Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Captive Samhain

I apologise to those readers I still have for neglecting my blog, but I've been in prison the last few months. Several prisons, in fact, including the Womans prison... as a member of the Indianapolis Pagan Prison Ministry, created by the inimitable Colleen Kelly I lead a Wiccan group at the Indianapolis ReEntry Education Facility, and both a Wiccan group and an Asatru group at New Castle Correctional, an hour's drive away.

It's a fascinating and rewarding experience... and humbling, to learn how little I truly know. Luckily for me, they're usually happy with the answer, "I don't know- but I'll find out!" And it's equally fascinating to learn about them... on one hand, it's often easy to see why they're there, even though I don't know a thing about the particulars. ("What did you do" is a verboten question, by both rule and custom) Nonetheless, you can often see things; the poor reading skills of some, the impulse control of some, the attitudes of some- as one told me, "I used to be epically selfish." But for many, you won't have a clue how they wound up there- a momentary lapse of judgement, perhaps.

But they know. And that's why they called for us. They're trying to put their lives back together, trying to learn how to fit into society again- and for some reason, the church of the childhood has failed them. Or they might have deliberately chosen a Pagan path for another reason- as one told me, "I finally figured out that I was the reason I'm here. Not my parents, or society, or ony of those other things. Me. My choices. And suddenly, Christianity didn't fit any more. This is my responsibility; I can't pass it off on someone else, not even on Jesus Christ." And so he chose a religion that reflected his sense of responsibility.

But I've learned a lot about bureaucracy, too. Even when the chaplains are sympathetic- and at New castle, they called us- there is still a lot of hoops to jump through, Tees to dot and I's to cross. And then there's the guards and administration, who naturally have different concerns than the chaplains do, and may or may not be communicating all that well. The Samhain feasts Monday were an excellent example.

Their rule require them to provide a feast for the Pagans on certain holidays, Samhain being chief among them for the Wiccans- and while the Blot is a lesser one for the Asatru, well, it's still a feast, isn't it?- you take em when you can. But... we have the biggest Pagan groups in the state at New Castle; it's difficult logistically to accomodate sometimes, with a hundred Wiccans and around thirty Asatru. So three cornered talks involving chaplains, caterers, and guards became quite a dance.

First there was the issue of Samhain being on a Monday, not my normally scheduled days. I assured them that I was willing to show up on a non-scheduled day for the Samhain ritual. Then I guess there was concern about enough physical space for the two groups, so they then made it two different days for the two groups- I agreed again, and they were appreciative of my being willing to make the hour's drive three times in one week. And then the administration and the caterer wanted them to do them both on the same day after all, that day being Monday the 31st. The Asatru would be at 11:30-1:00; the Wiccans from 12:30-2:00. Some overlap, but fine. That was the state of things as of last regular service the week before.

So Monday, when I arrived at 11:00, (always early, after the debacle of my first visit when they couldn't find the gate release), I found no preparations had yet been made. I inquired, and they called for some trustees to come and set everything up. While this is happening, I notice the appt board has both groups listed for 11:30-1:00! I ask if that's correct, and am told yes, it is- is that a problem? Well, of course it is, as I hate being cut in and out of a sacred circle, but I say, "We'll cope." Then it's 11:30, and no prisoners. 11:35. 11:40. I ask where the prisoners are, and am told they can't be called out until the morning count is over. "We've been meeting at 11:30 for months, with no count issues- is today different for some reason?" "I'll check" I'm told.

About 12:00, prisoners start arriving, and we're able to start formalities by about 12:10- but not the ritual feast, which hasn't arrived yet. Then another hang up- one of the leaders of the Wiccans was in lock up and we're told that all the ritual materials are listed as his, and cannot be released even to me. So the prisoner group leaders say, "Listen up! We need ritual materials- I know you guys must have some bits and pieces, let's see what we have!" I volunteer my cane for a ritual staff; one of the trustee types runs out and returns a moment later with a Styrofoam "chalice". Somebody's needle point becomes an altar cloth, and someone else's fancy painted pentacle becomes an altar tile... a combination pen/ letter-opener becomes an Athame, etc... within just a couple minutes, we had a complete improv ritual set going.

By this time, about 12:20, the feast arrives, and the Styrofoam trays are stacked in back while ritual is opening. I leave the circle and go through the partition door to check out the Asatru... The Asatru had all arrived by then, and were ready to start- perfect timing. They opened their ritual circle, and started the remembrances ritual. I ask to go first, as I had to check on the Wiccans, and they agree with good humor. I say my remembrance for my father in law, Phil, who I had been missing recently. "Hail Phil!" They shout, and I slip out, kinda fogged up, and slip back into the Wiccan circle- they, too, are doing memorials at this point, and the raw emotion displayed by hulking, tatooed monsters is very touching. By now I'm feeling like I have a foot in three worlds; to paraphrase Jim Morrison, there are the sacred Wiccan circles, the sacred Asatru circle, and between them are the Doors- and me! I tell them that I may say this only once a year, or maybe never say the words aloud again... but there's nowhere on Earth I'd rather have feasted than here. And I meant it.

At about 12:55 several of the prisoners asked if I could ask that a restroom be opened for them. I go ask the chaplain. He says, "That's not really necessary, is it? It's supposed to be over at 1:00." "Even though the prisoners didn't get here until after 12:00, and the food, 12:30, instead of the scheduled 11:30?" "What?!?" (he hadn't been told of the hold ups) He starts talking scheduling with a trustee; after a few minutes of debate he agrees to ask a guard to open a restroom, and will allow the feast to continue for a few more minutes.
Quite a day. Despite fate's attempts to monkey wrench it, services continue to improve, and yesterday's Samhain was the most touching I have seen in a long time. Thank you, Colleen, for getting me involved.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Obama/Pelosi Doctrine

Now that the deadline is approaching for seeking Congressional approval of the "kinetic military action" in Libya under the War Powers Act, (we don't know when the deadline is for Yemen, because that one began in secret), President Obama has announced the law does not apply to him because it's not really a war. Ex-Speaker Pelosi agrees completely.

This begs the question of what they would consider a war- after all, we are making deep strikes into sovereign nations, killing foreign soldiers, (and often civilians by mistake), degrading (that means blowing up) their defense infrastructure, and demanding their governments step down. Most dictionaries would call these things acts of war, but Obama and Pelosi assure us they are not. Why?

The answer is clear from their various statements, a new definition we can call the Obama/Pelosi Doctrine: it's only a war if Americans are dying. Since our attacks are conducted by unmanned drones or extremely high altitude bombing, there's little or no chance any Americans will be killed; so no matter how many die as a result of our actions, it's not a war, and therefore the President needs no Congressional approval. The War Powers Act applies only to even exchanges, not to one-sided massacres.

