Archive for May, 2010
Next Tuesday, Californians will vote on Proposition 14, a ballot initiative designed to restructure the electoral process in the country’s largest state.
The essence of Prop 14 is to eliminate party primaries by 1) opening up the primaries to registrants of all parties (including independents and third-party registrants), and by 2) including only the two candidates with the top primary totals in the general election, irrespective of party. According to the CA Legislative Council:
This measure, which would be known as the “Top Two Primaries Act,” would provide for a “voter-nominated primary election” for each state elective office and congressional office in California, in which a voter may vote at the primary election for any candidate for a congressional or state elective office without regard to the political party preference disclosed by the candidate or the voter. The measure would further provide that a candidate for a congressional or state elective office generally may choose whether to have his or her political party preference indicated upon the ballot for that office in the manner to be provided by statute. The measure would prohibit a political party or party central committee from nominating a candidate for a congressional or state elective office at the primary, but the measure would permit a political party or party central committee to endorse, support, or oppose a candidate for congressional or state elective office. The 2 candidates receiving the 2 highest vote totals for each office at a primary election, regardless of party preference, would then compete for the office at the ensuing general election.
There are several good arguments for this change. One argument against the current closed-primary system encourages primary candidates to move toward the fringes in order to get the support of party loyalists, who are more likely to vote in primaries. Open primaries would moderate the candidates earlier and weed out extremists.
I am a registered member of a third party in PA. I do not plan to vote in the next election. If I were a CA resident and a voter, I would be concerned about Prop 14 for several reasons.
First, I think that parties play a key role in screening and moderating candidates. I also don’t like the idea of Republicans choosing Democratic candidates, or vice-versa–if primaries are open, party registration is irrelevant. A party should decide its candidate amongst its members, and then let that candidate stand for election by the public. Different parties choose candidates in different ways (conventions, primaries, elites/delegates), and that is the prerogative of each party.
Also, I don’t think that Prop 14 will accomplish a stated goal of its proponents: to broaden the field for candidates without party support. First of all, it’s still very difficult to run a primary or a general election without a party structure; only candidates that fund their own campaigns (Corzine, Perot, Bloomberg) have a chance. Second, the fact that a party will not be guaranteed a spot on the November ballot will lead to parties suppressing a wide field of primary candidates. Here’s a hypothetical example:
- For the CA gubernatorial primary, Democrats A and B run, as well as Republicans C, D and E.
- The CA Republican establishment, knowing that Democrats outnumber Republicans in CA, fear that none of Candidates C, D or E will get into the primary Top Two, and the general election will be between two Democrats.
- The Republicans pressure D and E to drop out and support C, in exchange for higher-level positions in C’s administration.
In this situation, the new Prop-14 system would have the opposite effect of its intention. At least in a party-based, closed-primary system the primary losers usually try to unify the parties behind the winners for the general election.
The Prop-14 system increases the potential costs to the parties of tolerating diversity or dissent from within, and thus it increases the chance that the parties will take more aggressive (perhaps corrupt) steps to stamp out dissent–which is not healthy for a party or for the public.
With so much information available to the public, the ability to sort out fact and fiction and to discern relevant and irrelevant facts is more important than ever. A good example is the difference between causation and correlation.
This week Corrie and I went to our first birthing class in preparation for the delivery of our first son (due July 26). Jen, our very kind and energetic instructor, was giving us some information about different decisions we would need to make. She strongly the nutritional value of breast milk over formula, stating that breast-fed babies are proven to be smarter than formula-fed babies.
Though I am in favor of breastfeeding, I am skeptical of her claim. First, it would be important that the surveys that substantiate the claim be conducted with a large enough sample–it’s simple enough to find one breastfed person who turns out to be smarter than one formula-fed person. Beyond sample size, it is also important to control for other factors (age, education and income of parents, nutrition beyond infancy, race, gender, heredity, etc.), in order to do an apples-to-apples comparison (not that infants are apples). Third, the difference in intelligence may not be statistically significant in light of other factors.
