Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In other news tonight ...


"It's not an attempt to block the celebration of this holiday completely, just in schools and colleges ...

"This is destructive for the minds and the spiritual and moral health of pupils," said Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the Moscow school system.

Gavrilov said the ban had been recommended by psychiatrists.


I hope to have some pictures from our church's first Reformation Day party this evening, but here is Dan Philips' post at Pyromaniacs on how his family marks the day. The comments are fun for the first 75 or so.

("Team Pyro", by the way, are a bunch of perfectly decent Reformed theological types, taking their name from Jeremiah 23:29, "'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord". Very good blog, and despite the name, not primarily flames ... well, expect for some of the commentors ... )

Up, up, and away

You simply, positively, never in this world could make this stuff up.

From the same article on Fox News -- all of it in one article. First, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)on the President's judgment:
"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health," Kucinich said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. "There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."

Shirley Maclaine's book, on Rep. Kucinich's visit to her home in the 1980s:
"He saw a gigantic triangular craft, silent and observing him," MacLaine wrote. It hovered for about 10 minutes or so and sped away with a speed he couldn't comprehend. He felt a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind."
Kucinich defending himself during the debate in Philadelphia:
... saying many Americans have shared his experience.

"You have to keep in mind that more — that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO* and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush's presidency," Kucinich said.

Debate moderator Tim Russert then cited a poll saying that 14 percent of Americans claim to have seen a UFO, to which Kucinich asked: "What as that percentage?"

"Fourteen," Russert answered.

"Thank you," Kucinich responded with satisfaction.

President Bush's approval rating stood at 35 percent in the most recent FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll ...
SUMMARY: Dennis Kucinich flunks math but thinks George W. Bush has a screw loose. Meanwhile his friends say that Kucinich received telepathic directions from a flying saucer during the Reagan administration. And Kucinich wants to be our president.

What's seriously wrong with this picture? Is it that anyone takes him seriously at all?

* And this is supposed to give credibility to his case? Fifty percent of living Democratic ex-presidents have seen UFOs?

On your way home this evening ...

... watch out for monks with hammers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Where the grass really is greener

There is a land of pure delight
where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
and pleasure banish pain;

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
are dressed in living green
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,

while Jordan rolled between.

There everlasting spring abides
and never with'ring flow'rs;
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
that heavenly land from ours.

Yet tim'rous mortals start and shrink
to cross that narrow sea,
And linger, shiv'ring, on the brink,

too feared to launch away.

O could we make our doubts remove,
those gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love

with unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood,

and view the landscape o'er,
Not Jordan's stream nor death's cold flood

could drive us from the shore!

-- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
[Paragraphing and stanza orders follow William Billings' setting, "Jordan"]

Friday, October 26, 2007

What Do You Say ...

... when a school bus driver closes the door on a first-grader and drives off, dragging him down the street, in full view of his mother?
"I would hope he has an explanation for me when we meet," Superintendent Jim
McCormick said. "It's something that shouldn't have happened."

No, I don't think that's the message, sir.

RTWT here. The six-year-old is fine, the bus driver is charged with careless and reckless driving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Two Solutions

No matter how sleepy or distracted the professor, when my son John Calvin told them he had spent the summer interning in China, the economists all sat up with light in their eyes. The country is in a tremendous transition from command economy to market capitalism, on a scale never before seen in a single nation, and it is fascinating to watch.

Forbes reports on one situation, two divergent views. What do economists think will address recent product quality issues in China?

Option 1: Regulation

Jeff Rosensweig, a professor of finance and Director of the Global Perspectives Program at Emory University's Goizueta Business School ... believes that much of the quality control issues can be attributed to the difficulty of regulating the vast number of people in China, which is four times the population of the U.S., and in spite of economic growth and changes, most of the country is still decentralized.

Option 2: Markets

Professor Marshall Meyer of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School ... believes that consumer interests will self regulate for liability, causing manufacturing quality to improve. "The Chinese government can try to enforce safety regulations, but the markets will do this more effectively."

Read the whole article for other interesting comments. I only note a couple of things -- one, that there is a lower limit to what the market will bear, even in overseas economies. There is truly a point where an item is simply too cheap. Some American retailers have already broken that floor, and they are finding the crawl space is not a comfortable place to be. This is a new angle on caveat emptor -- along the lines of "you get what you pay for".

