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26 May 2005

“I, Claudius” for a Sith Lord

Extraordinarily imaginative memoirs of Darth Vader.  Better written than Lucas, even if the idea isn’t original.

But with copyright law the way it is these days, someone will get the
lawyers fired up and have this shut down by the weekend.  So read
it while you can….

Posted in OnTheWeb on 26 May 2005 at 12:38 pm by Nate


A list of blogging celebrities, sorted into A, B, and C lists.

I only know the actual celebrities on the A list.  All the
bloggers I read are B and C.  Esoteric, academic reading
preferences leads to esoteric, academic, and political blog reading

Posted in OnTheWeb on 26 May 2005 at 12:27 pm by Nate
24 May 2005

Education and class

Today’s Times article on class in America revolved around unraveling
the links between educational attainment and class status in this
.  The Times has been running a series on the role of class in American society
for the last couple of weeks, and it’s been generally excellent. 
It’s been quite good in dealing with the myth that there is no class or
that it’s entirely malleable in our society.  We may not have
formal class here, as in the European societies of old and new, and the
movement between classes may be possible, but the series has done a
good job of showing how one chances and changes in life are quite
largely dependent on one’s social status.  Medicine, education,
relationships, military service–our experiences depend largely upon
the combination education, occupation, income, and wealth play, and as
time has gone on, it has become harder in the US to move up that ladder.

I’m still working out what I think about yesterday’s article on
evangelical Protestants’ attempt to move up the class ladder, but more
on that later this week.

Here’s the root of the problem, in some sense:

Put another way, children seem to be following the paths of their
parents more than they once did. Grades and test scores, rather than
privilege, determine success today, but that success is largely being
passed down from one generation to the next. A nation that believes
that everyone should have a fair shake finds itself with a kind of
inherited meritocracy.

In this system, the students at the best
colleges may be diverse – male and female and of various colors,
religions and hometowns – but they tend to share an upper-middle-class
upbringing. An old joke that Harvard’s idea of diversity is putting a
rich kid from California in the same room as a rich kid from New York
is truer today than ever; Harvard has more students from California
than it did in years past and just as big a share of upper-income

This is largely true here at Harvard.  Yes, we have some poorer
kids, but by and large, our students are solidly middle class.  I
know only a couple of kids who qualify as “poor” (which seems to be
pretty much in accord with the standard in the article of twice the
poverty line, or about $38,000).  To a lesser extent, the same was
true at Berkeley; where we had poorer kids, they were less able than
the richer kids, because they had not received the math, writing, and
science training that kids at better schools had.  They were more
likely to get lower grades even as they might have tried harder.

“The same score reflects more ability when you come from a less
fortunate background,” Mr. Summers, the president of Harvard, said.
“You haven’t had a chance to take the test-prep course. You went to a
school that didn’t do as good a job coaching you for the test. You came
from a home without the same opportunities for learning.”

But it
is probably not a coincidence that elite colleges have not yet turned
this sentiment into action. Admitting large numbers of low-income
students could bring clear complications. Too many in a freshman class
would probably lower the college’s average SAT score, thereby damaging
its ranking by U.S. News & World Report, a leading arbiter of academic prestige. Some colleges, like Emory University
in Atlanta, have climbed fast in the rankings over precisely the same
period in which their percentage of low-income students has tumbled.
The math is simple: when a college goes looking for applicants with
high SAT scores, it is far more likely to find them among well-off

One thing we in the elite universities could do would be to ignore
US News for a few years.  Seriously, how will even some decrease
in rankings affect the Ivies and their private-university
equivalents?  Will Stanford and Harvard suffer much for a small
drop?  Few people can turn down the lure of a place like Harvard
or Cornell, even for a fast-rising place like Emory.

The article is striking to me in some sense, because I look at the
experience of my own family.  Both of my parents are the only kids
in either of their families to graduate from college (and there are
only two more if you include spouses of the other four children in
their generation), and none of their parents have four-year
degrees.  They had to pay for college, working up through the
community college system, clerking in grocery stores.  My brother
and I always assumed (and were expected) that we would go to
college.  For my cousins, whose parents did not attend college,
graduating high school was an accomplishment.

By and large, my parents’ success was a function of being
Californians.  California’s system of higher education, though
staggering a bit now, was the great educational equalizer of the late
twentieth century.  It set up a system where at least the top
third of students could go immediately to university and where everyone
could go eventually.

My own class status has risen immensely via my education.  I am
in pursuit of a PhD and being a college professor, and even though I
make much less money than many of my family members or my friends about
my age, I maintain the same class status as them primarily via the
promise of prestige that the education I have brings.

