Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prayers and Policy

Mark Sanford offers a prayer instead of a solution:

This sort of thing makes me crazy. You were not elected, Governor, to pray for your constituents. You were elected to serve them. Why is that so hard for conservative Christian politicians to understand?

Obviously this caller is hurting, and if you're a believer, of course you should say a prayer for him - and for everyone who is suffering because of the economic crisis. But that's not what politicians are for. We don't elect them to pray for us. We elect them to, you know, govern.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

But I Did My Best!

Michelle Cottle also read this piece in yesterday's NYT about college students' attitude that they should receive A's for working hard and showing up to class. Cottle picked out the money quote from the piece, a real gem from James Greenwood, a senior at the University of Maryland:

"I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade," Mr. Greenwood said. "What else is there really than the effort that you put in?"

"If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?" he added. "If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher's mind, then something is wrong."

Cottle's response:
No, Jason. What would be wrong is if a university trained its students to believe that they were excellent simply for getting up off their futons and doing what was expected of them. Did the reading? Attended class? Stayed up late working on a paper? Good for you, puppy! Sure, you did a craptastic job on that paper--not to mention the final--suggesting that you have no more than a fourth-grader's grasp of the material. But what the hell!? You worked hard. You showed up--even when you had that reallllly bad hangover. You may not have learned much, but you sure did try. Have a nice fat A. And here's hoping it comes in handy when your first employer fires you for not being able to tell your ass from your elbow when it comes to doing your job.
Well said. I discovered in my first semester of college that I was much better at Spanish, theology, international relations, and history than I was at economics. I worked harder in my microeconomics class than in any of my other classes. I went to every lecture, every discussion section (even the optional sessions!), studied hard for every exam, went to office hours, etc. I ended up with a lower grade in economics than in any of my other classes because it's a difficult subject for me. If grades were based on effort, my economics grade would have been my highest that semester. 

Now, of course, there is a slight difference between economics and, say, theology - after all, when you miscalculate the change in a demand curve on an exam, you're simply incorrect. However, if you read all the texts and attend every theology lecture, and your paper shows that you still don't understand Bonhoeffer, it's less a matter of being objectively incorrect, and perhaps there's a little more wiggle room for professors to grade your effort. But why should the two cases be treated differently? If your paper reflects a misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer, why should that be any different from getting an economics problem wrong - even if you tried hard? 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies...

Drudge is pretty excited about this poll from Rasmussen. Headline: "Rasmussen: 62 percent of voters want more tax cuts, less spending in stimulus..."

Is that supposed to be a surprise? Here's the question:

3* As Congress debates the economic stimulus plan initially proposed by President Obama, would you like to see the plan include more tax cuts and less government spending, more government spending and less tax cuts, or would you rather see the plan pass pretty much as it is today?

62% More tax cuts and less government spending
14% More government spending and less tax cuts

20% Pass pretty much as it is today

5% Not sure

This is a pretty meaningless result - which is why Drudge is the only person bothering to cover it. 62% of respondents want more tax cuts. Ok: what kind? Corporate tax cuts? Payroll tax cuts? Capital gains tax cuts? The poll doesn't ask, and I'd wager that responses would vary pretty significantly if the question specified. Instead, the question introduces the vague of idea of "tax cuts" (which, in the voter's head, immediately translates into "more money in my pocket!") and contrasts it with the even vaguer idea of "more government spending," something with no immediately apparent benefit to the taxpayer. I wonder what the results would be if Rasmussen polled people and asked them if they prefer more corporate tax cuts or more spending to repair dilapidated roads and bridges. 

(All this, of course, is just Drudge's way of taking everyone's eye off the ball: Gallup reported today that 67% of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling the effort to pass the stimulus bill, while only 31% approve of the way Congressional Republicans are handling it - and 58% disapprove.) Those are numbers that'll send whoever designed the Republicans' political strategy for this fight looking for a new job. And if we are to assume that Rasmussen's poll has any validity (which it doesn't), how can its results be squared with those of Gallup's poll? How could 62% of Americans want more tax cuts in the bill - which has been the Republicans' main goal - but only half of that number approves of how the Republicans have handled their efforts, and nearly as many disapprove? The two can't be reconciled, which is all the more evidence that Rasmussen's poll and Drudge's political fantasy are just that - fantasies. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Nightmare Continues

I really thought one of the nicest things about Dick Cheney no longer being Vice President would be not hearing from him anymore. I was, unfortunately, wrong:
But if he treated Obama gingerly, Cheney was eager to engage in the broader philosophical debate he was with Democrats and even many in his own party about the right way to navigate a dangerous planet. He said he fears the people populating Obama’s ranks put too much faith in negotiation, persuasion, and good intentions.  

“I think there are some who probably actually believe that if we just go talk nice to these folks, everything’s going to be okay,” he said. 
Really? Name one. Name one high-ranking government official who thinks that.