step of faith for Abram; new situations usually yield independence from X, dependence on God
à in sum, leave and go (as repentance, as old/new man; leave/cleave); exchange familiar for unfamiliar, security for insecurity, comfortable for uncomfortable
-w/ app. to our pursuing great/small calls—and God’s mercy in encouraging us through difficult trials of this sort (I Cor 10:13)
-at times, God wants larger steps to set up smaller steps (as Gideon and Abraham here); other times, small steps lead to bigger steps later (as Abraham later)
à 4a’s just one remarkably understated sentence, but Abraham as the epitome of faith/obedience and its development (Rom 4, Heb 11, Gal 3:6-9; peaks with Gen 22)
-and all this for Sarai, given indirect call through Abram? dependent on trust in his character [see: 12:10-20?!]
-2-3’s 7-fold promise (in a 3-1-3 pattern) centers on: 2b's "you will be a blessing" (Is 42:6, 49:6; Mt 5's salt/light)
-not blessed just for fun or for yourself—but to bless others (w/ application)
-bless all nations vs. Babel’s pursuit of isolation and God’s punishment of confusion
-4a’s Abram's obedience (Heb 11:8)
-for such a pivotal moment—for Abram and for world history—so understated!
à on motives, Kass (256c-258): “Does [Abram] go because he is a god-hungry man who is moved by the awe-inspiring, commanding voice? Or does he go because he is a greatly ambitious man who is enticed by the promises?...One cannot be sure.”
-Kass: the text is “absolutely and happily silent” regarding his motives
à the larger issue: he answers and obeys
-also points forward to the ultimate test—the binding of Isaac—where motives are clearly revealed as Abraham chooses between the Giver and the chief gift
-Kass notes the pedagogical use: What might lead Abram (or us) to make this sort of choice? (few if any would choose full submission on the front end, without promises!)

à God appears after Lot’s land “grab”
-seed and now (best) land promises have just been threatened
-Abram's show of grace and humility
-things had calmed down (disunity gone)
-he had lost his kinsman/“son” (what’s the post-Lot plan for descendants?)
-15-16 for God's promise reiterated and extended/developed—“offspring” and land
-16’s dust points back to man’s origins (and God’s intent; 2:7) and inverts symbol of man’s mortality (3:19)
-14's look—lift up your eyes—as God commanded—vs. Lot looks/sees on his own (13:10)
-W&Z's "Hardly any other chapter in the Bible describes faith (that) so marvelously...functioned in a conflict. Lot, walking by sight, chose on the basis of what appealed to him. His choice was self-seeking and self-gratifying. But such a choice became dangerous and short-lived, for all was not as it appeared to be on the surface. Abram, on the other hand, walking by faith, generously let Lot choose first. Abram was unselfish, trusting God. He had learned that it was not by his own plan that he would come into the possession or by jealously guarding what was his. He acted righteously and generously. One who believes that God is pledged to provide for him is not greedy, anxious, or covetous."

15:1’s God's Covenant with Abram
à 1b's promise to be his “shield” and his “very great reward”
-to defend and bless; protect and prosper; security/safety and sustenance
-"very great reward": at least spiritual and perhaps physical—vs. Abram's considerable physical wealth already in hand
-"shield" (Eph 6:16)—as he’d been for Lot—but based on an apparent fear (Ps 31:7)
-odd timing given recent success (parallels downtime post-high in I Kings 19)
-could be children (given what follows), but almost certainly connects to LR complications from ch. 14’s battle and his “involvement” with Sodom & Co.
-Babylon is still a threat and Sodom & Co. are indebted for now but also stronger because Abram intervened on their behalf

