Archive | February, 2007

Peek inside the sausage factory

26 Feb

A wise man once said that two things should never be made in public: laws and sausages.

The legislative process is often very frightening, but perhaps the OpenCongress project can shed some light on the process and make it less scary. After all, if Congressional representatives know that they are being watched closely by their constituents, then they might be less inclined to muck around with stuff.

Do take a look and use the site often. I know I will.


Further thoughts on Steve Jobs and teachers unions

26 Feb

As a few others have pointed out, if Steve Jobs is correct and teachers unions are a problem with improving our schools, then why is it that public schools in wealthy communities are so successful? Those teachers are probably unionized, but they don’t seem to have the problems that other school districts do.

How do we know?

26 Feb

This week a few religious scholars are in an uproar over a Discovery Channel documentary that raises a dangerous question: what if Jesus Christ did not ascend into heaven, and what if he had a child?

A few simple thoughts come to mind.

How do we know Jesus did not have a family? The Gospels do not say that he did, but they do not say that he didn’t. Of course, both the Old Testament and New Testament have some gaps. The OT doesn’t refer to dinosaurs or other creatures that existed before humans appeared on the spot, but we’ve got tons of fossils that tell us otherwise.

Besides bringing out all the nuts who claim to be descendants of Jesus Christ, what would be the big deal if Christ did have a wife and son or daughter?

And let’s ask the big question–what if Jesus Christ did not ascend to heaven? Such a fact would certainly undercut a big chunk of Christianity’s beliefs. We could go one step further and ask what if he didn’t rise from the dead after being crucified.

There’s one thing here, though, that wouldn’t be changed by any of these what-ifs: the message of Christ’s teachings. Love one another as I have loved you. Care for the sick, the poor, the homeless, the hungry. Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, and others who aren’t exactly in the ruling class.

Thomas Jefferson edited the Gospels to remove all references to miracles performed by Christ and his resurrection/ascension, but that preserved his teachings. Would it be so bad if such a text was the basis for one’s faith?

Oops, gotta run. I sense a lightning bolt is headed my way.

Great use of type to illustrate a movie scene

23 Feb

This QuickTime film uses typography to convey the action in a scene from the movie Pulp Fiction. Note that the audio is not safe for work and explains, in part, why the film received an R rating from the MPAA. Samuel L. Jackson has confronted a young guy who tried to rip off Jackson’s boss. Jackson is holding a very large and intimidating handgun.

I like this scene for the line “What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in What?” Samuel L. Jackson is just too good in this scene. Enjoy.

Steve Jobs knocks teachers unions

19 Feb

Apple CEO Steve Jobs took a heavy bat and clobbered teachers unions the other day in Texas. He argued that no amount of technology in the classrooms is going to improve schools if they can’t fire bad teachers. And, of course, what makes that hard to do is the unionization of teachers.

Let me make a few things clear. I think unions are good things. If left to their own devices, many managers would just dump on the workers left and right. Lousy wages, lousy conditions, lousy benefits. The unification of the employees’ interests helps level the playing field. My grandfather was one of the original trustees of the union at Studebaker. I have a lot of respect for unions and think they do more harm than good.

But Jobs is also right, in part. There are bad teachers out there, and bad teachers produce bad student performance. I also need to mention here that I went to public schools until college, and I had some great, great teachers. I also had a few duds along the way. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law both work in public education, and they work hard (well, my mother-in-law is retired now, so she’s not working as hard at school, but she’s as busy as ever). Anyway, public schools need a way to get rid of the bad teachers. A former colleague of mine once said that unions preserve mediocrity. I can’t always argue with that mindset. When a workforce is unionized, it’s a lot harder to get rid of the bad employees. So on that point, Jobs is right.

But a problem arises when trying to identify a “bad teacher.” Some teachers can get their lessons across very well to some students but not to others. Some students learn better under a particular teaching style. Someone I think is a very good teacher may be seen as just average by someone else. So at what point do we all agree that a teacher is doing a bad job? How do we measure that performance?

Some suggest standardized tests, but I can tell you that method produces a very strong incentive for teachers to teach what’s on the test and nothing more. That can take a good or great teacher and make him or her mediocre. Testing might be one factor, but it can’t be the sole one.

Jobs has only thought this through part-way (which is unusual for him). But he raises an important point without realizing it. We need to have a solid national dialog on what we expect from our public schools, how we’ll pay for it and how we’ll measure our progress. Money alone isn’t the solution, but you can bet that better qualified candidates would be more attracted to teaching if the pay was better. We do, however, need to come up with a way to fund our educational goals and a way to ensure that those goals are being met. Until we do, our public schools will continue to have the sometimes-deserved reputation of being only average.

Of course, it’s more than just teachers. We have parents in our society who do not value education. When they don’t value education, their kids don’t value education. And that doesn’t help teachers, whether they are good or bad.

Hear what Barack Obama has to say

16 Feb

One great thing about podcasting is that it allows us voters to listen to candidates without the filter of the mainstream media or even pro- or con-bloggers.

At the iTunes Store, you can listen to Barack Obama’s podcast. I highly recommend the keynote at the Call to Renewal for a thoughtful and thorough discussion of the role of religion and government. The speech on energy policy is also worthy of your time.

G’Obama (thanks to JPK)

12 Feb


The self-described “kid with the funny name” is all in, declaring he wants to be the next President of the United States.

I’m pretty excited, really–both in terms of what he stands for and how I think he will appeal to voters. As I’ve written before, we all want hope. Bill Clinton spoke about hope for a better tomorrow. Ronald Reagan did it too. Rightly or not, we tend to make gut decisions in the voting booth, and a guy saying “I’m going to work to make tomorrow better for all of us” is going to get more votes than a guy saying “I’m going to raise your taxes.” (Memo to John Edwards: Recall the lessons of Fritz Mondale.)

So, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and given Barack Obama’s campaign some money. I hope he gets the nomination and come January of 2009 he’ll be the first African-American President. But more importantly, I hope he’ll be a great President.