Smart people saying smart things

Brian McLaren: “An Open Letter to Rebecca Kadaga”

I have visited Uganda as a Christian leader and met with a wide variety of Christian leaders. They have impressed me as people of compassion, not violence … of grace, not intolerance. They know that Jesus was once put in a situation similar to the one you face in Uganda today. A group of strict religious leaders pressured him to assent to the killing of a woman widely regarded as a damnable, detestable sinner. They quoted the Bible to make their case. But he resisted that pressure and overcame it. He courageously sided with the woman, and he challenged those preparing to throw stones at her to face their own hypocrisy. Rather than handing them a stone “as a Christmas gift,” he risked his reputation, even his life, in an effort to protect her. He handed them another gift: a model of compassion, a new way of being religious, a new way of being human.

Terence Weldon: “Walking in Our Shoes”

The whole point of the word “heteronormative” is that this is the way the world is constructed, based on a single, majority way of seeing things – without ever considering that another perspective is possible.

In the religious sphere, there is often outrage at the very concept of queer biblical interpretation, or theology from an LGBT point of view, with no recognition at all that “traditional” biblical hermeneutics is constructed from an automatically straight perspective, with no particular justification for it. This is especially clear where modern conservatives insist that they are merely trying to protect traditional marriage “as found in the Bible” – when their understanding is of “traditional” is a very modern one.

Rebecca Levi: “‘Just to Make a Statement’: Power, Sincerity, and the Women of the Wall”

Rabbi Rabinowitz is implying, of course, that it’s impossible to demonstrate and worship at the same time. (It’s also worth noting that his wording rhetorically links Women of the Wall to anti-Occupation demonstrators, another group he likely considers deviant and traitorous to the Jewish norm.) And, in all fairness, the idea that worship is an activity in which you remove yourself temporarily from day-to-day concerns is not a position without, you know, significant precedent. Even etymologically, both the English (from Greek) word “sacred” and the Hebrew word kadosh, “holy,” come from roots having to do with “set-apartness” and “withdrawal.” Similarly, it is hardly controversial to suggest that the main goal of worship should be to direct attention not to yourself, but to the Divine.

But what Rabinowitz doesn’t see — or chooses not to see — is that separating worship from daily affairs and not drawing attention to oneself in the practice of worship is a luxury reserved for powerful people with normative practices. If you’re a member of a group that’s “out,” accessing the same prayer sites, practices and rituals, with the same level of respect and dignity, as the “in” group can’t not attract attention. In such a case, worship necessarily becomes a political action.

Steven Hill: “Don’t Cut Social Security — Double It”

Here’s the dilemma that the United States faces. Since World War II, individual retirement has been based on a “three-legged stool,” with the three legs being Social Security, pensions, and personal savings (the latter primarily centered around home ownership). But two out of three of these legs have been chopped back to blunted pegs, leaving the retirement stool as an unstable, one-legged oddity.

… The gritty reality that the Obama administration and House Republicans must face is that the vast majority of America’s retirees cannot afford to watch them hack off part of the only leg that remains of the three-legged stool. Quite the contrary, we should make that leg more robust by doubling the current Social Security payout, and turning it into a true national retirement system called “Social Security Plus.” Doing so not only would be good for American retirees, but also would be good for the greater macro economy.

Steve Benen: “Jindal’s selective concern for the poor”

For Jindal, poor and disadvantaged kids should have the same educational opportunities as kids from wealthy families. Fine. There’s ample evidence that vouchers don’t work, but let’s stick to the larger principle. The next question is pretty straightforward: can poor and disadvantaged kids have the same access to quality health care as kids from wealthy families? How about the same access to safe and affordable housing? How about nutrition? And transportation? And political influence?

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LBCF, No. 190: ‘Something happens’
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LBCF, No. 190: ‘Something happens’

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  • Did you also notice mb used the code words “equality of outcome”? M-O-O-N, that spells right-wing dogma.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Yeah.  To refer to the Blond-Jump test upthread, ‘equality of outcome’ is a way to equivocate any attempt at balancing the system so that more people get a positive result…  (i.e. stop kneecapping people, or option D) which is a kind of ‘equality of outcome’ – hence equivocation – with ‘bias the scoring so that everyone passes ‘, or option A, which, as I was badly trying to argue in my previous post, is really a kind of bad idea.  (There’s something to be said for ‘bias the scoring to counteract an existing arbitrary (not related to any actual discrepancy in results) bias’, but also kind of… mangled.