And I wonder what my role in participating in the system of higher
education should be.  On some level, my advisors would say that I
shouldn’t worry too much–just finish and find a job.  And with a
degree from Harvard, one aims toward the elite universities, whether
public or private, not the sort of universities that the individuals
profiled in the article attend or will attend.  But even so, there
are trade-offs: at the public universities, I had more experiences
where the students seemed to benefit and appreciate the work I was
trying to do with them while at Harvard, there are a greater number of
those really talented students who excite and stimulate one’s own
research and thinking.

In the weeks afterward, his daydreaming about college and his
conversations about it with his sister Leanna turned into serious
research. He requested his transcripts from Radford and from Virginia Highlands Community College
and figured out that he had about a year’s worth of credits. He also
talked to Leanna about how he could become an elementary school
teacher. He always felt that he could relate to children, he said. The
job would take up 180 days, not 280. Teachers do not usually get laid
off or lose their pensions or have to take a big pay cut to find new

So the decision was made. On May 31, Andy Blevins says,
he will return to Virginia Highlands, taking classes at night; the
Gospel Gentlemen are no longer booking performances. After a year, he
plans to take classes by video and on the Web that are offered at the
community college but run by Old Dominion, a Norfolk, Va., university with a big group of working-class students.

don’t like classes, but I’ve gotten so motivated to go back to school,”
Mr. Blevins said. “I don’t want to, but, then again, I do.”

He thinks he can get his bachelor’s degree in three years. If he gets it at all, he will have defied the odds.

I would love to have a motivated student like Andy Blevins.  He
and I would drive each other crazy, because I’d push him as hard as I
can to do more and better, and he’d push back, to make me become a
better teacher, I think.  But in a place with many students like
him, there’d be much less opportunity to have colleagues like I am used
to here, and I wonder if the research and writing would atrophy.

Posted in Politicks on 24 May 2005 at 11:04 am by Nate
18 May 2005

Widespread evangelical dissent from the Bush agenda

President Bush will speak at the commencement of Calvin College this weekend.  Apparently, about one third of the faculty are unhappy (requires a subscription unfortunately, but this “temporary URL” will get you there until Monday):

More than 100 professors at Calvin College, in Michigan, have signed a
letter criticizing the policies of President Bush, who is scheduled to
speak at the evangelical Christian institution’s spring commencement on

The letter, which will be published as an advertisement in The Grand Rapids Press
on Saturday, says that the professors “see conflicts between our
understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the
policies of your administration.” It calls the war in Iraq “unjust and
unjustified” and argues that President Bush’s policies “favor the
wealthy of our society and burden the poor.”

Among those who conceived and circulated the letter was David Crump, a
professor of religion at Calvin. “We wanted to object to some specific
policies but also to object to the way that the language of orthodox
evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by the religious right and
its close association with this administration,” he said.

An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush

On May 21, 2005, you will give the commencement address at Calvin
College. We, the undersigned, respect your office, and we join the
college in welcoming you to our campus. Like you, we recognize the
importance of religious commitment in American political life. We seek
open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best
expressed in the political sphere. While recognizing God as sovereign
over individuals and institutions alike, we understand that no single
political position should be identified with God’s will, and we are
conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of
others. At the same time we see conflicts between our understanding of
what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your

As Christians we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate
war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched
an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.

As Christians we are called to lift up the hungry and
impoverished. We believe your administration has taken actions that
favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.

As Christians we are called to actions characterized by love,
gentleness, and concern for the most vulnerable among us. We believe
your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has
often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.

As Christians we are called to be caretakers of God’s good
creation. We believe your environmental policies have harmed creation
and have not promoted long-term stewardship of our natural environment.

Our passion for these matters arises out of the Christian faith
that we share with you. We ask you, Mr. President, to re-examine your
policies in light of our God-given duty to pursue justice with mercy,
and we pray for wisdom for you and all world leaders.

Concerned faculty, staff, and emeriti of Calvin College

Calvin is no hot-bed of liberalism.  (I’d guess that 90 percent
of these people voted for the president.)  I went to secondary
with a number of kids who went on to Calvin in some form or another,
and about half of my teachers were graduates; it’s a college associated
with the conservative Christian Reformed Church in America
and from what I know, you must sign a profession of faith to teach
there.  The CRC members are Dutch Calvinists and their
descendants, and in my experience, it can be a fairly strict
denomination that prefers its change slow or not at all.  So the
fact that a bunch of CRC intellectuals (Calvin doesn’t slide too much
on that factor either) dissent so openly is perhaps a canary in the

Posted in Politicks on 18 May 2005 at 2:01 pm by Nate
16 May 2005

More coming

It’s not that I am gone.  But I am involved in writing a large
paper for my work that prevaricates heavy blogging.  Also, I’m
blogging out a longer essay on some articles in yesterday’s paper
that’s more than just getting a few lines off.  So there should be
something really new here in a couple of days….

