Short sellers’ fiscal cliff

The Bush tax cuts aren’t the only measures that expire on New Year’s Day.  So will the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007.  Without that law, homeowners who have negotiated a short sale–that is, have part of their mortgages forgiven by the lender because they are so far underwater when they sell their home–will have to count the amount chopped off their mortgage as income for tax purposes.

Say a person owes $200,000 on his house but it’s only worth in today’s market for $100,000.  If the mortgage is held by the federally regulated lender Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, there is a federal program that makes it possible for the underwater amount to be forgiven when the home is sold at market value.  So in a short sale, the person might be able to sell the home for $100,000 but be clear of the mortgage.  But after New Year’s Day, he will have to declare the $100,000 that Fannie Mae wrote off as if it were money that he actually received.  And then pay taxes on it!

Various bipartisan bills have been proposed to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, but no votes are scheduled, and it isn’t part of the package that either side is proposing in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

 

via Short sellers may be hit with big income tax bills if Washington doesn’t act – The Washington Post.

Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that may settle the legal status of gay marriage in this country.  The court will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as being between one man and one woman.  It will also rule on Proposition 8, the referendum in which California voters rejected gay marriage, only to have the vote stricken down by a federal court.

Supreme Court to hear same-sex marriage cases – The Washington Post.

What do you predict will happen?

Our legal system has long been tinkering with what marriage is supposed to be.  For example, the definition of marriage as a permanent, for-better-or-worse estate was changed by no-fault divorce laws, but I don’t recall anyone complaining much.

Gutting literature from the curriculum

Educational reform efforts in the public schools are generally well-intentioned, but once they are taken over by the educational bureaucrats they often achieve the opposite of what was intended.  A commendable concern to ensure that students have learned something from the classes they take, that they achieve certain “learning outcomes,” gave us the dumbing down of “Outcome based education.”  The “No Child Left Behind” program left behind whole schools.

The latest reform program being foisted on all public schools is “The Common Core.”  That derives from a great idea, having students learn a basic foundation of material, including reading key books.  In practice, though, the Common Core is resulting in literature being gutted from the English curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration. . . .

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said. . . .

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

via Common Core State Standards in English spark war over words – The Washington Post.

So the idea is that science and other subjects would include reading in those areas.  Great idea.  But because the administrators also are not very good readers and because no one but English teachers want to require reading, the burden of requiring 70% “informational” reading is falling on English teachers,who must make room for it by cutting out literature.  So instead of reading Old Man and the Sea, students have to read “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”

A prank turned grim

You have probably heard about those two Australian radio hosts who called the hospital where Kate Middleton, pregnant with a future monarch of England, was being treated for severe morning sickness.  They imitated the voice of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, the grandparents, and managed to get their call transferred to the hospital room.  Very funny.  But now the nurse who took the call and was bamboozled felt so humiliated and ashamed that she has apparently committed suicide.

Anger at Australian radio station over royal hoax – Houston Chronicle.

This blog’s next step

I started blogging when I wrote small posts for World Magazine’s blog back when blogs were new.  Then I had a blog of my own under World’s auspices, and then, after World changed the way it was doing its website, I signed up with a hosting company and started my independent site.  Thanks to you loyal readers, the blog has grown and grown until we typically get over 2,000 visits a day and some 90,000 page views per month.  Recently, I was approached by the mega-religion site Patheos and invited to let them host this Cranach blog.

If I did, they would pay me for each page view.  No longer would running this blog cost me; rather, it would actually bring in some income.  Not enough for me to quit my day job, but enough to be felt in our monthly budget in these hard times.  (Patheos, with all of its blogs and resources, gets over a million page views a day, which enables them to attract big advertisers and thus to pay their writers.)  Not only that, this blog would be on a server with vast capacity and round-the-clock tech support at my beck and call.  No more crashes!  No more quirky dropping of comments!

And yet, I hesitated.  Patheos is a multi-faith site.  I’d be on their “evangelical channel.”  (That’s all right, since we Lutherans are the first evangelicals.  In fact, just as Calvinists are more properly termed “Reformed,”  Lutherans were always more properly termed “evangelical.”  Then other groups claimed the title.  But it’s a good word, referring to the centrality of the evangel, the Gospel.)  There is also a Catholic channel and a “progressive Christian” channel.  But there are also channels for Mormons and Buddhists and Muslims and just about every other world religion.  Even atheists have a channel (which is a neat trick, making atheists admit that atheism is a religion).  But I was assured that Patheos is NOT “inter-faith.”  That is, it does not pretend that all religions are the same and equally valid, squishing them all together into some syncretistic new religion that would be unrecognizable to any actual religion.  Patheos instead thinks of itself as a religious marketplace, an arena for different beliefs to battle it out, as well as a place for people to learn about the different traditions.  Surely, I reasoned, confessional Lutheranism needs to be in this mix.  I know about altar and pulpit fellowship, but I don’t think there are rules about blog fellowship.  The internet, by its nature, jumbles everyone together, and it won’t really be any different if my blog happens to be on the Patheos server.  (Here is more about Patheos and still more.)