16:1-7’s Hagar/Sarah/Abram
-3’s “wife” * 2—a cultural tradition to extend one's line through concubines
-did either or both want to experiment on why they weren’t having kids?
-2b’s "perhaps": blaming Abram's plumbing?
-2a's Sarah connecting her barrenness to God: should have helped her in the trial (11:30) or blaming God? if so, should have gone to God (and Abram)
à the key here: they knew God's (general) promise, but not His method or his timing
-10 years to this point (12:4, 16:3); probably expected sooner rather than later
-promised a son, but not specifically through Sarah (15:4)
-why not ask God? or he did and He didn’t reply (12:8-9)?
-God neither approves, nor condones, nor interferes here
à temptation to rely on own methods to reach God's goals
-see also: God’s use of a cultural practice in ch. 15 and 17!
-in practice, the difficulty in defining "our participation"...
à temptation arises from an aggressive wife in the face of passivity from the husband
-no record of Abram wanting another wife (as was customary) or seeking another agenda until Sarai's offer
-Abram as strong at work (Gen 13), at war (Gen 14), and at church (Gen 15), but not at home (Gen 16); see also: David, righteous kings
-5a's blame-shifting revisited (Gen 3:12-13)—in Bible’s first husband/wife dialogue!
-6a's response
-no retort to her outrageous charge?!
-as with Pilate, washing his hands; the silence of Abraham
à 7ff’s God appears to a foreigner, a woman, and a slave (Gal 3:28; Jewish man’s prayer; God’s interest in—and protection of—the vulnerable), before he appears to Sarah!
-vs. God as only interested in his “chosen” person/nation; Sarna: “The God of Abraham is also the God of the Egyptian Hagar.”

Genesis 17:  The Centrality of Circumcision

à God’s appearance here, 13 years after Ch. 16's lack of faith (16:16, 17:1)
-13 years w/ Ishmael (vs. true son of promise) and since a (recorded) word from God
-16’s “son by her”; 17’s laughter—finally revealed explicitly; 4th promise of a child, following their three failed attempts (Lot, Eliezer, Hagar/Ishmael)
-finally makes clear that Abraham will not be the father of many peoples unless Sarah is the mother of those peoples; emphasizing their marriage and her dignity
-Ishmael Exits Stage Right in ch. 21 after Isaac arrives—the God-given son thru God's agenda/methods in God-given timing (Heb 11:11-12, II Pet 1:4, Eph 3:20, Josh 23:14)
à why now?
-probably responding to Abram’s (unstated) reaction to Ishmael turning 13—looking for some initiation of Ishmael into manhood, likely thru some local/cultural rite of passage
à to inform its style/substance and to transform/redeem its meaning

à why circumcision??
-required shedding of blood
-health reasons, esp. back in the day
-connected to sexuality (restricted/controlled) and intimacy with God (adultery/idolatry)
-here, clearly a sign of obedience and belonging to God's people—putting on the team uniform (as with baptism)
-Motyer (19): “he was literally, a ‘marked man’, the man to whom the Lord had made his covenanted promises and who carried the sign and proof of it on his own body.”
-as a symbol of "circumcision of the heart" (Dt 10:16, 30:6's prophecy, Jer 4:3-4a, 9:25-26; Rom 2:25-29a, 4:11-12)
-vs. pagan use of the same rite at the time of puberty (as here, only for Ishmael and his peers—and that, incidentally) as a male rite of passage into society
-vs. Kass (313): For Israel, it had “a new and nearly opposite meaning: An initiation rite of passage of young males into adult masculinity is transformed into a paternal duty regarding the male newborn. Israel’s covenant with God begins by transforming the meaning of male sexuality and manliness altogether…It celebrates not sexual potency but procreation and (especially) perpetuation.”
-and more broadly, to the role of parents, esp. fathers—Kass (313): “Though it is the child who bears the mark, the obligation falls rather on the parents; it is a perfect symbol of the relation between the generations, for the deeds of the parents are always inscribed…into the lives of their children. The obligation of circumcision calls fathers to the paternal task (from the beginning)…”
-reminded them that bearing the child was easier than the more important task of raising the child well (starting with circumcision)
-ratifies their own circumcision; underlines generations and importance of transmission
-both individual and communal; both temporal and historical (all the way back to Abraham—who was called and who sought to walk before God wholeheartedly!)