The other observation is that, while the result of similar problems in American manufacturing was the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and other such regulatory creations, at the time Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, the tolerance for low quality in consumer goods was very widespread -- the standard had not been raised yet. Now, though, I think there is a wider awareness of quality, whether in terms of wholesomeness, effectiveness, or consistency of workmanship, and with the globalized economy, there are more alternatives available. If one Asian manufacturer produces defective goods, there are dozens more who are willing to aim higher and capture his customers -- if, of course, the customers are not beating them down through the floorboards as well.

For my part, I side with Professor Meyer. The market is going to take care of it in Asia; it's up to us, though, to be sure we are willing to pay for the quality we expect.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"An Engine of Cultural Decline"

Disney. And the speakers can back this up.

Son John Calvin is attending the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and its Film Academy this week, and Reuters picked up on Doug Philips' and Geoff Botkin's criticism of what Disney After Walt has become:

"What we really see is a decline in the ethics and standards of where (Walt) Disney was coming from," Academy founder Doug Phillips said. "We are making the case that there is a departure toward politically correct filmmaking that has a negative effect on family."

Disney did not respond to requests for comment.

John has a follow-up comment from Doug posted on his blog, Young Christian Filmmaker.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Everything's All Right

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Holy his will abideth;
I will be still whate'er he doth;
And follow where he guideth:
He is my God:
Though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to him I leave it all.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path;
I know he will not leave me:
I take, content,
What he hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait his day.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking:
My God is true;
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate'er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet am I not forsaken;
My Father's care
Is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to him I leave it all.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Colleges and Homeschoolers

Last week The Chronicle of Higher Education last week featured an article on the growing supply of homeschoolers applying to college -- and the growing demand for them.

As recently as 20 years ago, home schooling was illegal in many states. Today its students are edging toward the mainstream — and are eyed by some colleges as a promising niche market. .... Years later, just about every college takes home-schoolers seriously, and admissions offices everywhere report increasing numbers of applications from them. In 2000, 52 percent of colleges had written policies, like Stanford's, to evaluate home-schooled candidates, according to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. By 2004, 85 percent did.

Dr. Karen Palasek at the John Locke Foundation posted the notice on the original article from the subscription site, and Sharon Henderson at Spice-Line found a link to the text so the rest of us could read it.

The websites of the University of North Carolina, N.C. State, and Duke all say there are no additional requirements for homeschooled applicants. I haven't seen the policy for Wake Forest yet but they have an additional certification form for homeschoolers interested in financial aid - though it seems to recognize most homeschooling arrangements. Davidson and Meredith, though, warn applicants to expect additional testing - a requirement that was dropped by the UNC system nearly ten years ago after they were confronted by North Carolinians for Home Education - and the legislature - for unequal treatment.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is the writing exam required? Yes, but ...

My story in the October Carolina Journal is top of the fold in the online edition today.

Colleges Assess Changes in SAT
Schools mixed in assessment of new Scholastic Assessment Test

By Hal Young
October 11, 2007

RALEIGH — The Scholastic Assessment Test has been a fixture in college admissions since the 1920s. The 2005 revision of the test eliminated the familiar analogies from the verbal section and increased the difficulty of reading selections and math problems to reflect heightened college entrance expectations.

The most significant change, though, was a new section to test writing skills, including a timed essay. Two years after the change, colleges in North Carolina are still divided on how to use the new writing scores, and many still expect their own essays from applicants.

An evolving standard

The SAT was developed in 1926 as a way to make college entrance exams more equitable nationwide. The College Board, which publishes the SAT, has updated the test several times as high school curricula and college requirements changed. The addition of a writing component had been in the works since the early 1990s, but implementation was delayed until technology was available to transmit the hundreds of thousands of handwritten essays to graders around the country.

Duke University was initially concerned whether the longer test might have an effect on student scores. The writing section lengthened the duration of the test from 150 minutes to well over three hours, and the typical Saturday morning SAT administration now lasts nearly four hours.

“There was not much research in the fatigue factor,” said Anne Sjostrom, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Duke University. “We wanted to be sensitive to that possibility.”