But even if it could be demonstrated that breastfed babies end up with higher IQs than formula-fed babies, this would not prove causation, only correlation. Perhaps causation runs the other direction: more intelligent parents tend to want to breastfeed their babies for some reason, and so the babies are breastfed because they are smart (or their parents are smart), rather than being smart because of breastfeeding.
Perhaps higher intelligence and breastfeeding are both results of another factor. This was my first thought when the subject was brought up. A stay-at-home mother who breastfeeds may be more likely to have a higher income, since her family can presumably sacrifice a second income at least for a little while. Income is connected with education. Alternatively, the benefit of breastfeeding may be non-nutritional: a mother who bonds with her child while breastfeeding may be more likely to continue to nurture the child in other ways as s/he grows up. Or, perhaps she was already so inclined, so that the breastfeeding and continued nurture have the same cause root cause.
Sorting out correlation and causation is complicated. There are also spurious correlations. My friend, Ann, is fond of a graph showing an inverse relationship between the number of pirates in the world and the global temperature. Maybe the solution to global warming is beefed-up batch of buccaneers.
Now that New Jersey has been awarded the Big Game® for 2014, in theory other cold-weather venues might be in play in the future. This morning, Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio were discussing the possibility of an overseas Super Bowl. Greenberg brought up London as a possibility, since there have already been NFL games played there.
Golic was skeptical that American football would catch on overseas to the degree that baseball and now basketball have. I think that he’s right, largely because of two factors: economics and sporting culture.
First, football is a very involved and capital-intensive game compared with others. To play soccer, all you need is a lot, a ball and four rocks for goalposts. Organized football requires quite a bit of equipment, at least 44 players, 5-7 officials, and a grassy field with yard markings. America is a wealthy country, but the only way that most American kids can be involved in football is through a school with an investment in a program. The US has a significant football infrastructure already: junior-high, high school, university, professionals. (This is why hockey has taken a long time to catch on in the US: the costs of equipment and practice time are prohibitively expensive.)
Second, sporting culture is different in other countries, even those that could afford to play football. In Europe, sport is primarily through independent clubs, not through schools. Football is a sport that requires many players to work together in concert, rather than just a bunch of friends in a neighborhood. A local soccer league will be more rewarding in terms of quality of play and exercise than a local football league, which would cost too much and require too much travel for less satisfaction.
What do you think? Could football catch on in Europe, India or the Middle East?
Eugæphorist, eugephorist (yu-JEE-for-ist) – n. One who distributes and promulgates Good Earth tea. (Gr ευγηφερειν: ευ- "good," γη "earth," φερειν "to carry, bear")
"I have been profligately eugæphorizing in the office, distributing tea bags to passersby."
My friend and coworker, Gordon, recently sent me this e-mail:
Have I ever expressed to you how much I can’t stand the little jingle for [local Christian radio station]‘s Bible teaching hour at 1pm? It contains the line "So take the time to read [the Bible], cause Jesus took the time to bleed for your sins."
Who EVER thought that that was fine to put in a jingle or really to put in ANYTHING! UGH! Not only is it cheesy as H-E-double hockey sticks, but it totally diminishes what Christ did on the cross. It’s nice of him to take the time out of his busy ministry schedule to bleed for our sins. So weird and awkward!
TheOnion recently posted, "Heckled Christian Rock Band Knows How Jesus Felt":
Bass player Kevin Clark, 26, compared Friday night’s harrowing show to "what Jesus must have braved" at the hands of Pontius Pilate, claiming that while performing he also faced a series of false accusations, including being called the "King of the D–kheads" by one crowd member.
Why do we feel the need to compare our suffering to Christ’s? Perhaps with the underlying goal of defending God’s honor, we try to attribute some sort of transcendant significance to our own suffering. Well, sometimes our pain is not part of some cosmic, Zoroastrian struggle between good and evil. Sometimes pain is discipline from God. Often pain is a result of our sin or someone elses. And sometimes, Sugar-Honey-Iced-Tea happens.
I appreciated all your encouraging/empathetic comments last week when I needed them most. I have quite a few things for which to be thankful.