And why are we doing this? Not in retaliation for attacks upon the United States, nor any of our allies; there have been none. Nor is it to preempt an attack upon ourselves, or any ally; none were planned. Not by any treaty obligation. We attacked a sovereign nation to protect its citizens from their own government Doesn't that sound like... the world's policeman? We are demanding their governments step down, because we believe a government that looks more like ours would be better, and we're willing to go to war- excuse me, to kinetic military action- to ensure it happens. Gee... aren't those Neocon doctrines?

Now, I don't expect war protesters to start showing up at Obama speeches, or Code Pink to start trying to make citizen's arrests of administration officials for war crimes; those are purely partisan organizations. But here's a chance for UUs and the UUA to step up and prove that their eighth principle is not "The Democrat Party, may she always be right- but the party, right or wrong!" Here's a chance to say that the law and the Constitution apply to politicians we like as well as those we don't. Here's a chance to say that American exceptionalism doesn't mean that only American lives matter. I imagine I'll see a firestorm of blogposts and AIWs and SOCs about this.
Any minute now.

UPDATE: The video has been taken offline; I can't imagine why. here's a story about it instead.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It really is the people

We just returned from the Outer Banks of North Carolina on a trip that involved vacationing and visiting both friends and family along the way. We stopped in Washington, D.C. (friends) on the way to, and Cary, North Carolina (family) on the way out- with stops at Young's Jersey Dairy both directions. We spent most of our time, however, in the cities of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head- and despite all the things to see and do there, I'm declaring it's the people that make it special.

A few examples. We had car trouble. The nice people at The Front Porch Cafe gave us a phone book and recommendations of local repair shops. (and darn good coffee, too) We called ABC Towing, who was willing, just on the strength of our phone call, to call in rush parts orders to the mainland before we had even brought the car in to them. It was a major repair- six hours labor, by the book- and it had to be done twice, because the first time it broke again on the test drive and they had to repeat the work with replacement parts. So again they paid for rush shipment of new parts- got the first batch approved for warranty, no extra charge to us- and got it all finished before we were due to leave... and the final bill was, according to my brother, the mechanic, not only fair but less than many places here in Indianapolis would have charged.

One restaurant we went to, Owen's, was so superb that even though we normally never repeat a restaurant while on vacation, looking for new experiences, we knew we'd have to go back there before leaving, and we told them so. They said it was their pleasure, and they'd watch for us. Well, any decent businessman would say that, right? But they must have meant it... when we were there the first time, I had asked to swap chairs; because of some back and hip issues, I cannot sit in some armchairs. When we returned a few nights later, and the hostess led us to our table, there was my chair, waiting for me!

Lots of other experiences... chats with people as I flew a kite in Ocracoke while Ginger was admiring the wild ponies... a discussion of the scandalous Washington infighting surrounding the Smithsonian, Professor Langley, and the Wright brothers with chatty and knowledgeable rangers at the Wright Memorial... nice ladies at Enterprise Car Rental pulling out three different cars before finding one that we and our stuff could fit in, and being helpful and cheerful the whole time. Thank you, OBX!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

That was then...

This is now...

Three years ago, when I was predicting that Obama's war policies would be exactly the same as McCain's, everyone thought I was crazy. Perhaps now that the President has renewed the Patriot Act, kept Guantanamo open, restarted the military tribunals, launched new offensives in both Iraq and Afghanistan, (not to mention quietly giving up on timetables and admitting that we're not leaving 'til it's done), launched a war "of choice, not necessity" in another Middle Eastern country, and violated the sovereignty of a supposed ally by sending a mordgruppe in to launch an attack on their soil without their permission or consultation, my predictions look a little less silly.

I am not criticizing President Obama; it was, and is my contention that a President's actions are largely defined by physical and political realities, and that Obama isn't, and Bush wasn't a villain. No matter how much they might long to, a President cannot effect real change by himself; I wish people would invest some of their attention into the Congressional, Gubernatorial, and State Legislature races instead of thinking a single vote every four years is going to fix everything.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The false intimacy of church

Anyone even the slightest bit outgoing makes friends quickly at church. After all, you're self selected to be compatible; you believe the same things, or nearly enough. You're there for the same reasons and purposes- that produces an infectious camaraderie, an intimacy.

But it's a false intimacy. You have no idea how huge are the differences that can be masked over by a common ideology or a covenant, how little of the real person is conveyed by a religious identity until there's some decision, some committee vote that makes you say, "That isn't the man I know. That isn't the woman I know. Who are these people who have been so large a part of my life for so many years?" And then you have to decide whether it's possible to fellowship with the real people in the room, rather than the illusions you had been fellowshipping with.

I hope you have no idea what I'm talking about. I hope you never do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why do people feel they have to lie to enhance a perfectly good argument?

I've said before that lying, even in a good cause, is wrong- and now here's an even more egregious example. First listen to the President speaking about budget proposals:

Sounds compelling to me! How can anyone justify cutting infrastructure spending, when the lack of maintenance caused that bridge in Minneapolis to collapse? 13 people died in that tragedy; what bastards those Republicans are to not care how many more they kill with their penny pinching!

There's just one minor detail, a mere quibble, really: It's a lie! The bridge collapsed because of a design flaw, not poor maintenance. According to the NTSB, the primary structural members, "gusset plates", were too small even for the original design weight, much less the extra abuse they were heaping on it when it fell: "On November 13, 2008, the NTSB released the findings of its investigation. The primary cause was the under-sized gusset plates, at 0.5 inches (13 mm) thick. Contributing to that design or construction error was the fact that 2 inches (51 mm) of concrete were added to the road surface over the years, increasing the dead load by 20%. Also contributing was the extraordinary weight of construction equipment and material resting on the bridge just above its weakest point at the time of the collapse. That load was estimated at 578,000 pounds (262,000 kg) consisting of sand, water, and vehicles. The NTSB determined that corrosion was not a significant factor, but that inspectors did not routinely check that safety features were functional.[135]" (Wikipedia) You could have given the maintenance crews an extra billion dollars, and it wouldn't have saved the bridge, because they were maintaining a fatally flawed structure. Extra maintenance dollars don't mean much when you're loading more than a half a million pounds onto something that wasn't up to code to begin with!

The rest of the President's argument was good enough in its own right- why did he feel he needed to lie to strengthen it? Are politicians unaware that when they're caught at it, people often consider the entire position discredited? Why do they risk it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oops, another correction to "Why all this deficit stuff matters"

In that post, I said, "And "tomorrow" no longer means some far-flung future; city and state munis are being de-rated by bond companies right now, and we're hearing the first hints that it could start to happen to federal bonds, too. Within just a few years, we could be paying junk bond interest rates for T-bills, which would make everything I've outlined above far, far worse." Well, I was wrong- it's not "Within just a few years", it's right now Standard and Poor issued the threat today: "NEW YORK (Reuters) – Standard & Poor's threatened Monday to downgrade the United States' prized AAA credit rating unless the Obama administration and Congress find a way to slash the yawning federal budget deficit within two years." I hate to say I told you so, but...