Genesis 22:1-19-- The Binding (Akedah) and Almost-Sacrifice of Isaac
-the climactic event of Abraham’s life
à to love/follow God more than his past (ch. 12)—and now, his son (ch. 22)
-ch. 12’s break with the past vs. ch. 22’s prospective/actual break with the future
à both are amazing!
-1b's "tested"
-to illustrate A’s character/faith; not “tempted”—goal as showing good behavior vs. world/devil’s trying to get bad behavior out of us (Jas 1:13-14, Job-like)
-in any case, both as choices/opportunities to glorify God
à for Abraham, the test can't be too easy—or it won’t show or esp. grow his faith
-underlines strength of Abraham’s faith—that he can handle this (I Cor 10:13)!
à the only given cause for the event at this point (see also: 12b’s ending), but enough for us to conclude that it is not that God is capricious, angry, etc.
-Cahill (86): “The narrator, knowing that poor human readers could never bear the suspense, tells us that this will be a ‘test’.”
à we’re told (to ease our unease!), but Abraham is not!
-bringing in the reader also implies our continued effort to live vicariously through Abraham: what would I do if God asked me to do this (or something very large)?
-1c’s God calls Abraham
-from out of the blue (vs. connected to another episode)
-the only time God calls him by name!
-“Father of Multitudes” (ironic given what follows!)
-1d's response from Abraham: "here I am" (as 22:11b!)
-the response of a servant (see: Is 6:8, Ex 3:4, I Sam 3:4,6,8); the simple, succinct, submissive reply of one who is ready, able, willing and available for service
-2's “take…sacrifice”—asked to give Isaac back to God
-a big point for wiggle room: the Hebrew word “na” is left out of the NIV and most translations—and means “please”, as if flavoring the command with a request!
-see: free will and degrees of command
à from pure command to strong request, especially within the context of God’s relationship with Abraham (more later)
-2b’s Moriah = Jerusalem (II Chron 3:1) after 4’s three-day journey: where Christ was sacrificed and the length of time until His resurrection
-3’s “burnt offering”
-instructive of the type/extent of dedication God wants/requires for Holiness
-kill and burn…an even more difficult task—and more difficult to rationalize how God will fix this!
à what’s missing?
-no reassurance from God, given his fears (as 15:1’s shield post-battle)
-no explanation from God, given his questions
-no promise of reward from God, as every other time in the past
-from Abraham, no argument (vs. questioning God as w/ Sodom and its "righteous" in Gen 18) or rationalization (given God’s promises thru Isaac [21:12]); God’s name/reputation (as Moses later); God’s character (Gen 18’s “right and just”); Isaac’s humanity (Gen 9:5-6)
à that said, Abraham must be perplexed at how
à Borgman: “maybe Abraham has come so fully on board with God as to be able to put God to the test, just as God is putting Abraham to the test. God will come through: this might be Abraham’s confidence—just as God might be thinking [knowing!], Abraham will come through.”
-8a's general answer: “God himself will provide” (13's ram)
-although no reassurance from God—other than His character and their relationship!
-Abraham probably imagines that the lamb has already been provided and is walking next to him—but to have said "you" (Isaac) would have been presumptuous!
à reason + faith = conclusions
-ironically, we’re called to both greater reason and faith
-Kass (343): “In response [to Isaac’s question], Abraham gives authoritative, fatherly, and pious reassurance. Indeed, as an answer to a perplexed and anxious son, Abraham’s speech, spoken out of parental solicitude, is simply perfect. Abraham uses Isaac’s trust in his father to encourage his son’s trust in God’s providence. Yes, I am your father; but as your father, I inform you that it is God who will provide what is needed…Isaac hears from the man he most trusts that God Himself will see to it that the missing lamb will be provided…Isaac, whose thoughts began with things visible (fire and wood) and who then wondered about visible absence (lamb), is moved straightaway to reorient his mind and heart and to put his trust in the invisible but seeing-and-providing God.”
à Sarna’s lessons:
1.)   “Biblical faith is not a posture of passivity.”—as with God, our character and faith manifest themselves in our actions (Dt 32:4, Ps 33:4, Heb 11:1,6)
2.)   Pointing to 12’s conclusion—“for now I know that you fear God”: “The value of an act may lie as much in the inward intention of the do-er as in the final execution.”

