Friday, August 28, 2009

The lack of blogging will continue...

I now know why most people aren't as well-read as I think they should be... those people are busy. And now I am busy too. I can occasionally tweet but can't find time to write anything worthwhile (except emails to students).

School started this week which means I divide my scarce time mainly among the following:
1. Calculus 2
2. Teaching 4 sections of 3 classes, plus 2 different independent studies.
3. Faculty sponsor of a student club.
4. Chair of a faculty committee (someone's cruel joke).
5. Student advising & registration (students aren't allowed to drop their own classes...)
6. Trying to force technology to make my life easier--which actually makes it harder and more time-consuming.

So, I have to carve out time to read newspapers and blogs to stay current. My mobile device helped me with this until NewsGator decided to discontinue support of its NewsGator Go! app in favor of synching with Google Reader. So, now my RSS feeds are MUCH harder to read and much less organized due to Google Reader being horrible over mobile devices. I feel betrayed by this decision, it's the angriest I've been at a tech company since Windows 95 came out, but in that case it was a step forward while this one is a step backward. And I am going to send an angry email to NewsGator if I find more time...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Death to a Conspiracy Theory?

The only good Obama "conspiracy theory" I could come up with was one that was rumored in the mainstream: Obama would appoint his adviser Larry Summers to be the next Fed chairman.

The thinking is that Bernanke is an inflation hawk and would raise interest rates if inflation expectations ran high. While debt-per-GDP is expected to grow exponentially due to the health care & entitlements costs, Bernanke won't help the gov't out by monetizing it. Hence, some thought Obama would appoint his friend Summers to be more aggressive in holding rates down and allowing inflation to rise to levels not seen since the early 80s-- in order to bail out the government's balance sheet.

Now that Obama is reappointing Bernanke, perhaps that conspiracy theory finally goes out the window. Or we can wait until Obama's second term... :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Great quote

HT: @DavidWessel of Wall Street Journal. Barney Frank on economists:

Not for the first time, as an elected official, I envy economists. Economists have available to them, in an analytical approach, the counterfactual. Economists can explain that a given decision was the best one that could be made, because they can show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation. They can contrast what happened to what would have happened. No one has ever gotten reelected where the bumper sticker said, "It would have been worse without me." You probably can get tenure with that. But you can't win office.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Change is coming...

I've sat through 2 long days of "faculty development," staff reports, and instructional seminars. The theme of today's meetings came from this commercial for Kaplan University which scared many of our administrators:


"Change is coming..." "Things are changing fast..." "We must change..." "We must be aware of what's changing..." were all repeated cliches of the day.

It's funny because I've been repeating similar cliches for the last week. My department has a new boss who is an outsider (like myself) and an instrument of change. It's like a tidal wave approaching shore, you can either find a way to roll with it or be destroyed by it.

Higher education is changing. We live in an increasingly global extremely competitive world where students would rather get a cheaper online degree from home than drive somewhere for expensive face-to-face interaction. As higher education becomes more necessary more people are supplying it and doing it in new ways that are eliminating the old players.

Students are changing. College students today have never known of a world without the internet. They're growing more comfortable with doing everything online, including reading textbooks. Our admissions director/chief recruiter said "I'm working in such a way that we are all still here in 5 years."

Technology changes faster than you can change. We watched an IT demonstration of a new but very soon-to-be obsolete software package (hello, Google Wave) that even the IT people hadn't mastered yet (and was disappointingly unflexible).

This time around the change benefits me and makes me feel young. I'm the guy who is always online with his mobile device and gets work done during lectures with an attention-getting tiny Asus EEE netbook. Both devices are models from well over a year ago and are considered out-of-date. Yet they're revolutionary and cool to my peers who are older. I'm the guy live tweeting the meeting (I counted a couple other new faculty twitterers today too). So, I am fairly hip to the idea of more technological change. IE: I may be older and less cool than my students, but I'm still OK.

I've lived in different cultures, gone through different universities, and am always voraciously devouring the latest ideas and debates. So, I relish the idea of our university doing new things and not stuck doing the same old same old.

Change for change's sake is often unnecessary. But change for survival, and change that is deeply striving for the glory of God is necessary and pretty exciting. Except for those who don't want to change...

4th Anniversary

Four years ago today I married my beautiful wife. She has added value to my life and radically changed my values. This is the first time we've spent consecutive anniversaries in the same place. She gets to put up with my desire to live lots of places as well as my mad blog rants about sports, my frustrations with lying Republicans (and other forms of politician), and my odd obsessions with journalists and economist bloggers. We do have a wonderful son who is even more fun than he was a year ago in part because of his mommy. And we still have NASCAR.