No, actually, I don't hate it at all.

A correction to "Why all this deficit stuff actually matters"

In my previous post, I said that only those working in the private sector, paying taxes, can pay off the national debt; there being 108 million people working, and a $14 Trillion debt, that's $129,630 each. A friend has pointed out an error in this calculation.

The error is this: just because you have a job, that doesn't automatically mean that you pay any federal income tax. In fact, with tax breaks and dependents, Nearly half of US households escape federal income tax "In recent years, credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax... The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment."

So only the top 53% of wage earners are actually expected to pay back the national debt. If you are one of the 57,240,000 people earning over $50k/year, congratulations! Your share of the national debt is $244,584.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why all this deficit stuff actually matters

In my post, On extending unemployment, I noted the difficulty of working with unemployment numbers, and based my discussion on employment numbers instead; there's no debate over how many are working. I noted that the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that there were fewer people working today than in 1999. Evidently things have gotten worse since I wrote that.

According to the USA Today article, More Americans leaving workforce, "Only 45.4% of Americans had jobs in 2010, the lowest rate since 1983 and down from a peak of 49.3% in 2000. Last year, just 66.8% of men had jobs, the lowest on record." But what kind of jobs are being held by those who do have jobs? According to a Wall Street Journal article, We've Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers, it's government jobs. "If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government. It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. (emphasis mine) "Every state in America today except for two—Indiana and Wisconsin—has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods... Now it is certainly true that many states have not typically been home to traditional manufacturing operations. Iowa and Nebraska are farm states, for example. But in those states, there are at least five times more government workers than farmers. West Virginia is the mining capital of the world, yet it has at least three times more government workers than miners. New York is the financial capital of the world—at least for now. That sector employs roughly 670,000 New Yorkers. That's less than half of the state's 1.48 million government employees."'

Why does this matter? Public employees, while they pay taxes as individuals, are net tax expenses. If you combine public employees (22.5 million) with Social Security recipients (59.6 million), that's 82.1 million living off the taxes 108 million are paying... not counting poverty assistance programs, of course. Then we have to look at the 76 million Baby Boomers. I don't know how many of them are currently employed, but starting this year, and running for the next twenty years, they're all going to shift to the Social Security side of the ledger. That's in addition to the current 59 million. Now, yes, I know some of the current 59 million recipients will die before the Baby Boomers finish swelling the ranks, so the total living off the government will be less than 82 + 76 million; but then, the numbers of public employees will also go up starting in 2014 as the healthcare legislation takes effect. No matter how you figure it, in just a few years, there's going to be more people taking money from the government than paying into it. A LOT more. And despite knowing this day was coming, we haven't saved a single penny to pay for it.*

This means we're going to have to borrow money to pay even essential services, let alone SSI, etc. Banks who loan to governments look at the same thing they would in extending credit to a business or an individual: the ability to pay it back. And the biggest single factor in that equation is current debt load. As of right now, that's $14 Trillion... or as so many pundits like to point out, $45,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country. The problem is that banks know that every man, woman, and child don't pay loans back; people with jobs do. Private Sector jobs. If you divide the current national debt by the people actually expected to pay it off- the 108 million employed- that's $129,629 per taxpayer!

That's today. At the current rate of increase in the national debt, in just four years that will be $20 Trillion- $185,185 per taxpayer. The average income is about $35,000. Would you loan more money to someone who earns $35K and owes $185K? Yes; if his children, and his children's children cosigned the note- which is what it means to be a citizen of a debtor nation. But that banker, knowing full well that that kind of debt cannot be paid off in a single lifetime, will charge enough interest to make his money back just on the interest rates... and municipal bonds will begin to look like credit card statements instead.

But wait! We have the new budget cutting agreement just passed by congress- $38 Billion cut! That's a good start, right? Okay... a Trillion is just a Thousand Billion; let's drop a dump truck load of zeros, and pretend this was a small town council meeting with the state comptroller. First meeting, September 30, 2010:
Comptroller: It says here that your town is $14,000 in debt. How much do you collect in taxes?
Council: $2,000 per year.
Comptroller: And how much are you planning on spending this year? Council: $3,700.
Comptroller: (sigh) Go make some cuts- and remember, the budget is due tomorrow!

April 14, 2011

Comptroller: You've been arguing for six months! Have you made the cuts?
Council: Big cuts. Women and children will die. We're going to become a Third World village, but we know how important this is, so we made the cuts!
Comptroller: I'm Impressed! How much have you cut?
Council: $38. (shout from the back) And 50 cents! Don't forget the 50 cents! Right! Make that $38.50!
Comptroller: Which takes your $1,700 deficit all the way down to... Council: $1,661.50!
Comptroller: I see. And if you continue to make huge cuts like that, spending $38.50 less than the year before, the budget will be balanced in the year...
Council: 2374. Provided, of course, that in the meantime we have no new economic downturns, no new wars, or serious hurricanes, or terrorist incidents, or anything else of a disruptive nature...

Now some people would prefer to tackle this from the revenue side instead. Now surely, if we repeal the Eee-Viiile Bush Tax Cuts For The Rich (tm), that would balance the budget, wouldn't it? Make the millionaires pay their fair share? Well, no, actually; it wouldn't...

Look, folks, it's no longer a matter of whether cuts will happen; we no longer have time to tax our way out or grow our way out. The choices are: severe, painful cuts today of our own choosing, or devastating, draconian cuts by force tomorrow. And "tomorrow" no longer means some far-flung future; city and state munis are being de-rated by bond companies right now, and we're hearing the first hints that it could start to happen to federal bonds, too. Within just a few years, we could be paying junk bond interest rates for T-bills, which would make everything I've outlined above far, far worse.

*Don't talk to me about "Trust Funds", or "Lockboxes". Do you know what's in those "Lockboxes"? T-Bills. Treasury bonds are not funds. They are not money. What they are is a promise from the government that they will keep taxing us until they scrape enough money together to pay it off. That's what all your taxes have bought you- a promise that they will keep taxing you. That's all.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Loosen up!

I had a seriously brilliant post written about things said and done in the budget debates by politicians, pundits, and bloggers... but then, reading it for editing, I asked what purpose could this post serve, for all its brilliance? I pondered that for a while, then decided to chuck it and post this instead:

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Chris Matthews' leg must be tingling again

Listen to his coverage of the continuing resolution compromise...

Can't you just hear him doing a karaoke of this?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Those aren't secret "Black Sites", it's just Kinetic Questioning!