25:27-34’s Jacob/Esau I (summarized)

27:1-28:5’s Jacob vs. Esau II (summarized)

Genesis 32: Jacob Prepares for Esau and Wrestles with God
-9a’s “Then Jacob prayed…”
-first recorded from Jacob (had vowed to God in 28:20-22) and first recorded words of prayer in the Bible (20:17, 25:21)
à no response from God to Jacob’s prayer; Kass (453): “Never one to rely on God alone, perhaps believing that God helps him who helps himself, Jacob next tries to purchase Esau’s goodwill with gifts. Flattery alone has failed; perhaps propitiation—not to say—bribery will work.”
à schemes vs. appropriate planning (two views)
-W&Z's "Jacob had to learn later that God would have delivered him without such gifts. So too the nation would need to learn that deliverance comes by faith in God, and not by giving tribute to the enemy." 
-vs. MH's "Jacob having piously made God his friend by a prayer, is here prudently endeavoring to make Esau his friend by a present...When we have prayed to God for any mercy, we must second our prayers with our endeavors; else instead of trusting God, we tempt him; we must so depend upon God's providence as to make use of our own prudence."
-27’s not yet ready to bless; asks Jacob’s name; Jacob answers: an implicit (and important) confession, given what his name means (and how it has aligned with his character)
à apparently, Jacob had to admit his name ("cheater") before he can be blessed

Genesis 35: Three Deaths, Two Conversations with God, and a Birth
-19's death of favorite wife giving birth to his last son (note 30:1's cry for children, 31:32's idol-stealing vow from Jacob)
-22's ouch: arrogant and premature claim on his inheritance as firstborn
-to Jacob, prob. not so much the act itself, but what it signified
-for Reuben, embraces a pagan custom/practice and too soon
--> tactful text; nothing mentioned explicitly until 49:3-4, but Reuben ultimately lost legal status of firstborn’s birthright (see: ch. 34’s loss for Simeon and Levi, setting up 4th son of Leah, Judah)

my notes for The Story, Chapter 1 (excerpts from Genesis 1-8)

1:1 (p. 1)’s “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”; God is…

-purposeful in creating order with freedom out of chaos (vs. capricious)

-gracious and lavish in His blessings (benevolent vs. deism or malevolent)

-creative (enjoys Creation), intricate (vs. deistic), extravagant (vs. mere function)

-distinct from his Creation (vs. New Age, pantheism) and Lord over it (vs. polytheism)

-eternal, powerful, and sovereign over nature and man

--> if you believe Genesis 1:1, the rest is a lot easier...

evolution vs. Evolution—and the “three gaps”

-surface intuition of natural selection and considerable evidence of "micro-evolution" (defined as "adaptation within the boundaries of a species")

-macro-evolution as extrapolation, science-flavored story/narrative vs. Scientific explanation (ask a proponent to ‘explain’ how organism X turned into organism Y)
--> Evolutionary gap problems: from nothing to matter, to life, to human life
-Genesis 1:1,21,27’s three uses of "create" ("bara") to fill those gaps

--> BOTTOM LINE: God may have used evolution as part of the creation story, but conflicts if it assumes away the Creator OR assumes that man evolved from something

1:2 (p. 1)’s “formless and empty, darkness…the Spirit of God was hovering…”

-w/ app. to our lives

1:26-28 (p. 2-3)s made in the image of God, to “be fruitful and multiply”, to “rule over” the Earth: we are made in God’s image implies we are built/made/created to...