However, since the new section replaced a separate College Board writing test that Duke also required, Sjostrom said they did adopt the new scores quickly.

“We use it in much the same way that we used the SAT II subject test for writing,” she said. “There’s not a mathematical formula we plug into to determine whether a student is admitted to Duke. I don’t know of a case where that or any other score is the determining factor.”

Other colleges aren’t convinced yet. Heidi Fletcher, director of admissions at Meredith College, said the college is still collecting data from the new SAT. “We’re presently not using it for admissions decisions but we’re doing a lot of tracking on how freshmen do on English 111,” she said. “I love having some information on the writing skills of the students — if it’s accurate.”

Roger Jones, director of admissions for Belmont Abbey College, said “We’re taking a wait and see attitude. This is the first year it is has come into consideration at all.” Belmont Abbey only uses the score for “borderline cases,” he said, for applications that are designated for an admissions review committee.

Elon University, on the other hand, fully incorporated the SAT writing score into its admissions process this year. “Three years ago, when it was first announced, we said that we’d take two years and not use it for admissions or scholarship consideration. That’s exactly what we have done,” said Elon’s dean of admissions, Greg Zaiser. “What we tried to do was establish where students score who perform on the acceptable level for Elon admission.”

State schools are sending mixed signals. N.C. State’s website says, “NC State and all other public universities in North Carolina require scores for the writing section of the SAT or ACT” but counselors are telling students they are not using the scores for admissions.

The University of North Carolina goes further, saying UNC “will review writing scores and, in some cases, may choose to review the actual essay.” However, “At this point, we are not using the writing score for admissions decisions,” said Jennifer Cox Bell, an assistant admissions counselor. Does she foresee a change in policy? “I do not,” she said.

The SAT is still not enough

While schools place different emphases on the new SAT score, many still have their own essay requirements. UNC requires a separate essay, as does Duke. Many colleges have adopted the “Common Application” form, which was pioneered by Ivy League schools. This streamlines much of the process and includes another essay section as well.

Zaiser said the SAT’s writing test provides a different perspective than the application essay alone.

“It gives students an opportunity to show what they can do on a timed essay. On the personal essay, they can proofread it and make revisions,” he said. “By and large, we find that students who perform well at Elon also did well on the writing portion.”

Sjostrom said student GPAs at Duke correlate more closely with the strength of their high school curriculum, teachers’ recommendations, and factors other than test scores.

“It verifies that a holistic admissions process makes sense,” she said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Watch Out, She's Pinking Heat

This Taurus 9mm semiautomatic pistol is available from Gander Mountain, price $429.99. There are also Remington shotguns with pink stocks (free pink hat with each purchase).

I'm wondering if a pink-handled pistol makes firearm ownership kinder and gentler or something. One year the legendary Lionel electric train line included a pastel-colored set for little sister; it wasn't a great success. My wife qualified in pistol marksmanship with a standard police-issue Smith & Wesson .32 revolver, thank you.

Can you imagine the chagrin of the would-be assailant who gets bagged by a sorority girl packing pink? In the words of one local perp (he attempted robbery at an ATM, but the young lady sandbagged him with her purse and a handicapped onlooker plugged him with a .22 pistol), "It ain't right, man." That's what he told the police when they took him into custody at the emergency room.

Meanwhile, old song titles are running through my head -- Pistol Packin' Mama, Annie Get Your Gun, the Beatles' Happiness is a Warm Gun. Or with a little re-writing for the commercial, the Go-Go's can sing Girls Just Want To Have Guns.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Month of Sundays

My seven year old Seth burst into the kitchen this morning with the salutation, "What day is today?"

I told him it is considered good form to make your first greeting something along the lines of "Good morning, how are you doing?" But I let him know it's Monday. "Oh, that's right," he said, "it was Sunday yesterday."

Actually his moment of confusion has an excellent explanation. We got back yesterday evening from a three-day Father & Son Retreat put on by Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, convened on the rolling farmland of my friend Scott Brown, pastor at Hope. There were over two hundred dads and sons there (and a couple dozen wives and daughters who volunteered to help feed this crowd), some from as far away as Jacksonville, Florida and the Bronx.

