Archived Posts 2005 - Page 6 of 62 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 6, 2005

I haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but early last month, school district officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan announced “The Kalamazoo Promise.” The Promise consists of a group of anonymous donors that have come together to commit to fund the post-secondary education of every student of the Kalamazoo Public School system. To receive full-funding for four years, you must have to attend KPS schools from grades K-12 (funding is gradually decreased depending on the number of years in the system). The scholarships are available for use at “any public university or community college in the State of Michigan.”

The Promise represents a genuine act of charity on the part of the donors, and ought to be praised as such. The challenge now comes for educators in the Kalamazoo public school system to provide their students with an education that will prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary study. It’s one thing to have college paid for, it’s another to be accepted to school. And it’s still another to actually complete a program once you start.

The purveyors of the ACT, the standardized test of choice in Michigan and much of the Midwest, found that almost 60 percent of students who took the exam were woefully unprepared for college level courses in algebra, and nearly 75 percent were not ready for college biology. Even more troubling? “Only 21 percent of the students were prepared for college-level work in the four tested areas of English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology.”

And even if students do get in and are prepared for the workload, as U.S. News & World Report education reporter Alex Kingsbury puts it, “For years, universities have known that one freshman does not a graduate make.” Some proof of this truism: “Only 63 percent of all students entering four-year colleges have their degrees within six years, according to government statistics. Rates for black and Hispanic students are less than 50 percent, and the gap between minority and white students is growing.”

So a program like the Kalamazoo Promise is an important one, but is only part of a complex of issues that relate to the success of students in and beyond high school. Students have to start with the hope of things to come, of course. The Promise has given that hope for kids in the Kalamazoo Public School system when they might not have had it before.

It’s also likely that there will be some kind of regional positive effect on public schooling, as the public schools in Kalamazoo will be more attractive to parents, forcing neighboring districts to become more competitive and find their own valuable assets to offer. The Promise may have already sparked enrollment increases in the Kalamazoo schools.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Monday, December 5, 2005
Who’s looking out for ya, baby…

I know I’ve been enjoying the falling oil prices of late when filling up my minivan’s gas tank. At the height of the post-Katrina and Rita oil price spike, I was paying upwards of $70 to fill the thing up. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I’m even hoping to see gas drop back down to that magic $1.99 level or lower.

And who do we have to thank for these lower costs? At first blush, I’d say Adam Smith. But I’d be wrong. It turns out that one man singlehandedly took on the high-price beast… and won.

That man?

O’Reilly.

CAVUTO: Okay. Gas prices are down a lot. Why do you think that is?

O’REILLY: Because they’re afraid they’ll go to jail. And those C.E.O.s who manipulated them–

CAVUTO: Why are you sure that they manipulated them?

O’REILLY: I have guys that are inside the five major oil companies – my father used to work for one of those oil companies, by the way – who have told me that in those meetings they look for every way to jack up oil prices after Katrina, every way. When they didn’t have to. And they got scared because in my reporting and some other reporting, they said –

CAVUTO: Wait, you’re taking credit for gas prices being down?

O’REILLY: My reporting and reporting of others.

Hmm. Perhaps tomorrow night’s “Unresolved Issues” segment on The Factor will focus on Bill’s incomplete knowledge of the law of supply and demand.

The “Fountain of the Pioneers” by Alfonso Iannelli, 1940

Many in West Michigan have heard about a sculpture in Kalamazoo, Mich., that has become the target of politically correct wrath. The “Fountain of the Pioneers,” a work by artist Alfonso Iannelli, depicts a towering pioneer with a club in his hand standing over a Native American depicted in a kneeling position. Activists say the sculpture should be removed because it is a “monument to evil subjugation, the violent removal of the people who were first on this land.”

Those who want the sculpture to stay describe it as a memorial of the westward progression and conquest of the United States by pioneers and that while a Native American is shown in an inferior position, this is not meant to be a racist statement implying that Native Americans are inferior.

I looked around and found a source that has direct input from Iannelli — Mr. David Jameson, the president of Chicago-based ArchiTech Gallery, which owns the majority of Iannelli’s archives, including sketches, sculptures, correspondance, etc. His research regarding this sculpture indicates that for his time, Iannelli had an uncharacteristically high regard for Native Americans, and through his sculpture indicated their valiant resistance to the seizure of their land by the “white man.” Activists may claim that the sculpture is a shameful image of racism and hate. But could the “shame” they see in the “Fountain of the Pioneers” be caused by the feelings the sculpture is intended to produce?