1.) convert chaos into order (with freedom) and to act with purpose (1:2)

2.) to be creative and to create things of use and beauty within our ‘work’

3.) value and enjoy creation as ‘good’

4.) be people whose word is good—that when it is said, it is as good as done

5.) respect the equality of all people and their individual differences

6.) exercise proper dominion/stewardship over nature and our resources

7.) bless God and others—as we have been ‘blessed’ by God

8.) work to empower others—as we have been empowered by God

9.) pursue teamwork and community as we do our work (1:26's ‘our’/Trinity)

10.) view ourselves as God’s royal ambassadors in the world (II Cor 5:17-20)

--> history and our story (done well) as an extension of God’s creation (Jn 5:17, Heb 1:3)
--> see: the life and ministry of Jesus in all of the above


2:7 (p. 3)’s dust and breath

-dust as something formless (Gen 1:2), dry (w/ app. to spiritual matters and the springs of living waters), and so “common”

-Matthew Henry's "despicable...a very unlikely thing to make a man of; but the same infinite power that made the world (out) of nothing, made man (out) of next to nothing."

-God condescended to make something in His image—out of dirt!

-humility: God created us, out of dust, and we require His breath

-combo: we’re comprised of physical/spiritual, earthly/divine; natural/supernatural


1:27 (p. 3) and 2:18,20,23 (p. 4)’s male/female, equal but complementary


2:15, 24 (p. 4)’s first two “institutions”: work and marriage

-job as a blessing pre-Fall; meant to be a (redeemed) blessing post-Fall

-built/meant to work; but need relationships to be fulfilled as well


2:16-17, 3:1-3 (p. 4, 5)’s wide bounty and narrow prohibition

3:1-6a (p. 5)’s anatomy of sin

-1b’s injects doubt about God's word: "Did God really say..."

-1b’s challenging God's love/goodness: "you must not eat..."

-2-3’s adds “and you must not touch it" (self-control mechanism presented as a legalism)
-4's denial of God's judgment (costs): “you will not surely die”

-5's twisting of truth (adds benefits): "your eyes will be opened…you will be like God"

-6a’s looked (saw), took, ate, gave some to Adam

3:6b,9 (p. 5)’s failure and responsibility of Adam

-sin of omission / fails to intervene; God comes looking for Adam

3:1,9 (p. 5)’s questions to man—by the Serpent and God!

-the power of questions; see also: the ministry of Jesus

Two basic approaches to salvation

a.) 3:7’s own efforts; 3:8-10’s hide/denial; and 3:11-13’s “blame game” VS.

b.) 3:15b’s 1st prophecy of Jesus; 3:21’s covered by God’s sacrifice and death/blood; and 3:22b’s grace of finite life to restore right relationship with God (p. 5-6)

4:1-16 à 6:5,11-12’s progression of sin, but 6:9,13-14’s God’s rescue plan (p. 7-8)

-Genesis’ three Creation accounts: 1:1’s big picture (1), 2:4’s humans (3) and Genesis 5:1’s overview of history from Adam to Noah


8:16-18’s sin of Noah (Gen 9:20-23) vs. 8:21-22’s grace despite sin (p. 10-11)

-8:16’s command vs. 8:18’s different order (followed 6:18’s command on how to enter—the old world’s model!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back to our Future (David Sirota)

Sirota sees the 1980s as a language-- with a common dialect of pop culture references. He argues that the 1980s emerged in this manner because a.) it was the first time a majority of Americans owned TV, VCR and cable; b.) media competition transformed our relationship with culture from "consolidated megaphone" to a far broader range of memes; c.) 1980s labor force participation by women led to more kids watching more TV. As for the timing and the extent of its renaissance, Sirota says it relates to those kids coming of age and returning to their roots. 

Sirota also argues, briefly, that "our 1980s fetish may actually be the intensification of an ethos that never actually went extinct, in part because no epochal force ever intervened to kill it." Could be. I wonder if the 1980s are themselves an extension of the 1960s and 1970s-- some combination of reflexive response and continuation of those decades. 

This sort of book is fun to read, but inherently sloppy since it's driven by anecdote and tends toward over-generalization. For example, Sirota sees Reagan as a purposeful re-do of the 1950s. Then again, what else would a politician do, in light of the events of the 1970s? Likewise, Sirota says "despising the 60s is now as much a part of 21st century Americana as South Park". But again, this seems almost inevitable given the perceived excesses of the 1960s and the troubles of the 1970s.