    But yeah, I’ve never seen a progressive use the phrase ‘equality of outcome’… maybe it’d be accurate to say what we want is Equality of Opportunity (not just ‘equality of testing’) and Adequacy of Outcome.

  • P J Evans

    On second thought, Americans have so many extracurricular activities
    (sports, music, arts) to fill the remaining time that I don’t think it
    could happen.

    Sports, yes, but it’s an expensive way to fill time. As for the others – the fine arts are, according to many politicians, frills that we can’t afford to have in schools. (I think that some social ills would be greatly improved by having more fine arts in schools.)

  • P J Evans

    The better schools and the private tutors and the more enriching home
    environment are all products of the higher household bank balance and
    say nothing about whether kids with higher household bank balances are
    better suited to education than kids with lower household bank balances.

    Examples: G W Bush. Mitt Romney. Luke Russert, and about half the other political commentators on TV and in newspapers.

  • P J Evans

     Yeah, because the version I got was all multiple-guess questions. If you had a reasonable knowledge of the area the questions were in, you had a much better chance of getting a higher score, but you had to have enough understanding to apply that knowledge.
    (Teaching to the test doesn’t get that understanding across.)

  • One thing I wish more people were taught is that exam-taking is a skill in and of itself, mainly involving reading comprehension.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Thanks for explaining; I hadn’t come across this before.

    Since the *only* thing that can be guaranteed in life is that one day you will die, it seems to me that this philosophy supports the right to death, and nothing else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    …isn’t it conservatives who are most vehemently against physician-assisted suicide?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Other extreme left-wing views are that private property should be abolished, religion should be banned, or that education should be the same for everyone.

    “Religion should be banned” is not a left wing view. The catechism of the Catholic Church is pretty left wing, for pete’s sake. Again, you’re confusing your economic and social philosophies.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I think high inheritance taxes are good, but forcible redistribution of wealth is bad.

    Inheritance taxes are forcible redistribution of wealth. That sentence made no sense.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Acknowledging that degree inflation is irreversible

    Why? Show your work, don’t just throw out an unsubstantiated premise.

  • EllieMurasaki

    It almost does if you squint right. If Anne has a million dollars when she dies and the inheritance tax on that figure is twenty-five percent, Anne’s kid Bob is up seven hundred fifty grand instead of a million, but the whole million was never his, so he’s not out anything. The government swoops in in the moments when the money is no longer Anne’s but not yet Bob’s; it reduces what Bob gets from Anne’s estate but it doesn’t take anything from him. Income and capital gains taxes, on the other hand, are either a thing one writes the government regular checks for, which means money the government takes from one, or a line item on the paystub, money one earned that is taken by the government before one ever sees it, or both.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I stand by my assertion that doing badly on such a simple test is evidence that one is unsuited for higher education.

    As it happens, there’s a whole body of research about this done by expert professionals, not dudes on the internet. They have found that standardised test scores are not a great predictor of how well one will do in higher education.

  • Thing is, everybody and their dog fantasizes there’s gonna be a heyyyuuuuuuuuuuuuge pot of gold when the old man kicks off, and they’re panting so hard after that money it’s easy to whoop up resentment against the government for something they won’t even get taxed on because the inheritance is likely to be below the threshold.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s not a right to determine your own death, just that you will get one.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    One thing I wish more people were taught is that exam-taking is a skill in and of itself, mainly involving reading comprehension.

    Also familiarity with the way exam questions are structured, the best way of structuring answers, and identifying the critical nuances between options in multiple choice questions. It’s called being testwise.

    I taught university science courses, and had lots of students who did exceptionally well on exams in first and second year, where sheer hard work to memorise great volumes of facts pays off. Many of those students fell back to average or below average in third and Honours years when their marks were more dependent on critical thinking, insight, and oral and written communication.