Congrats, babe! Happy anniversary!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I found this funny...

Niall Ferguson is author of The Ascent of Money which I reviewed here and is airing on PBS in four 1-hour segments (and is a required text for my Money & Banking class). He also writes a periodic column for the Financial Times. What he wrote a few weeks ago was so bizarre that everyone said "huh?" and some quickly accused him of being a racist. He has responded to his critics by talking to his colleague Henry Louis Gates Jr. --the same Gates who shared a beer at the White House with the cop that arrested him--to find out if his weird remark was indeed offensive.

I reprint Paul Krugman's blog post today because it made me spew my coffee. I am thankful for lively open discussion among such PhDs:

I really had no intention of writing more about Niall Ferguson. Regular readers may recall that he wrote an article in the Financial Times that began,

President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US …

I asked, are there no editors?

But Professor Ferguson demands that I (and James Fallows) print his response:

As you both took exception to my comparison of the President with Felix the Cat, my favorite cartoon character, implying it was racist and recommending I consult Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., I have now done so. He has taken the trouble to consult others in the field of African-American Studies, including our colleague Lawrence D. Bobo, the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, and has written to me as follows:

“None of us thought of Felix as black, unlike some of the racially-questionable caricatures Disney used. Felix’s blackness, like Mickey’s and Minnie’s, was like a suit of clothes, not a skin color. … You are safe on this one.”

What can I say? While the Ferguson line was deeply offensive — everyone I know asked, “Did he really write that? Did the FT actually publish it?” — it never occurred to me that it had anything to do with the question of whether Felix the Cat was supposed to be African-American. The mind reels.

For the record, I don’t think that Professor Ferguson is a racist.

I think he’s a poseur.

I’m told that some of his straight historical work is very good. When it comes to economics, however, he hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.

And this time he ended up choking on his own snark.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Clarification on Sports & Christians (continued)

To clarify where I'm coming from:
Many of the great civilizations in the world saw a huge rise in the prominence of their athletes and entertainers just before those societies collapsed.

Things have gotten pretty imbalanced. The culture that Louisville supported for Rick Pitino's misdeeds, for example. The huge salaries for the Caliparis of the world who add questionable value to the good of society (no matter how you measure it--GDP, innovation, productivity, education, etc.) while the budget is cut in other areas of the university Calipari works for.

The market value (demand) for an additional great basketball player or coach is higher than that for an additional teacher, police officer, or physicist-- even though you can easily argue that the others bring more benefit to society. It's this market that I have issues with--and it represents our collective preferences. So, I am concerned about my own preferences contributing to the imbalance.

What separates MLB from other sports entirely is that the entire system is corrupt. The commissioner turning a blind eye to the steroids, the players all lying about it to the media, players even lying to congress, and when the truth finally, slowly trickles out that almost every player was doping no one cares. There are no recriminations against David Ortiz and other Red Sox who we know were illegally doping during their first World Series run. The commissioner is making a lot of money to perpetuate the status quo to keep revenues high.

When a Pitino or someone else is caught doing something immoral, no one cares anymore. "It's not as bad as what _______ did, and he didn't get punished, so why should Pitino?" The NCAA as a whole isn't as bad as MLB-- there are no systemic lies being perpetuated. But, the imbalances are getting worse in college athletics. I'm not sure I want my dollars to support the imbalance any more. And I think much of my feeling comes from spiritual conviction.

I think, like personal finances, we need to have a greater discussion as believers in what we do with our resources.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts on Christians and Sports (continued)

Since there's a lot of debate over the Pitino situation, I thought I'd put some more of my own thoughts out there. Not trying to be judgmental about Christians and modern sports, I'm simply working through the issue myself.

I think back to Rome and imagine early Christians there, wrestling with whether or not to attend games in the Coliseum. What do you think they'd have done?

I can imagine a line of debate like this:
Pro: "We should attend the games because that's where the people are. That's where we can reach the most people. We can't engage the culture without a door like sports to open conversation."

Con: "We shouldn't attend the games because we'd be adding our support for something that kills slaves. It's something that degrades the value of human life and as Christians we know that all life is precious. We should tell the world that God has other intentions for life and not be a part of that culture."

My guess is that an elder or Paul or someone would say "Let's go down to the holding cells and preach to the slaves that they can be set free via Christ" and they'd find better things to do with their time then enter the arena to watch those slaves die and the emperor hailed.