His discussion of Michael Jordan's emergence (along with Nike) and his impact was compelling. He extended this to the emergence of other "stars" in the 1980s such as Lee Iacocca. How much of this was media-driven (as per his argument above) and how much of this was a search for heroes in response to the 1960s/70s?

His discussion of the A-Team-- as type for the 1980s view of govt as inept and unjust-- was funny and provocative: the govt wrongly imprisoned our nation's heroes but couldn't properly incarcerate them; they permitted a flourishing criminal underground and couldn't catch the fugitives (even though common people could find them easily enough) who were then able to fix those problems. He notes the view of govt as "faceless menace" in some of the climactic scenes of E.T.-- and the resurgence of Westerns with similar themes.

Interestingly, Sirota joins many conservatives in imagining that culture moves the population-- more than vice versa or a co-determined relationship. Was govt being portrayed as inept because it had been inept and people found that entertaining-- or did mass media conspire to trash govt that had previously been effective. After the 1960s, it would seem difficult to hold the latter view. (At times, Sirota's "liberal" views are annoying, provocative, irritating, and laughable.) 

Some miscellany: 
-He notes that Red Dawn was the first PG-13 film-- and claims that it was the most violent motion picture released to that point. Difficult to believe, but interesting if hyperbolic. 
-He talks about race for two chapters. But his discussion of Cosby, Fresh Prince, Do the Right Thing is a combination of the weaknesses and strengths described above. 
-Some of Sirota's theories on the 1990s are incoherent. He has no explanation for Clinton's victory in 1992; ignores the GOP Congressional take-over in 1994; and seems to think Dole's candidacy in 1996 should have been a no-brainer. 

A fun book to skim for a walk down memory lane and to consider the evolution of culture and politics. Check it out!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Brent McKim defends the status quo against charter schools...oh my!

Recently, proponents of charter schools have been spending remarkable sums of money on advertisements designed to make our public schools look worse and charter schools look better than they really are...

As opposed to a special interest group-- proponents of the monopolistic status quo-- that spends FAR, FAR MORE money to try to make public schools look better than they are-- and to try to make public charter schools worse than they really are. If money and power are your criteria, then you're throwing rocks in a glass house, mon ami.

Charters would divert critical funding from our public schools. At a time when the state repeatedly fails to fund textbooks for children, it would be terribly damaging to redirect crucial funding and resources away from our public schools to charter schools.

Brent shows that he's really bad at math or a reasonably effective demagogue. Charter schools only reduce most per-student variable cost spending-- and leave fixed costs untouched. So, per student, public non-charter schools would receive at least as much per student. 

It might be terribly damaging to the status quo to allow charters, but it would not be bad for public education-- or more importantly, for children.

Charters lack oversight. The only thing public about charter schools is their funding. They are often not subject to open records laws, open meetings laws, or other safeguards.

Not true. They are subject to less regulation of a sort (contradicting another claim he makes) but more regulation in the sense of an additional oversight body and market pressures (especially since they get less money than other public schools!). 

This lack of oversight has led to countless charter school scandals.

Compared to what? 

Charters claim to accept all students, but they intentionally screen out special-needs students. By requiring parents of special-needs students to sign waivers saying they understand that the charter school will not provide special education services for their child, charter schools effectively screen these students on the front end.

Often true, but other public schools get more money per special ed students that are not (as) available to charters. 

The turnover rate for students in charters is very high. A nationwide Western Michigan University study found the turnover at KIPP charter schools from grade 6 to grade 8 to be 40 percent, which is much higher than at regular public schools.

Compared to what? Schools dealing with a similar demographic? I don't think so.

Charters do not promote stable learning experiences for children. Charter proponents boast that ineffective charters will be shut down. However, most parents do not want their child to have to go to two or three elementary schools because one after another is being shut down. 

So, Brent, why do so many of these same parents want the option?