    Now I regularly sit on selection panels where a science degree is the minimum entry requirement. I’m not that interested in a candidate’s degree average, and I’m less impressed by someone who got straight HDs in first year than someone who got Ds in third year. Once they make the cut for interview I don’t care about their academic results at all. Some of the worst interview performances I’ve ever seen have come from people who performed exceptionally well at uni but showed no evidence of having translated their education into skills.

  • Lori


    I stand by my assertion that doing badly on such a simple test is evidence that one is unsuited for higher education.   

    You can stand next to it all you want, but your assertion is still false. You clearly think pretty highly of your own intelligence, and that may be justified in an IQ sense, but when it comes to practical application you don’t have it.

  • Lori


    Also familiarity with the way exam questions are structured, the best
    way of structuring answers, and identifying the critical nuances between
    options in multiple choice questions. It’s called being testwise.   

    I tutored a classmate for her 2nd attempt at the LSAT. I had several classes with her and knew for a fact that she was smart, but her first score was dismal on her first try was dismal. I can still clearly remember going over an incorrect answer on her first practice test and casually pointing out that one of the choices clearly couldn’t be the correct answer because it wasn’t grammatically correct in combination with the question. That had never occurred to her. It wasn’t because she was unsuited to higher education, it was because there’s a certain way you have to look at the test and that didn’t come naturally to her. (Her score went way up when she retook the test and she got into law school and did very well there. She was a returning student and 15 or 20 years older than I, so I imagine she’s retired by now, but I have no reason to think that she didn’t do well as an attorney.)

  • The_L1985

    Dude, I made a 1540 on the SAT, before they added the writing section.  Which means that I missed a grand total of 3 questions on the entire thing.  (One was on finding the area of a kite, which I hadn’t done since 9th grade.  One was in the English section, which still baffles me, as grammar has always been a pretty easy subject for me.  The other was a math question, which I couldn’t believe at the time I’d forgotten how to solve.  I don’t remember what that question is anymore.)

    I still flunked out of the first college I went to, during the first semester, and changed majors twice before I finally got my BS.  Total time elapsed between HS graduation and attainment of BS: 6 years, including full-time classes during all summer terms.

    Classes I failed:

    – Linear Algebra, twice.  (First for a computer-engineering degree, then again for a math degree.  I did eventually end up passing, but only because my third prof let us use graphing calculators.)

    – Intro to Circuits.  (Computer engineering again.)

    – My 2nd class programming with C++.  (It had been a year since I’d taken the 101 class, and I’d foolishly sold back the books, assuming that the 102 book would have some sort of handy reference guide to the syntax covered in the earlier levels.  It didn’t.  I aced the conceptual class, but failed to complete a single lab assignment.)

    – This stupid “you have to go to our school’s chapel for course credit” thing at my first college, which was required in order to remain enrolled, and which pissed me off.  (I was still Christian at the time, and drove for a full hour each way to the nearest Catholic church every single Sunday, but they didn’t count that as “going to church” because they couldn’t monitor it.  To me, that defeats the entire purpose of going to church.)

    SATs don’t mean jack squat about whether or not you can do well in college.  All they determine is whether you have decent grammatical and algebraic ability and can bubble in a Scantron correctly. Nobody outside of K-12 uses Scantron. NOBODY.

    We shouldn’t be preparing minorities for taking a bullshit test that proves NOTHING. We should be preparing them for whatever future they choose, and we’re not offering them that choice.

  • The_L1985

    What if the only “flaw” is extreme test anxiety?  Let’s face it, if you set a kid down in front of a Scantron sheet and say, “What you write on this piece of paper will affect everything for the rest of your life,” half of them will just flat-out PANIC and not be able to focus.  Some of these students are brilliant; some of them could still do very well in college.  Standardized-test-taking ability is not academic ability.  It is a totally separate “skill” with extremely limited applications, and is completely, 100% worthless after high school.

    And again, I made a 1540 without having anything remotely resembling study skills at all.  I crashed and burned when I got to college, because I’d coasted through my entire K-12 education on an unusually good memory.  In college, memorizing isn’t enough; you have to actively figure things out and solve problems.  High-scorers on the SAT aren’t necessarily good at that sort of active problem-solving; I wasn’t for at least the first 2 years of college.