From the Associated Press: "“Black sites,” the secret network of jails that grew up after the Sept. 11 attacks, are gone. But suspected terrorists are still being held under hazy circumstances with uncertain rights in secret, military-run jails across Afghanistan, where they can be interrogated for weeks without charge, according to U.S. officials who revealed details of the top-secret network to The Associated Press. The secrecy under which the U.S. runs that jail and about 20 others is noteworthy because of President Barack Obama's criticism of the old network of secret CIA prisons where interrogators sometimes used the harshest available methods, including the simulated drowning known as waterboarding. Human rights advocates say the severest of the Bush-era interrogation methods are gone, but the conditions at the new interrogation sites still raise questions. Obama pledged when he took office that the United States would not torture anyone, but former detainees describe harsh treatment that some human rights groups claim borders on inhumane. "

We can't blame it on the locals or our allies, either; this our project, which the "sovereign" Afghanistan government has no control over: "The status of the temporary facilities likely would be negotiated as part of a future security agreement, transitioning power to the government of Afghanistan."

I did predict in September 2008 that Iraq was a non-issue because candidates Obama and McCain would behave identically regarding the wars. I had hoped I was wrong, but we've already gotten news that we'll be in Iraq past 2012, in Afghanistan past 2014, (after new "surges" in each) started a new war in Libya (and anyone who thinks the no-fly zone is the end of it should read up on the no-fly zone we imposed on Iraq in 1991), re-started the military Gitmo trials, made secret deals to supply arms to the Libyan rebels, and, apparently, opened new Black Sites as fast we closed the old ones. I don't see how McCain could have done more.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Important words spoken in jest

One of the best written comedy websites out there is CRACKED.com One of the things that makes them so good is that often their articles are the straight dope- but being about people, they're naturally funny. And sometimes, they include really important words that people need to hear, like 5 Complaints About Modern Life (That Are Statistically B.S.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Modest Proposal

Because of a congressional walkout here in Indiana over a number of issues, including school vouchers, I thought I'd republish my voucher proposal from many years ago. The exact dollar figures are of course out of date, but the ratios are still valid; just adjust for inflation.

This is the proposal that started it all, as heard on the Hot Seat segment of the Greg Browning Show (NewsTalk 1430 AM, Indianapolis), April 20th 2004. Following this original text I have included supporting text and extra material too detailed for a radio show. For those outside of the state of Indiana, ISTEP is our skills test each grade must take. The figures related here apply only to Indiana- but I'm sure the principles are the same in your state, whatever that state is!

Dear Editor, The editorial in the Sunday Star, March 28, about controlling rising college tuition costs, combined with a number of articles and letters recently about Charter schools inspired a comprehensive plan covering grade school through college that will provide a free college education for every Hoosier child without a tax increase!

The first step in this four-step plan is to take the money we’re already allocating from all sources to each student, approximately $8,700, (source: The Star Press.com, 3/29/04), and put $3,700 of it into a savings account (more about this account later). Take the remaining $5,000 and issue it as a school voucher. As this is more than the average private school tuition, and more than double the cheapest, there will be no difficulty finding the child a school for this amount.

The second step is to discorporate the various public school systems, and turn the facilities over to the teachers who already work there, letting them function as independent, employee-owned private schools. This should result in big pay increase for most teachers. Consider: multiply the average class size of 25 students by that $5,000 voucher, and you get $125,000per classroom! Subtracting that one room’s share of the utilities and the mortgage (assuming there is one- the average public school mortgage was paid off some time ago), and there’d be plenty left for the teacher!

The third step starts when the child graduates high school or passes the ISTEP. Remember that savings account from step one? $3,700 per year times twelve years of grade school and high school is $44,400, not counting interest. (more about the interest later) That $44,400 is issued as a voucher good at any state supported university! That’s enough for a four year degree at any of the state supported colleges, with enough left over for books and incidentals at most of them!

Step four takes the interest from those savings accounts- a very substantial sum- plus the accounts of those children who die, move out of state, or cannot qualify for college even when it’s free, and the excess from the accounts of those who opted for two-year degrees, and uses that money to cover all the administrative expenses of the new system! Odds are there’d be money left over to return to the general fund.

The results: as a grade school student, the child’s parents have freedom of choice. The teachers get a raise. All the state colleges get a huge influx of cash and students, allowing them to bid on the best professors from all over the world and build the finest research facilities. Business would be anxious to relocate to Indiana- indeed, their employees would demand it! And all of this without spending an extra penny!

All we need to have a world class education system for Indiana is the courage to change a system designed in another century, for another century. Our educational system was originally designed to serve pre-industrial farmers; and unless we change it, that's what our children will become. Joel Monka

EXPANSION Financial notes I had said in step 1 that $3,700 of the per student allocation would be put in a savings account. We all know that in real life this would never happen: no politician from either party can bear the sight of money just sitting there, not being spent to buy votes. (excuse me, of course I meant to provide public services) But what if we DID put it into a savings account, letting the total ride, compounding annually for 12 years? Interest Rate/Amount of Interest 5.0 % = $17,438.10 5.5 % = $19,561.90 6.0 % = $21.763.40 Remember... that’s per student!

Can you really educate a student for $5,000? Any professional educator will tell you that you cannot run a modern school system for $5,000 per student, and they’d be right- you can’t run a school system for that price; but you can run a damn fine school at that rate.

In a story in the Indianapolis Star 4/23/04 about budget woes in Pike Township we find figures to support this. It mentions a $63 million budget for 10,000 students- $6,300/student. It also says that 85% of this is salaries- a commendably high figure, actually. But then it mentions that makes up 700 teachers and 650 non-teaching supporting staff! That’s 50% staff! I’ve been in those schools, and just like the schools I attended they do NOT have a staff member for every teacher- those positions are needed to run the system, not the individual schools. Let’s say a reasonable number of staff members for a school is one for every two teachers (and most schools have fewer than that): cutting half of 85% of $6,300/student yields $5,000/student! This confirms the private school averages of $5,000 per student or less.

Put it this way: what does a school system that operates ten schools do that ten independent schools without a system don’t do? School systems do not train the teachers, they do not license the teachers, they do not write the textbooks, they do not even control the curricula- the ISTEP test does.

The school systems say they set uniform standards- but the wildly divergent results from one school to another within the system forces one to believe that either it’s application is less uniform than claimed, or that a one-size-fits-all approach is the problem in the first place.

The school systems cannot even be trusted to decide which children go to which school without oversight; their long history of racial segregation resulted in the Federal government having to intervene. What does a school system do that is worth the high cost?