- A Messiah who loved me and gave himself for me
- A wonderful wife who supports me 92% (and the other 8% are my myriad harebrained ideas, which she is right to oppose)
- A son on the way, apparently healthy so far
- A good job that pays well, with a competent, caring supervisor
- Interesting and thoughtful coworkers–friends
- A church that permits me to minister and supports my efforts
- Financial blessings, including minimal loans and steady work
- An opportunity to work on a doctorate
- Teaching possibilities
- Loving family, old and new
- The writings of N.T. Wright, Richard Hays and Adele Berlin
- Libraries full of books
- Rhythm, music
…and many more.
I thought it would be helpful for me to make a list. I tend to focus on the interesting possibilities rather than the wonderful realities. Lord, forgive me–give me gratitude.
Right now, I’m struggling through what used to be my annual, but now is now my monthly, disappointment with my options and frustration in my current situation.
It’s not a secret. My boss knows and understands. I’ve been in my pharma job for four years now, and I am grateful for the pay, benefits and time off–but even more grateful for my friends there. But this work is killing me, because it is not me. It’s put me through school, but now I am ready to move on to what I’ve been preparing for these seven years.
I’m living with my in-laws (long story), hopefully temporarily. They are wonderful, but I think all four of us agree that the situation is less than ideal. I came home from work today, and Claudia, sensing that something was wrong, asked me, “Especially difficult day at work?” I responded that I wish it had been an exceptional day, rather than an ordinary one. At least I could hope that tomorrow might be better. And, I suppose it could be–but probably not. “Same thing we do every night, Pinky….”
I donated blood at work today. [Insert corny analogy between my job and bloodletting.] I felt a little light-headed afterward, as I occasionally do, so I lay down for a few extra minutes in the blood bus. It is pathetic how happy I was about those seven fewer minutes I spent at my desk.
Recently, Corrie and I made some big decisions. We chose not to move to Dallas in order to pursue training for service with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We both feel that, though Wycliffe’s mission is worthy and important, God has called me to teach, and so I will proceed with doctoral work. (I have secured an advisor at Stellenbosch University and a topic, and I’m working on a dissertation proposal.) But this decision means that I will probably have to stick it out in my current job for as long as I work on my doctorate. With a baby on the way and a wife to support, I don’t have too much flexibility.
Everything seems like it’s out of my control. I know that I have plenty of things for which to be thankful to God, but sometimes I really wish that I were in the driver’s seat. Then at least I could have some sense of self-determination. But I suppose man’s desire for self-determination in Eden is what started all our problems…
Who has spoken and it came to pass
unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?
As something of a recovering political junkie, I’ve followed the electoral process of the United Kingdom with amusement. My friends from across the pond tell me that the Brits tend to take a more cynical perspective on politics than we Merkins do. Some may find that hard to believe, considering how low Congress’ and the President’s approval ratings are.
But perhaps the low approval ratings are the result of exalted expectations. Our politicians sweep into office with high ideals and vast promises, but fail to deliver. According to public choice theory, which was pioneered by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, we should expect politicians to behave rationally once elected–i.e., with an eye toward maintaining power and rewarding the special interests that got them there.
The public choice story, however, may not be the whole story. A couple of years ago I read Bryan Caplan’s excellent book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. In Caplan’s view, democracies work surprisingly well at giving majorities what they want. The problem is not that special interests hijack the electoral process and hang a huge albatross around the voters’ necks–it’s that the public’s faulty views about policy actually win.
It’s not just that the voting public is uneducated, though it is. If most people voted randomly, we would get pretty decent policies overall. If 90% of the public is ignorant but votes randomly for Candidate A or Candidate B, statistics tells us that 45% will vote A, 45% will vote B. Then the remaining 10% of informed voters would choose the better of the two.
The problem is that the public doesn’t vote randomly; it is biased toward bad policies. Caplan, an economist, focuses on four systematic public biases concerning economics:
- Anti-Market Bias — A mistrust of the free market to produce socially beneficial results. We are suspicious of people acting in the market in pure self-interest, because we realize that in our personal relationships self-interest is destructive. With the right constraints, however, market competition compels people to try to please people they otherwise wouldn’t care about.