Framing the enjoyment of tent camping, canoe races, archery, and the biggest tug-of-war I've ever been in -- two hundred feet of rope and sixty men to a team -- we had six sessions of serious, challenging, convicting teaching about what it means to be a godly father or a godly son, everything from dealing with specific temptations, to working together, to the call of true manhood as a witness of the Gospel. Really, really good -- the audio files should be posted online soon.

The preaching was held under a huge tent which Scott keeps up on the property; Hope holds outdoor services there on many occasions, and we have spent many hours there in sermons, Memorial Day picnics, and the most incredible wedding reception I ever attended. The weekend culminated with Sunday services with Hope, as well as contingents from our own church, South Smithfield Baptist Church; Southwest Wake Christian Assembly; and Eddie Burrough's congregation from Rocky Mount (sorry, Eddie, I didn't catch the name).

So it's not surprising that Seth lost count of the weekdays. Seven hours of sermons in three days sort of rounds out a month of Sundays, I guess.

All seven of our hats off to Scott, his fellow elders Eddie Burroughs, Dan Horn, Jason Dohm, and Steve Breagy, and the team which did yeomen's duty putting this event together. What a great weekend. Thanks, brethren.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

From the Battlefield to the Boardroom

... and thence to the bookshelf. I just finished reading this thinnish paperback book, which I first saw in a large bookstore in Baton Rouge years ago and finally tracked down again at The Reader's Corner in Raleigh about eighteen months ago. This is a volume purporting to explain business management from the biography of Robert E. Lee.

Okay, I love Robert E. Lee, so I was interested.

After a long hiatus, I picked up the book, which I put down half-finished a long time back, and read the last third of it at a gallop. The author quotes extensively from Douglas Southall Freeman's biographies of General Lee, as well as several others. The anthology he creates makes the book worthwhile, to some extent; Freeman is an excellent writer and Lee is a fascinating character.

However, the additional commentary the author adds to try and make it relevant to modern corporate management is frequently unconnected with the biographical incidents it follows, and much of it is platitudinous to the point of nausea. I seem to recall Scott Adams talking about the vacuous content of most management books on the market ... specifically mentioning attempts to wrest historical figures into the world of 21st century corporations.

Recommendation: Never mind this book. Go straight for the Freeman, and draw your own conclusions about applications from Lee's life. Personally, I find biographies of honorable men inspiring enough without the "applications".

UPDATE 10/09/07: I couldn't find the book on Amazon when I posted this, so I checked the cover last night. The author is Bil Holton. Armed with the author's name, I just found the title was changed to From The Battlefield to the Bottom Line; I don't know if the content has changed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Racing to Irrelevance

This is another lap in the race to see when we can manage broaden a definition into irrelevance. Anthony Fortunato is accused of a hate crime in his trial for the murder of Michael Sandy, a gay man.

Surprise! Fortunato announced today, on the witness stand, that he's gay, too.

Think that makes a difference? Forget about it.

Brooklyn prosecutors argue that Fortunato's sexual orientation is irrelevant. Under New York law, they said, defendants can be convicted of a hate crime even if they bear no actual hatred for their victim. ...

Queens prosecutors recently used the hate crimes statute to charge a man accused of trying to defraud several elderly victims ...

Gosh, I hate it when a prosecutor gets the bit in his teeth. How about this, legal scholars: If someone apparently murdered someone, why don't we try them for murder and not an additional thought crime?

I think I see what the intent of the law might have been, but this is positively Orwellian. A hateless hate crime. Somebody call the Ministry of Truth.

Of course, it's a short walk from here to an expanded definition that encompasses any crime; the mugger chose a victim smaller than himself, or less well-armed, or someone that appeared to have money, or someone who seemed unlikely to notice him lurking in the shadows. Aha, a crime that singled out small, unarmed, apparently affluent, and inattentive persons because of a perceived characteristic. A hate crime, Q.E.D. And maybe we back ourselves into the original definition of the crime, after all.

It reminds me of the time I was dismissed from a jury pool when a defendent was charged with drunk driving, even though he was never seen to drive the vehicle he was sitting in. "He was in 'actual physical control' of the vehicle, though," the attorneys explained. I told them sorry, I couldn't vote to convict someone of driving under the influence unless they were actually driving. Thank you, Mr. Young, you can go now.