OBJECTIONS You cannot eliminate the public school systems- the state has an obligation to educate the children. Yes, the state Constitution says so- but it doesn’t say what form that system must take. We feed the hungry, but we don’t have government run farms, butchers, bakers, and grocery stores; we issue AFDC and WIC vouchers. We provide shelter with section 8 vouchers, we provide medical care with MEDICAID and MEDICARE vouchers- in fact most government services take the form of vouchers; why should education be different?

Voucher systems only help the rich. In past plans, this was often true; the amount offered as a voucher was only a fraction of the amount the public schools got per student, and was not enough to cover tuition. Under this plan, however, every child gets the same allocation, which is enough to cover tuition.

Voucher systems have been tried before and failed. No pure voucher system has ever been tried before- it has always been public schools plus limited vouchers. Under such a system, the government allocates $8,000-$10,000 or more per student to the public schools, but if the child goes elsewhere he only gets $500-$1,500 in vouchers. It is true that $500 will not buy the same education that $10,000 will.

A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification. Which is exactly what we have right now- are you saying the Carmel schools and the Center Township schools are equal? The greatest stratification exists between the ruling classes who go to private schools and the rest of us who go to public schools. Bill Clinton opposed vouchers; his daughter went to private schools. Jesse Jackson opposes vouchers; his children went to private schools. Do yourself a favor; ask any politician who opposes vouchers where their children went to school- it’s very enlightening.

How would you handle busing for racial balance? Busing for desegregation was intended to redress past racial segregation by the public school systems. If there is no public school system, there would be no organization having a history of racism, and no past offenses to redress. The situation would be analogous to using a MEDICAID voucher- the government wouldn’t bus you from Wishart to St. Francis for racial balance. If an individual school practices racial discrimination, there are already laws on the books to address that.

The First Amendment prevents any government money going to religious organizations- including schools. That’s not exactly true- for example, MEDICAID and MEDICARE vouchers often go to hospitals run by religious organizations, and the courts have upheld their doing so. When a religious organization is only one of many possible choices, and it’s the consumer making the choice rather than a government official, such payments have always been upheld. The problem arises when you have a public school system on one hand, and private schools that are 90% religious on the other; this means that the voucher choice is not really public vs. private, it’s secular vs. religious. But under my plan, with the formerly public schools now being independent private schools, the secular choices will actually outnumber the religious, and this will restore Constitutionality.

Who will pay for transportation- the school the child wants to go to may not have buses. Even public schools do not always provide free transportation- due to budget cuts, some school districts are now charging for the bus rides- regardless of ability to pay! (Indystar.com, 4/20/04, ‘Budget cuts stalling school buses‘) To add insult to injury, they’re having to pay for rides to go to a school they had no choice in choosing! If there is no public transportation, (in the old days, many children rode city buses to school), and there are no schools within walking distance, and the family is below the poverty line, I’m sure some provision could be made. Remember when couples used to choose where to live to be close to the schools they wanted to send their kids to?

QUESTIONS How would the local school boards be able to oversee dozens of independent schools? School boards exist to give the parents a voice in how the school systems their kids go to are run. If there are no school systems, and the parents have control via the voucher system, then schools boards- and their attendant budgets- would be eliminated as unnecessary and redundant. We would still need a state Superintendent of Public Instruction to set ISTEP standards and such, however.

Don’t charter schools already give us choice in schools? This isn’t just a choice issue- it’s a question of economic efficiency and opportunity as well. But remember that the public school system still runs the charter schools- isn’t that like saying Microsoft gives you choice because they have Windows XP AND Windows NT?

What about the home schooled? The home schooled would be covered by this plan. As long as they’re passing ISTEP, all reasonable education expenses should be voucher eligible. Then if they passed the high school ISTEP, they would get college vouchers like everyone else. In fact, without the need to save for their kids college educations, I would expect a lot of two-income families could afford to have one of them quit their job and stay home with the kids- I would expect to see a huge growth in home schooling.

What about problem students? There wouldn’t be much of a change that I could see. If the problems are physical, what we do right now is mainstream when we can, and institutionalize when we must; those are pretty much the only options under any system. If the problem is behavioral, there are limits to what even public schools will tolerate, and beyond that the kids receive tutoring in juvenile detention. Again, what other options are there? At least this way, if he cleans up his life while in detention, and can pass ISTEP, he’ll get a college voucher when he gets out.

If there’s no public school system, how can you guarantee that small rural districts will have schools? The public schools make no such guarantee; rural students are bused to consolidated school systems. Under the pure voucher system, at least there’s a chance a local school would open. Especially if restrictions on who can teach are eased; then someone home-schooling their child could take in a neighbor’s, too. The entire system of licensing teachers should be re-examined. Under Indiana law, Stephen Hawking is not qualified to teach high school physics and Andrew Lloyd Webber is not qualified to teach music; but someone with a generic degree in education can teach either one. Why? I figure that licensing is unnecessary. If a teacher can’t teach, the school will fire him rather than risking de-certification for vouchers for flunking ISTEP. If the teacher can teach, the job is secure; he’s bringing home the bacon. Either way, the license is meaningless.

ONE LAST TRY... I know that even after reading all the above there are still those saying “I don’t know why not, but it still can’t work.”, so let me make one last attempt. Let’s make this really simple: we’re currently spending $8,700 per year per student on education. That makes the total obligation for the twelve years through high school, in constant dollars, $104,4000. If we divided that total by sixteen years instead, to reflect the extra four years of college, that would be $6,525. Can you buy a year's tuition, at any level from first grade to college senior for $6,525? Hell yes- there are grade schools charging as little as $2,500, and Vincennes University charges less than $3,000!

So why didn’t I say it that way in the first place? Because nobody would read past that simple sentence; half would just run off and tell people this guy says you can run the school system for $6,525 per year, and the other half would say we can afford $6,525 vouchers without ever mentioning that the school systems have to be dismantled before that is possible. Anyone saying that can be easily proven wrong, and that would be the end of the story.

Until you have it firmly in mind that the traditional style of school systems, for all the good they have done for the past- and they really have- are obsolete, nothing else can be done. We are running our schools in the least efficient manner possible because “that’s the way it’s always been done”. Can we really afford the high price of this nostalgia?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Coda to "Why I'm Not A Universalist"

Well, to a lot of my posts, really. I've been loading programs into my new computer, and a little while ago loaded my CD collection of Mad Magazines- every issue up through December, 1998. Naturally, I had to test the installation by reading a few of my favorites. For those not familiar with the Mad Magazine of yore, it was quite the literate magazine for the first 25 years or so- gonzo, yes, but not juvenile. The contributors also had a keen understanding of the American zeitgeist- that's what made their satire so funny. Even when you knew their portrayals were twisted, you knew they were the conventional wisdom. So check out this piece from nearly 40 years ago.
Mad Magazine, September 1972

The Mad "Religion In America" Primer

Chapter 8 The Minister

This is a Baptist Minister.