Does the scenario above have any bearing on modern sports and entertainment culture? I think so. What are your thoughts?

Can Christians still be sports fans?

Ted Kluck writes an "open letter" sports column for Christianity Today. He recently wrote a
letter to Donte Stallworth that I liked. Why do fans get so indignant about Michael Vick returning to the field after serving jailtime for killing dogs while Donte Stallworth killed a PERSON and served almost no jail time yet had the green light to play?
Thankfully, the NFL suspended Stallworth for the season today.

But it makes you think-- do you want these people getting your money and attention? Is it moral? I've made the case here before that it's immoral to support MLB, and I stand by that contention. I also recently lamented the million dollar hirings of Lane Kiffin and John Calipari at a time when universities were slashing departments and teachers due to budget crises.

The Rick Pitino soap opera is something that has me questioning allegiance to NCAA basketball. Facts:
1. Pitino has a morality clause in his contract.
"There is a morals clause in section six, page eight of Pitino's lucrative contract that allows the school to fire him with just cause for acts of 'moral depravity' or being dishonest with the university. It also allows him to be terminated with cause for generating disparaging publicity, if it is caused by his 'willful conduct that could objectively be determined to bring the employee in public dispute or scandal, or which tends to greatly offend the public.'"

2. Pitino had drunken sex with an aide present, impregnated a stranger, then payed $3,000 for her abortion.

3. Pitino is an outspoken Catholic who started a large foundation on behalf of his son Daniel who died in infancy.

4. UL's AD says he stands by Pitino "One million percent," while UL's president says he accepts Pitino's apology and wants to move on.

So, there are no repercussions. What Pitino did certainly wasn't illegal, therefore it isn't immoral either? 20 years ago coaches at major universities got fired for having affairs. Not so anymore.

Are you contributing to this behavior? Are you buying the tickets and boosting ad revenue by watching the games on TV? Are you donating money to the program and buying the memorabilia? Are you demanding the people in charge to change? Are you holding anyone accountable? Can Christians be "salt" and "light" and the church be "the pillar and support of truth" without Christians crying "foul!"?

Many of my Christian friends still defend MLB despite the weekly revealing of players who cheated and lied, and a commissioner (Bud Selig) who has tried to cover it up for several years while making millions in salary. They just fork over their cash. Yet many are incensed about Democratic politicians who are pro-choice (ie: immoral in a different way) and claim a moral high ground. How is this not hypocrisy?

If I don't agree with the huge salaries and benefits paid to coaches and programs which create debatable value in terms of academics and live lives that don't value life and demonstrate character then how can I keep watching? How can I wear the t-shirt? How can I root for them? Would Jesus?

*Update* This Adrian Wojnarowski article on Yahoo! sheds more light on the Pitino culture.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back from Turkey

Last week was absolutely fantastic, one of the best weeks overseas I've ever experienced. Some college students I talked to described Turkey as a "magical world," and I like that description. There's just too much that I loved to mention here; Istanbul is easily one of my favorite cities in the world. Thanks to all those who prayed for our journey, it was 90% very smooth. A few highlights:

First, Turkish Air was awesome. Easily the best trans-atlantic flight I've ever had. We had about a hundred movies to choose from and about as many music stations and full albums of every genre. Welcome to the 21st century, right? Wish we had that service here in the States. Of course the food was great, too.

Imagine taking a trans-continental cruise every time you went to work. Well, that's what thousands of Turks do every day. Istanbul sits on two continents and most people ferry across.Here's a view from the boat at sunset.

Ephesus was neat. Seeing where John ministered and was buried, seeing where Acts 19 took place. Here's a picture of me next to some ruins.

I really knew God had his hand on the trip when we were sitting in an important meeting and I saw this car pull up outside. I immediately rushed out to meet the driver. He and his wife are Turks that used to live in Lexington, he's an EKU alum. They came back to Turkey because they were homesick. Seriously, in a city of 18 million this is the only guy that has this on his car. How awesome is that?

This is the Hagia Sofia museum/mosque/church in Istanbul, used to be the largest building of the world when it was Constantinople and the center of the Western world. We toured it, it's possibly more impressive outside I think.

This is just a tiny sample. Hopefully we have built some bridges for SBU students to go over and do business internships as well as for faculty to go to assist. Endless opportunities.

The only other thing I will say is that my Nokia e63 is one of the best investments I've ever made. Plugged a Turkish sim card in and it worked great as a phone, the wi-fi capability worked well in downtown Istanbul (where the city offers free wi-fi) as well as the hotel, and the camera worked well as a backup when I forgot my real camera.