- Make-Work Bias — A tendency to focus on employment over production. This bias shows itself in the clamor to avoid technological advancement or imports in the interest of save jobs (particularly domestic jobs). This bias is also behind the misconception that war stimulates an economy.
- Anti-Foreign Bias — A mistrust of foreign competition, either in goods or labor. This bias leads to irrational fear that imported goods will harm the domestic industry, or that immigration will undermine a nation’s economy.
- Pessimistic Bias — A belief that overall productivity and prosperity are diminishing over time.
In aspects of our lives in which the consequences of holding a false belief are great, we rationally moderate our beliefs. Caplan’s example is Dr. Smith, a surgeon who very happily believes that he is so talented he could operate quite well while intoxicated. The consequences of being wrong, however–losing his medical license, a lawsuit, criminal charges–prevent him from acting on those beliefs.
Unfortunately, the statistical insignificance of a single vote makes an individual more likely to indulge these biases in the voting booth. Since it makes no difference whether Dr. Smith votes rationally or irrationally, he chooses to indulge his mistaken beliefs about policy rather than to sacrifice his beliefs for the minuscule chance of changing policy for the better.
So, democracy works surprisingly well, giving the people what they want. The bad news is that the range of questions that are democratically decided is increasing, and therefore bad policy persists.
I have decided not to vote in November. I know that, statistically speaking, it is irrational for me to waste an hour voting. I’ve abandoned the romance and religious conviction about civic duty that I had when I turned 18. Maybe that’s wrong–I’m open to being re-converted.
Back to the UK, it looks like a hung parliament for now. As much as some UK natives complain about the supposedly outdated system, seems to make more sense than our “winner-take-all” presidency. Because the generally left- and right-wing parties failed to get a majority, the centrist Liberal Democrats now get to influence policy in ways that third parties cannot in the US presidential race or in Congress. It will be interesting to see which party eventually gets to “form a government”–choose a PM and a cabinet.
כְּעַן אֲנָה נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר, מְשַׁבַּח וּמְרוֹמֵם וּמְהַדַּר לְמֶלֶךְ שְׁמַיָּא, דִּי כָל-מַעֲבָדוֹהִי קְשֹׁט, וְאֹרְחָתֵהּ דִּין; וְדִי מַהְלְכִין בְּגֵוָה, יָכִל לְהַשְׁפָּלָה׃
This morning my good friend, Conor, and I will finish off our second team-taught high-school Sunday school. We followed up the fall semester’s highly successful (but R-rated!) series, "The Sins of the Old Testament Saints," with this spring’s critically acclaimed, "How to Read the Bible." It’s been a wonderful semester with the leaders and the students. We have smart, inquisitive young people who are never satisfied with a simplistic answer.
I’ve made a concerted effort this year to put into practice some reading I’ve done recently on philosophies of education. I’m not sure that any single model of teaching (or really, of learning–thanks, Dr. Postman) is the absolute best; the teacher must be flexible in adapting to the needs of the students. This requires a tremendous amount of work–and really, a whole lotta love. (My brother and I were gettin’ the Led out yesterday….)
Conor and I have tried our best this semester to be to the students examples of learners, rather than teachers. A teacher is really a student who is a little further along in his or her learning than some other students.
This morning, we will wrap up the series by discussing the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Scriptures. We will be reading from John 14, as well as discussing our own experiences. The students have picked apart poems, law code, narratives, synoptic texts and parables. We desire more than anything else that they read the Scriptures under the exhortation and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Thomas Turner has a particularly insightful post today on Pentecost, over at Everyday Liturgy. Here’s an excerpt:
We often forget that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. This being so, when we are filled with the Spirit we are filled with Christ: we become Christ’s presence in a dramatic and powerful way. The flaming tongues, a dramatic sign of the filling of the Spirit too often dwarfs takes the focus off of the way that the filling of the Spirit empowers people to speak God’s Word to their local communities.