    I made it through college for two, somewhat closely-related reasons:
    – I was determined to have a degree in something useful so I could be financially self-sufficient.  Enough other women in my family had been trapped for various periods of time in bad marriages that I was determined not to have that same problem.
    – My parents were wealthy enough to pay my tuition up front.  If I’d had to pay student loans, I would not be self-sufficient now, or probably EVER.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    My colleges used Scantron.  Both of them.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    If memory serves, I got a 1460 on my SAT and that number has been completely and utterly irrelevant the rest of my life. If anything, the skills high school taught me (go to class on time, finish your homework) worked against me in college, because I was busy doing work for junky general ed classes, like a good student, while classmates of mine were focusing on the work that was going in their portfolios and getting them jobs. Fortunately, I realized this soon enough to change in time for my third and fourth years.

  • *cough*

    Actually my uni’s chemistry classes routinely use Scantron cards for multiple choice exams in first year because of the high volume of students, with minor exceptions such as in one class where the professor decided against using Scantrons in favor of hand marking exams. The class size was small enough to allow doing this in a reasonable amount of time.

  • Lori

    IDK about the SAT, but the LSAT and the GRE are now administered by computer and no longer use Scatrons. The switch required some important modifications of test-taking strategy*. As noted earlier, test taking is its own skill and when they change the rules you have to learn to adapt. Being smart doesn’t mean that the necessary changes will automatically be obvious and easy.

    *IMO the two most important changes are:

    -You can’t skip a question and go back to it later. That requires that you change your strategy for when and how to just take a flyer and guess

    -The test adapts to you, rather than being a fixed set of questions. Everyone starts out with a certain number of questions that most, but not all people will get correct. If you answer correctly the degree of difficulty goes up, if you answer wrong it goes down. That means that you can tell roughly how well you’re doing based on the questions that you’re given.  That means that you’re fighting a completely different level of test anxiety, especially if you get off to kind of a rough start. You also need to be able to incorporate that feedback on the fly, which is actually pretty tricky to do.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ooh, that sounds interesting! I got a buzz out of taking tests (*nerd alert*) so would kind of like to try one of those computerised ones just to see how it feels.


    In case there are high school students reading this comment thread, let me reiterate: a standardised test score at the end of high school does not rule your life.

    If you get a high score, that’s nice but it doesn’t mean you’re set forever–and if you expect people to be impressed by it a few years later, you’re in for disappointment. I don’t know about America, but in Australia it’s considered pretty dorky to ever bring it up if you’ve completed any higher education. You don’t even put it on your cv. If you had a brilliant high school career it’s sad to have to drop it off your cv altogether but there you go. I recruit people for high status jobs–permanent, white collar, above average pay and conditions–we don’t care how awesome you were in high school; we want to know that you have the skills we need.

    On the flip side, if you didn’t get a high score don’t let anyone convince you that your life is over. There are many different paths to a happy, meaningful life, not just the one that you have pictured at 17 (or the one that someone else has pictured for you). Even if you’re deadset on going to uni, there’s more than one way for that to happen. When I was doing my PhD there was a fellow student who failed Year 12 (dramatically)–it just wasn’t a good time for him. He took some time off, worked a bit, retook his Year 12 exams through TAFE and entered uni as a mature age student. Now he has a PhD and is a medical scientist–a guy who was in the bottom 10% of his grade in Year 12.

    Every now and then I hear a tragic story of some teenager who’s killed themselves because of the pressure to get high marks at high school. It’s a good thing to study, put in a lot of effort and do your very best. It’s not a good thing to let people believe that if they don’t score highly on a particular test they’ll die poor and alone.

  • Lori

    Ooh, that sounds interesting! I got a buzz out of taking tests (*nerd alert*) so would kind of like to try one of those computerised ones just
    to see how it feels.   

    I have that too. I sort of hated everything else about applying to grad school, but I loved taking the GRE. I just didn’t tell most people that because  enough people already think I’m a weirdo.

    Based on having done as well as it’s possible to do on the verbal and not anywhere close to that well on the math, the adaptive feature is the best thing ever if you’re doing well and really tough when you’re not. I think I now I have some idea how mice feel when they run those mazes and either get food pellets or shocks.