Charter schools are really an effort to undermine teacher unions. 

I thought it was that opposition to charter school were an effort to bolster the cartel...

Charter schools are segregating our schools and undermining democracy. 

Nah...Competition is good for democracy, bro!

Romney, Buffett and Tax Rates

Mitt Romney pays lower tax rates than a teacher? Warren Buffett pays less than his secretary? Really? It’s not meant to happen that way. Our federal income-tax code is supposed to be “progressive”: those with higher incomes should pay higher rates. How does this work?
First, exempted income — through exemptions and the standard deduction — causes average tax rates to rise with income. For example, if the first $20,000 of income is exempt from taxation, then someone with a $100,000 income will have 80 percent of his income taxed, while someone with a $40,000 income will only have 50 percent taxed. Second, federal marginal tax rates (“tax brackets”) increase with income. So, dollars earned in higher income brackets will be exposed to higher rates of taxation.

So, it shouldn’t happen, but it certainly could. When a tax code is loaded with special loopholes — deductions and credits for all sorts of activities — an otherwise progressive system may not yield progressive outcomes.

Rich people can legally avoid (and illegally evade) taxation and pay low tax rates. Variations of this story have been increasingly popular over the last few years. (The President even used a story in his State of the Union address.) Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising, given the economic doldrums inspired by the “Financial Crisis” and extended for more than four years now by the policies of Presidents Bush/Obama and their Congresses. Envy and resentment find more fertile ground in tougher times.

With respect to federal income taxes, there are two other factors to consider. First, there are different taxes on capital gains and labor income. But this complicates the calculation considerably — and is different in that capital gains income has already been taxed once.

Second, taxes on income include “payroll taxes.” But these are usually ignored, despite the immense pain they inflict on the working poor and middle-class. The most common comparisons you’ll hear are simple, focusing on federal income taxes only.

Unfortunately, these comparisons usually suffer from ignorance of the tax code and most notably, the difference between average tax rates (ATR) and marginal tax rates (MTR).

ATR is the proportion of one’s income devoted to a tax or taxes in general. For example, if one has an income of $100,000 and has taxes of $12,000, his ATR is 12 percent.

MTR is the proportion of tax paid on the last dollar earned. If one is in the 28 percent tax bracket, then the last dollar earned is taxed at 28 percent. Each dollar earned is taxed in its respective tax bracket. Instead, most people believe that if you’re in the 28 percent tax bracket, then every dollar earned is taxed at 28 percent. Not true.

For example, singles have a standard deduction of $5,800 and exempted income of $3,700. So, the first $9,500 earned is not exposed to any federal income taxes. (They’ve already lost about $1,400 to payroll taxes, but we don’t talk about that very often.) If they earn $10,000, only the last $500 is exposed to the 10 percent MTR in the lowest tax bracket, resulting in taxes of $50 and an ATR of five percent.

In the Occupy Wall Street’s Mitt Romney vs. teacher example (on Facebook), Mr. Romney is said to have a tax rate of 13.9 percent while the teacher has a 25 percent rate. Since there is no 13.9 percent tax bracket, the author must be referring to Mr. Romney’s ATR. But if you do the calculations, a teacher who is single would need to earn at least $232,600 to have a 25 percent ATR. Married with no children would need to earn $367,000; head of household with only one child would need to earn $314,700. (The numbers would be higher if the teacher had itemized deductions. I’m assuming he is neither charitable nor has a mortgage on his home.)

Of course, teachers don’t make this much money. So, those making such comparisons are invoking Mr. Romney’s ATR and the teacher’s MTR, comparing apples and oranges — or really, apples and rocks.

If one is really concerned about the taxes paid by the not-so-wealthy, then one has to address payroll taxes — which result in a loss of about $15 for every $100 earned by the working poor and middle-class. If one is really concerned about the taxes paid by the wealthy, the easiest way to ensure equity is a flat income tax with some exempted income for everyone, but no deductions (except perhaps charity) or tax credits. Can we get there? Only with candid discussion and courageous politicians instead of lame comparisons.