He is delivering a sermon.

It is a very important sermon.

It is all about non-religious people.

He tells about people who worship idols.

He calls them Paganists.

He tells them about people who aren't sure there is a God.

He calls them Agnostics.

He tells about the worst people of all.

People who don't believe there's a God.

People who are threatening to destroy religion as we know it.

He calls them Unitarians!

My watching the President’s speech was interrupted...

…by someone at the door. I answered the door prepared to unleash a curmudgeonly blast at whoever it was, and had my guns spiked when I opened the door- it was uniformed boy scouts collecting canned goods for the poor. If you've ever wondered why I talk about my neighborhood so much, that's an example... Norman Rockwell's ghost lives here. And hey, I can always get the speech online.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why I am not a Universalist part 2

Continued from the previous post
I set ground rules for my religious quest: First, anything I discovered had to pass the gut check; the whole reason for the quest was my visceral rejection of the story as I understood it. Second, it had to make sense intellectually; it had to result in something I could understand and use in my daily life, or else what was the point? I also decided to start with all the basic schools of Christianity I could find, in case it was just the church I had been raised in that was the problem, not Christianity per se. I was in a good position to do this, as the Indianapolis suburb I lived in- Irvington- had more churches per capita than most any place on Earth. It had been the home of Butler University, and within a five minute walk of my front door were five giant Gothic Cathedral type churches, from Catholic to Christian Scientist, (to this day, on a Sunday morning one can hear dueling carillons); the international HQ of a Christian mission, the home convent of an order of nuns, and another half dozen storefront churches.

Two in particular caught my interest. First was Calvinism, which taught that belief itself was impossible for flawed humans, and was the gift of God. What you had to do was to behave as if you believed, and prepare yourself for when the gift was given to you.* It would certainly explain why I couldn't believe. But upon closer examination, it didn't make sense either- how could belief be the test if you had no control over your belief? Under this doctrine, the only part in your control was your behavior, which made it salvation by acts, rather than by belief- a direct contradiction to John 3:16 and 18.

The second to catch my interest was Universalism, the doctrine that Jesus' sacrifice paid for all of mankind's sins, and so salvation was universal.** This was on all fours with John 3:17, and at least the first clause of 3:16, although a contradiction of 3:18. Nobody goes to Hell.*** This seemed better at first, but it still required belief in the rest of the story, if not in damnation; could I do that? No. Universalism didn't make sense either... yes, it's nice that everyone gets saved, but it did nothing to address the issue of why we needed salvation in the first place.

We needed salvation because one must be perfect to enter Heaven, and no human being is capable of achieving perfection; the Bible makes that abundantly clear. The effective result is that we're born damned; we are going to be judged by a standard that we cannot meet. That is so patently unfair as to be irrational; you cannot condemn a quart jar for not holding a gallon- especially if you're the potter that cast the quart jar! God knew full well the risks of giving his creations free will when he made Adam and Eve- he'd gone through that scenario before with the angels... But okay, let's assume for a moment that it makes sense; after all, the story isn't all that well told, and maybe I'm missing something. What's next?

*16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. I don't get it. If God loved us that much, why didn't he just change the rules? I actually asked that one; I learned the meaning of "doubletalk" that day. But okay, we've got to be purified, and that takes a blood sacrifice. Says who? Didn't God make the rules? Never mind... So he gave his only begotten Son... "Only"?? So, what, is the rest of the human race chopped liver? We're all his creations; are some methods of creation more precious than others?

Sorry; I digress. To make a long story short (Too late!), I could not believe that we needed to be saved; I could not believe that salvation required a blood sacrifice; I could not believe that Jesus was the only son of God- and I could not believe in the Trinity. I could not be a Christian Universalist, by the standards commonly understood forty years ago. There are newer versions, like the Christian Universalist Association that I could live comfortably with- but I'm already a Pagan; why change names?

*Yes, I know this is an oversimplified and somewhat flawed explanation. This is a memoir, not a doctoral thesis; I'm relating what I took from how it was explained to a young person.

**See the first footnote.

***I had problems with Hell as a concept, aside from the question of who deserved to go there. Reread John 3:16- do you see any mention of Heaven or Hell in it? The choice was not between Heaven and Hell, but between eternal life and eternal death. It is stated that way very explicitly in quite a few places in the Bible. "I am the resurrection and the life." But if you do not believe, well, "...let the dead bury their dead." So how can you suffer eternal damnation if you don't have eternal life? At what point did God decide that stripping you of eternal life was not punishment enough, that he had to resurrect you and punish you again?

Why I'm not a Universalist (part one)

I'm coming late to the discussion of Universalism that was sparked by Rob Bell's new book. The reason is that I wasn't sure I wanted to write this, but my own hesitation convinced me that I needed to write it. Then having written it, there was the question of whether I should publish it. My fear in publishing was because I thought that some would read only a couple paragraphs and decide it was yet another Unitarian criticizing Christianity and the church he was raised in. But it is not- I never felt oppressed by Christianity, never had any church related trauma... but it never connected with me, either; it was no more real to me than the Greek and Roman mythologies. What follows is not a bitter criticism of Christianity, but the description of one person's religious journey- a journey that passed through Universalism.

But a failure to connect with Christianity did not make me an atheist- I very definitely felt a connection to God. Please understand how utterly bewildering this was to a young child in the 60s, raised by fundamental Christians. As far as I knew, had been taught, (and who questions their parents when all grownups you know agree) this was a contradiction in terms: there was the God of Abraham, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and there were false gods invented by Satan to confuse people and separate them from the Holy Trinity. Period. I knew all these things well; I had gone to Sunday School, I had been given explanations by my parents. I knew that everything boiled down to a simple binary: either John 3:16-18*, or the lies of Satan. I knew it, but I couldn't accept it. It was wrong. Understand that I was preteen at this point; I had no rational arguments to make, no list of grievances, no 95 thesis- I simply knew. I could no more have accepted the story than I could have prevented my knee from jerking under the doctor's hammer.

The natural reaction was to wonder what was wrong with me. I remember well laying awake at night- sometimes all night- wonder why I couldn't see, couldn't believe what was so obvious to everyone else. I knew I wasn't dumb; I was in all the accelerated classes in school. And I knew how important it was- John 3:18 states quite clearly that belief is the test- if you don't believe, you are condemned, no matter how you lived your life. My obstinacy was suicidal- I spent many hours searching for the flaw in my mind or my soul that was risking my eternity.

I was put on a new track by a book; not a religious text, but a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein titled "Revolt In 2100". It was about a future America that had become a theocracy in the early 21st century, and the revolt that restored democracy. What excited me was that one of the protagonists had had the same problem as I. He decided that if he couldn't believe what he'd been told, he'd better find out for himself what he did believe. This was a stunning concept- it had never occurred to me that you could do that. Regular people didn't create belief systems; religions were handed down to you from above, by God or Satan. I couldn't do that- how would I know what was right? After all, if I didn't have faith in the Word of God, how could I have faith in anything else I found?