I also worried about some of you loyal readers thinking I’ve sold out to the big corporation, which will take over what was once a down-to-earth small business, whereupon it would change the original recipe and make the gravy taste like wallpaper paste.  (I think what happened to Colonel Sanders.)  But the corporation is not taking over anything.  It’s still my blog.  I will still post whatever I want to.  The hosts exercise no control.  Nothing is really going to change in the way I run things.

So after some prayer and agonizing, I agreed to move the blog to Patheos.

There will be some cosmetic changes.  Patheos will re-work and update my site and its design, something that’s been needed for awhile anyway.   The familiar Cranach banner will remain, though probably tweaked.  The winged dragon, crowned, bearing a ring (Cranach’s seal) will be there as our logo.  (Which some of you, I know, find too scary and would just as soon it fly away.  But I’m trying to hold onto tradition right now.)  The biggest change will be a Patheos banner at the very top.  Also ads, but instead of the pathetic and sometimes embarrassing Google adsense ads for Mormon matchmaking services and the like, there will be advertisements for real products, like cars and hotels.  Also, the comments will be nested; that is, when you reply to someone else’s comments and then someone replies to what you say, the comments will be indented and placed next to each other accordingly.   This will allow digressions and rabbit trails to wander off as people have interest in discussing them, but those who don’t can concentrate on the main thread.  Most blogs have that feature today, and I think this will serve well our particular kinds of discussions.

We will all probably notice the visual changes and complain about them for a few days, but then we’ll stop noticing them.  Your bookmarks should still work.  When you click on the old web address, you’ll be automatically re-directed to the new one.  Your RSS feeds should still work, but if they don’t, they can be easily set up again by clicking a button on the site.  Same with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

I don’t know exactly when the change will happen.  Probably next week some time.  But when you see the new look, you’ll know what has happened.

We’ve got a quite extraordinary little community of discourse here.  I don’t want to lose that.  I do want to share it with other people and draw more people in.  I’ll depend on you to make Patheos drifters feel welcome.  Are you all right with this?

 

Death of a Christian jazzman

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died at age 92.  The man and his quartet showed sheer genius.  My old guitar teacher once sat in with him and it was one of the highlights of his life.  Brubeck was a Christian who composed a great deal of sacred music.  From David A. Anderson:

“I approached the composition as a prayer,” jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck said of his “To Hope! A Celebration,” a contemporary setting for the Roman Catholic Mass, “concentrating upon the phrases, trying to probe beneath the surface, hoping to translate into music the powerful words which have grown through the centuries.”

Probing beneath the surface marked all of Brubeck’s music, from the revolutionary 1959 polyrhythmic album “Time Out,” to his oratorio, “A Light in the Wilderness,” and his setting of Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, “Pange Lingua.”

Brubeck is best known in the secular jazz world for his startling compositions using different time signatures, such as 5/4 time in the classic “Take Five,” or the mixture of 9/8 time and the more traditional 4/4 rhythm of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Both pieces are on the “Time Out” album, the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies and still one of the best-selling.

Religious faith, however, was never far from Brubeck’s creative mind. . . .

In a 2009 interview with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Brubeck said his service in World War II convinced him “something should be done musically to strengthen man’s knowledge of God.”

That experience gave him the idea of an oratorio based on the Ten Commandments, particularly the “Thou shalt not kill” part.

But he did not act on the idea of writing sacred music until 1965, when he wrote a short piece, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” to comfort his brother, Howard, whose son had died of a brain tumor at age 16.

That piece was incorporated into 1968’s “A Light in the Wilderness,” his first full-scale sacred composition.

That was followed by a series of pieces including 1969’s “The Gates of Justice,” a choral work using words from Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Truth is Fallen,” in 1971; “La Fiesta de la Posada” in 1975; and “Beloved Son,” in 1978.

“When I write a piece, a sacred piece, I’m looking hard and trying to discover what I’m about, and what my parents were about and the world is about,” he told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Raised a Protestant although never baptized, Brubeck became a Roman Catholic in 1980 after completing “To Hope!”, a Mass setting commissioned by the Catholic periodical, Our Sunday Visitor.

via The sacred ran through jazz legend Dave Brubeck’s music – The Washington Post.

Brubeck shows that it’s certainly possible and desirable to have contemporary Christian music, even to have it used in worship–if it could only be rich and complex and artistic and in accord with the Christian sensibility, unlike much of what passes for that genre today.

Here is his “Celebration” Mass. It’s just over 10 minutes, but keep listening for the choral parts and for when his quartet breaks in (around the 4 minute mark).

Here is “Take Five,” Brubeck’s most famous piece.  (Pick out the 5/4 time.)  Brubeck right now is taking five before the Resurrection.


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