Posted in Day2Day on 16 May 2005 at 11:49 am by Nate
10 May 2005

Anglicanism 202

From AKMA, a slightly tongue-in-cheek definition of Anglicanism:

That’s part of my puzzlement about the current retrospective “This is true
Anglicanism” impulse in some quarters. I had always thought that true
Anglicanism bore with the potty vicar who was sure that Jesus was
really an astral traveller, or that theological doctrine was a
pointless appendix to the finer points of fox-hunting. Such people
come, they occupy seats of greater or lesser prominence and authority,
then they retire or die, and the church itself doesn’t change much. The
point isn’t that we don’t care about error or try to correct error, but
that the Truth is stronger, lasts longer, and eventually renders error
moot. Truth counteracts error from within the church. (And that also
provides us with the opportunity for learning the ways in the church
may need correction — from within.)

Posted in Rayleejun on 10 May 2005 at 11:42 am by Nate

Battle of Origins in Kansas

Via Ryan, Red State Rabble
notes the following about the “intelligent design” battle going on in
Kansas (BTW, “intelligent design” is the most intelligence-insulting
cover for creationism on the market):

Red State Rabble finds it highly ironic that the battle line between
science and reason on the one hand, and zealotry and ignorance on the
other, have been drawn in a state that is so extraordinarily rich in
the fossil evidence of our evolutionary past.

RSR has seen the
excitement and curiosity in our daughter’s eyes at the sight of marine
fossils so far from the sea. The worst thing about intelligent design,
and its country cousin, creationism, is that it seeks, quite openly, to
deny our children a chance to experience for themselves that sense of
wonder and to replace it with some stern, all-knowing, Old Testament

We don’t hear much about the “Sermon on the Mount” here in Kansas anymore.

Yeah.  Because these Christians don’t really believe in Jesus.  They believe in power and authority.

Posted in Politicks on 10 May 2005 at 11:15 am by Nate
9 May 2005

The IR Rumor Mill

One of the problems with the academic world is that you never hear from
fellowships and job applications who received the position(s). 
Prurient curiosity plays a role, but it’s also useful to know, so that
you can have some idea of what the selection committee was looking for
(They may claim that they weren’t looking for anything in particular,
but if that were entirely true, they wouldn’t have selected someone).

Some intrepid person(s) have begun to solve this for my subfield, with the “IR Rumor Mill.” 
Here, you can post anonymously if you know who has received particualr
fellowships and jobs.  You can also post jobs that you know are
out there.

A bunch of my friends are listed getting fellowships for next year, at
all the high prestige places.  Which makes me think I need to push
for a pre-doc next year.  Which re-lights the fire under me just a
bit.  I’ve been feeling bedraggled by this paper, but I have got
to get it done so that I can finish up my proposal (which my committee
sounds like they’re ready to approve soon–so many conditionals there!)
and get cracking on a data set this summer.

I like my work, but it does sometimes worry me that it never
ends.  One member of my committee seems to be working absolutely
every waking hour, and I don’t think I’m cut out for 14 hours of work
per day.  Sounds too much like the “iron cage” of the “spirit of

Posted in IvoryTower on 9 May 2005 at 10:46 am by Nate
8 May 2005

Who’s afraid of the religious right?

Not Microsoft: After the publicity that suggested that Microsoft had
refused to support a gay-rights bill in the Washington legislature
because it was afraid of the Christianist right, it reversed position
on Friday

In yesterday’s message Mr. Ballmer suggested that employees’
responses had helped persuade Microsoft officials to renew their
backing of the measure. More than 1,500 employees signed an internal
petition demanding that the company support the bill, and scores wrote
in protest to Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Gates.

A Microsoft executive,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said that senior company officials
met after Microsoft’s widely publicized turnaround on the bill prompted
an uproar, and that they had decided to change the company’s stance
because of pressure from employees.

You may recall that I didn’t think that MS was afraid of the
Right.  I still don’t.  If it was, it wouldn’t have changed
positions here.  MS wasn’t afraid of the religious ideological
pressure to begin with.  External threats of boycotts against the
World’s Operating System (TM) can’t be taken seriously.  But
internal displeasure from 1500 employees is something you have to
listen to, as even a small number of these create taking action against
the company’s interests poses a much more direct threat to
profitability, productivity, and the future bottom line.

Here’s the section of hypocrisy in the article:

But the company’s decision disappointed others, including Microsoft
employees who belong to the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. The church
is led by the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who met with Microsoft officials
twice about the bill and claimed to have persuaded them to change their
position on it.