That's when I had my first breakthrough: I realized that when I was asked to have faith in the Bible, I was being asked to have faith in men, not God- and that was true even if the Bible really is the word of God! After all, how did I know the Bible was the word of God? Because I had been told that it was by men, some of whom I knew (though I didn't dare say) were not as smart as I was. When I carefully broached the subject to my elders, I was told to pray, meditate, and sleep on it, and I would see the truth. Well, I had been doing exactly that for a couple years at this point, and either God hadn't spoken to me, or he had- in which case Christianity, at least in the way it had been explained to me, was wrong. This gave me the courage to start my religious pilgrimage.

*16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anti-war, or merely anti-Republican?

We've seen many times in the last two years the...ah... flexibility of former Senators Obama and Biden's deeply held principles...

But now I'm wondering about the UU blogosphere- aside from my previous two posts, a search through UUpdates shows that a lobster could count on one hand the number of UU bloggers who have even mentioned the attacks on Libya. This strikes me as very odd. It's a stunning attack- the British are actually running out of cruise missiles, and a single US B2 Stealth sortie dropped 90,000 lbs of bombs, and we've flown hundreds of sorties. And yet the UU response could be described by Paul Simon- "...And my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the sounds of silence..." Could you understand why the casual observer might conclude that we base our religious principles on our political principles?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Devil skated to work this morning

I found myself in complete agreement with Rep. Kucinich.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So we've gone to war again

A couple hours ago, Saturday 3/18, the US went to war without a Congressional vote, against a country that had not committed any act of war against the US, nor had any weapons of mass destruction, nor initiated any terrorist acts against the US since 1988.

Given the way US wars have been blogged about the last ten years, and the recent debate on making the UUA an official peace church because of those actions, I expect UU bloggers will be ripping into the President with a vengenge. I can't wait to see it.

Any minute now.

UPDATE: If you had some kind of fantasy that it was going to be okay with the Arab League for American forces to bomb Libya just because they asked us to, read this Reuters story, dateline 03.20.11, 21:45 : "The head of the Arab League, which supported Libyan no-fly zone, said his organization had not endorsed attacks on ordinary Libyans. "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," Amr Moussa said, announcing an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss Libya.

Moussa's comments followed a demand by Russia to stop the "indiscriminate" use of force it said was killing civilians in Libya.
The air strikes exceed the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution, which approved a no-fly zone and authorized all necessary measures to protect civilians, Russia Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement."

The Arab League cannot pretend it did not know what is involved to enforce a No-Fly zone; the scenario has been played out many times in their neighboring countries. But by pretending not to know, they can use us to rid themselves of a dictator they didn't like, and simultaneously gin up outrage against us for domestic consumption- for doing what they asked us to do!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

KSA syndrome

Since Christmas, my beloved has developed a syndrome that I understand many people are showing signs of these days: KSA, or "Kindle Separation Anxiety". Symptoms include planning one's wardrobe around being able to secure the Kindle to one's person; panicking at the first sign of malfunction, dashing to get dressed and drive to Staples quick before they close; and an eerie LED glow emanating from under the covers late at night.

Kindles are selling so quickly, and are so addictive once owned, that physical books may soon go the way of 8-Track. Which means that the next generation could hear a whole new set of clichés...

The judge threw the Kindle at him.

"Kindle 'em, Dano!"

He was making Kindle on the side, but he wasn't a full time Kindlee.

The crooked accountant was cooking the Kindles- at least, that was no form of Kindlekeeping I'm familiar with.

The acts Kindled for tonight are...

He was clever, but not much for Kindle learning.

The minister read from the Kindle of Common Prayer.

One of the main attractions at Dublin's Trinity University is the Kindle of Kells.

How many Kindleable hours do you have this month?

He's quite the Kindleworm.

Who wrote the Kindle of love?

He does everything strictly by the Kindle.

There were no receipts or certificates; it was a Kindle transaction.

"Waste not, want not," as the good Kindle says.

I've cast the hexagrams; now to consult the Kindle of Changes for their meaning.

At least, I hope this is the kind of clichés we'll be seeing. If Borders beats Amazon despite Amazon's early lead, I'll have to rewrite this list with permutations of "Nooky".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cats are smarter than Sith Lords

We have a new kitty in the house. Last week an intruder cat entered the house, which normally would have been shooed back out, but he was too pitiful to shoo. An orange tom, scrawny, (How scrawny? We later found out from the vet that he weighs 6.9 lbs. He stands the same height at the shoulder as our Simon, who weighs 12.4 lbs.) he had a bad paw and several owwies on his face. (At least one of which I'm sure our kitties inflicted as he entered the house) Upon closer examination, we could tell he was only half grown, and must have been living hand to mouth. (Paw to maw?)
He was yowling quite piteously, and there was no way we could turn him away when he had risked so much to come in.

After he ate... and ate... and ate... all the while making the funniest noises as he tried to simultaneously purr at us, growl at the other cats, and swallow kibble. In fact, he made a lot of noise; he's by far the most vocal cat in the house. Which immediately suggested a name; he's vocal, he was in Dire Straits- clearly his name was Knopfler.

What's all this to do with Jedis? I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it. When we got Knopfler back from the vet, and he'd had a day to sleep off all the medical attention, he started exploring the house. In the course of this, he discovered the joys of napping in the overstuffed living room chair. Now, this is much disputed turf in our house; he hadn't been in the chair thirty seconds before Simon noticed the fact and tried to hiss him off it. A kitty conversation ensued, and it struck me as very familiar, but I didn't know why- then I realized I was thinking of the third Star Wars movie. The scene I'm thinking of is the end of the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, on the high sloped bank of the lava river; they had the same conversation, but with a different ending:

Simon/Anakin, "I'm going to come up there and kick your ass."

Knopfler/Obi-Wan, "Don't try it- I have the high ground."

Simon, "Oh- yes, I see that; I'll be moving along now." Anakin, "Hah! Watch while I... oops... fall to the ground in four separate pieces."

Cats are smarter than Sith lords.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

In Video: NPR Exec Slams Tea Party, Questions Need For Federal Funds

From The two-way, NPR.org's news blog has an updated-every-few-minutes story on ex-executive Ron Schiller, who was wee tad indiscrete on tape- most recent update from CEO Vivian Schiller: "In no way shape or form do they reflect what NPR does and who NPR is," NPR' chief tells Folkenflik in his report for today's All Things Considered. "I find it affront to the journalists that we have around the world — including in hot spots — in harm's way. This is NOT what NPR stands for." Here's the highlights video:

The full version, with context, is here. It should be understood from the beginning that NPR acted properly in trying to vet the organization, and refusing to accept their donation when it looked hinky. What's upsetting people is the personal views expressed by the NPR executives.