“I feel that it’s been kind of a stressful day,”
said a Microsoft employee who is a member of the church and who spoke
on condition of anonymity. “I feel that it was wrong for the company to
say that they will be supporting issues such as this. Businesses should
not actually be publicly taking a stance on that, regardless of their
internal policies.”

The employee, who has worked at Microsoft
for four years, said the company should “stay out of it” when it comes
to the debate over gay rights.

Hmm.  So companies should not take positions on matters of the
day?  Why should churches then take positions?  Are you
willing to be bound in action in the same way that you’d bind
others?  My guess is not.  More importantly, we have no idea
why this person thinks as s/he does, but there’s no philosophically
defensible position (at least, as long as you believe in republican
democracy) for excluding coporate citizens from expressing their view
on the social policies of the day that affect them while allowing moral
affinity groups “special rights.”  Under a democratic system like
ours, that’s what churches and other religious congregations are — no
more and no less than any other affinity group.  To treat them any
differently than other civic groups is to privilege religion, and to
privilege religion without civic cause endangers egalitarianism,
freedom, and equality in our democracy.

Allowing religion to have place of privilege in the marketplace of
ideas, values, and policy leads directly to the question of which
religions should receive privilege, why, and how to protect those that
don’t.  Majoritarianism is not a suitable argument in repose (read
your Locke or your Mill if you don’t know why), because it tends toward
abuse of minorities and the treatment of individuals as means and not
ends.  It’s more fair and procedurally easier to privilege no
religion under a system like ours.  You may not like it that we
can’t have a prayer here, or a “God” there.  But think of it this
way: how would you like it if you had to revere a God other than your
own?  The particular genius of our government lies in the hope
that the awesome power of the state can’t be marshalled for sectarian
domination of one group by another.

ABC, on the other hand, is frightened of the bullies:

Monday’s season finale of “Supernanny” included a commercial for a Web
site offering child-rearing advice from Focus on the Family, a group
that says its “primary reason for existence is to spread the Gospel of
Jesus Christ through a practical outreach to homes.”

The United Church of Christ, a Cleveland-based church that says it
has 1.3 million members, has asked why the Focus on the Family ad was
accepted when ABC rejected its requests to buy time as part of its
national advertising campaign. The United Church of Christ ads, which
depicted a variety of people – gay, disabled, racially diverse – said:
“Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”

Cohen-Cutler, senior vice president for broadcast standards and policy
at ABC, said in a statement, “The ABC Television Network does not
accept ads from organizations which present religious doctrine.” The
network said it accepts ads from religious organizations, including the
Salvation Army, as long as the commercials do not proselytize.

The Focus on the Family ad said, “We’ll be there with parenting advice,
and a faith-based perspective that can make all the difference.”

Rev. Robert Chase, director of communication for the United Church of
Christ, said in an interview, “It seems that somebody is deciding that
one religious expression is O.K. for viewers to see and others are

UCC asked people to go to church directly.  FotF removed the
appeal by one step (instead directing people to its website, where they
will receive invitation/admonition to go to particular churches). 
ABC’s logic here is casuistic (one might even say Jesuitical, but I’d
doubt that ABC would take an ad from Jesuits, not least because it
would be above their heads), to say the least.

Posted in Politicks on 8 May 2005 at 12:09 pm by Nate
5 May 2005

Strange confluence

Today is three holidays in one.

You can guess the first one easily.  It’s Cinco de Mayo, to
commemorate the Mexican victory over the French occupiers of Mexico at
the Battle of Puebla.  More info here, here, and here.

It’s also Ascension day for Latin Christians, commemorating the
Ascension of Christ into Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection on
Easter.  (The Orthodox just celebrated Easter last Sunday, so it’s
not Ascension Day for them.)  It comes 10 days before Pentecost,
which commemorates the coming of the Third Person of the Trinity, the
Holy Spirit.

It’s also Karl Marx’s birthday.  You know about Karl.  I
think Karl’s fantastically intelligent and interesting.  If you’re
looking for something to read, I’d suggest “On the Jewish Question.” 
This is perhaps the most succinct, insightful, and laser-like critique
of liberalism ever written.  Although I buy liberalism in general,
Marx’s points about the failures of liberalism are absolutely necessary
to consider.

It’s also Yom Ha’shoah, the day of remembrance for the Jewish Holocaust
of World War II.  It’s also a day to remember the other victims of
the Nazis (homosexuals, the mentally and physically handicapped,
gypsies, and others) and the victims of other genocides in
history.  “Rest eternal grant unto them.  Let light perpetual
shine on them.”

A very strange coincidence of holidays.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 5 May 2005 at 10:45 am by Nate