UPDATE: Two new items this morning- an update from The two-way, and the Washington Post reports that NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron Schiller) has resigned.

Stunning artistry

If you're a Michael Jackson fan, you know that "Smooth Criminal" was one of his more challenging pieces- would believe the whole thing can be performed on just two cellos?


Monday, March 07, 2011

UUA President Rev. Morales endangers the human race!

I was just told that Rev. Morales recently met with Daleks! Now, I'm as accepting and welcoming as the next UU, but Daleks are evil, bloodthirsty, mechanized mutants! If you try to meet them as equals, they will ex-ter-mi-nate all life on- huh? What do you mean I've got it wrong? Haven't you seen- it wasn't Daleks, it was Dalits? You mean the oppressed people of India? Oh.

Not Daleks, then?

Oh. Well, meeting with Dalits is a good thing.

Never mind.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Questioning the moral authority of the UUA and leadership

Sunday's post on "Boy in the Bands" begins, "I’ve had many misgivings about the UUA over the years: its direction, its leadership, its poor service providence, its continuing exclusion of Christians, its culture of preciousness, its old boys and girls networks, its relevance in today’s world." What moved him to write was a guest post on Musings and Essays by the former District Executive of the Clara Barton District, describing how she'd been forced out of her position. Coming as it did after the controversial firing of the Pacific Central District Executive- over the objections of the PCD board- it's easy to understand why Scott says, "...but now we have the suggestion of a plan."

I imagine that Scott was reminded, as I was, of the way Boston mishandled the disaffiliation of the Independent Affiliates, something that has left lasting resentment and bewilderment... and they seem to have learned nothing from it. It's especially ironic when you consider how we try to lecture our political leaders about transparency in governance, even to the point of our previous Association President praising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for meeting with him and answering questions, something he presumed that our own President would not have done. (Not that he had actually asked) And yet our own Association leadership is scarcely a role model to emulate.

When you think about it, "Do as I preach, not as I do," seems to be our motto. We are busy right now lecturing everyone through open letters and a "Standing On The Side Of Love" campaign about how collective bargaining for public employees is a human right, and yet this summer we will, for the fifth time in sixteen years, hold our General Assembly in a state where it's forbidden by law. We are always lecturing others about class, race, and racism, and yet our own experience with racial issues begins with the Black Affairs Council walking out of the 1969 General Assembly, and disaffiliating from us the following year... and since then, we've been the only mainline church in America to actually get whiter and richer over the years. We are always faxing Washington about wages, immigration, even minutia like transportation policy, and telling them that our policies are the way to future growth and national prosperity... and yet our five decades of stagnation and failure to thrive have resulted in Association layoffs recently. It's a wonder that every Congressman we've emailed hasn't replied with a link to this song:

I may start referring to such things as "mote" issues in the future- as in, "...how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

Saturday, March 05, 2011

UU, Alzheimer's, and politics

"Plaidshoes" really struck a chord with me with her Tuesday post, Tired of Defense. If you haven't read it, you must- and read the comments also. I was caught from the beginning, "I had a bit of a disturbing parking lot conversation today. I mentioned to a friend that I had seen her friend at my UU church. I thought of it as a positive. Another way that the world is so small that we all seem to run into each other. Well, my friend stated that she was not happy about this. It caught me completely by surprise. She flat out said it like that. I asked her why, and she stated that it would mean her friend was no longer a Christian." It reminded me of my wedding- and my mother.

That may sound strange to you- if it does, the explanation will be stranger still, but it's true. You see, in the months before my wedding there had been disagreement among we four brothers about our mother. She had been deteriorating of recent months, and several doctors had said she had Alzheimer's. We were split, 2-2, on whether she really had Alzheimer's, or whether this was one of her manipulative schemes. (Fred Sanford was a rank amateur in the manipulation business) The question was settled when she came to my wedding- at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. Everyone agreed that she had to be genuinely out of it to set foot inside the temple of the Antichrist.

So I understand plaidshoes' irritation at her friend's comment, and why she feels tired of being on the defense. In fact, I have an extra layer she does not- a political one. When I joined All Souls, a friend of mine had said, "I thought you were a Republican." I said yes, I was. His puzzled reply: "But you know they're a communist front organization, don't you?" Mind you, he wasn't trying to be derogatory or insulting; he was simply stating common knowledge- just as plaidshoes' friend had.

Both of these misunderstandings raise a question that plaidshoes does not address in her post: Why did her friend think that UU was not a religion? It would be easy enough to blame Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, Garrison Keillor, but none of their jibes would have stuck had there not been a kernel of truth in them. That's why stereotypes stick- Scandinavians really are often blonde; they really do eat lutefisk. If you tried to create a new stereotype that didn't reflect what people see in their daily lives- oh, like all Scandinavians eat grits and collard greens- it wouldn't stick, and people wouldn't repeat it. So clearly, the general public doesn't see us doing the things that a religion does; the question is, are we just poorly communicating what we do, or is their perception better than ours?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

It's a long and winding road...

... that public school administrators must take to get rid of a bad teacher. In a previous post I mentioned job security as a benefit of public employ, one that all in the private sector envy. To illustrate my point, the Chicago Tribune ran a story entitled Why Bad Teachers Survive It has a flowchart, with timeline, of what's required to fire a tenured teacher. The process takes 27 separate steps and not less than two years, but can run as long as five years- during which the teacher is still being paid with full benefits.

Think that's bad? It's only average- look at the flowchart for firing a teacher in New York that one of the Tribune commenters posted- it covers two full pages. But in real life, I'm told, it never goes that far. Unless the teacher has made it easy by committing a class A felony, they usually just find a way to live with the bad apple, whatever it takes. If they really, really want the teacher gone, they offer a cash buyout* instead.

Now how does one account for that level of job security when comparing private and public sector wages? What's the cash equivalent of tenure? In the private sector, one would give up a lot to have those kinds of protections. In most states, absent gender or racial discrimination, the firing process is just one step- the one trademarked by Donald Trump. The appeals process consists of saying, "Oh, dude, come on... please?". But in the public sector, one gets the protections outlined above and wages comparable to the private sector.

So think about that next time you see a statehouse protestor with a sign claiming to be the poor, oppressed last bastion of the middle class. Think about it, but don't bother asking the protestor carrying the sign; odds are, at least here in Indiana, and I have to believe in Wisconsin and elsewhere as well, that the protestor is not a teacher at all, but a paid surrogate.

*This used to be called "Danegeld"- but as the Danes actually have a much better public school system than we do, I don't think it's appropriate.