Shortly after the sculpture was commissioned, Iannelli wrote this to a now defunct magazine called The American City describing the sculpture and his intent behind it.

“I wanted to see suggested the progression of the growth of Kalamazoo, the efforts of the pioneers, the romantic sadness of the vanquished Indians, the onward strides of the industrial accomplishments, the prolific richness of the country they were blessed with…the tower symbolizing the pioneer’s advance and the Indian’s stalwart and fateful resistance…”

Mr. Jameson, in a letter to the Kalamazoo Gazette submitted this week, encourages the city to keep the sculpture exactly as it is.

Kalamazoo is fortunate indeed to have a major public monument by a giant in American art. That it also remains one of the most genuine interpretations of his feelings is a testament to the power of abstraction in modern sculpture. Kalamazoo recognized this in 1940 and should be honored to celebrate it now.

(more…)

Blog author: bsikma
posted by on Monday, December 5, 2005

It’s easy to predict what the response will be to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Walt Disney Company’s latest holiday blockbuster: smiling faces on children of all ages. Rather than recasting C. S. Lewis’ compelling children’s tale along the lines of the Gospel according to Hollywood, producers reserved their creative talent for visually representing the story that Lewis actually wrote.

Lion will effectively demonstrate that, where free enterprise is allowed to flourish, the most profitable filmmaking strategies give people what they want. With 50 million Evangelicals in the United States, the dearth of films representing conservative Christian values in a good light has been unsettling. Now, that is changing. An insightful column in the Economist noted that Hollywood’s delayed response was “thanks to a combination of institutional lethargy and cultural blinkers. But Disney’s support for C.S. Lewis’s children’s classic reflects a realization that the industry needs to learn how to tap into what insiders call ‘Passion’ dollars.”

After viewing Lion, I can say with certainty that Disney has learned to do just that. Significant deviations from the spirit of the story are absent, while many of the tiniest details are included. For example, two—count them: one, two—mothballs drop out of the wardrobe when Lucy opens the door. Also, when the camera quickly pans around Mr. Tumnus’s cave you can catch the titles on his bookshelf, such as Is Man a Myth?

Of course, there are those that will be unhappy with the film. Among them will be avowed atheist Philip Pullman, author of the critically acclaimed children’s series His Dark Materials. Pullman leveled serious charges against The Chronicles and in one instance called the series “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read.” Some of his other remarks concerning the books are equally or more vituperous. Most of his deep-seated, arbitrary vitriol reminds one of another Lewis character, Wormwood’s Uncle Screwtape, or, in keeping with the season, Seuss’s Grinch who stole Christmas.

This holiday season it appears that Hollywood will be leaving the Grinch out in the cold.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 2, 2005

As much as I would love to have the choice to pick what channels I pay for and receive over cable individually, I think Arnold Kling is right: The FCC shouldn’t force cable companies to offer that option. He says, “With some phone companies threatening to get into the TV business through their fiber-optic cables, this point may become moot. It could be that in a competitive market, unbundling will occur naturally. There is absolutely no reason for the FCC to inject itself into cable TV pricing in this way.”

I think there is a good chance that the delivery of information to homes in the US will be opened up in radical new ways in the coming years, which will only increase competition in these types of areas, similar to what is happening with VOIP and cell phones with respect to telephone landlines. If TV over the internet becomes a reality, and I can get internet access through my power lines, cable companies will be forced to make their services more customer-friendly.

It’s a strange quirk, for example, that I get ESPN2 but not any other ESPN channel. I’d love to be able to add ESPN, but I’m not willing to pay the price for the next highest bundle package to get it. In fact, the only reason I have cable TV right now is because it actually costs me less to have than not to, given that I pay for broadband internet access over the cable lines. Signing up for the $13 a month basic cable gets me a $15 a month discount on the internet access. What a deal!

Blog author: kjayabalan
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

There’s a persistent myth in Europe and America that farms subsidies are needed to protect the “family farm” and all the virtues that accompany rural life. Religious leaders and Catholic Bishops conferences seem to be especially prone to this argument.

Well, that myth is starting become exposed for what it actually is – protectionism by wealthy, politically-influential, corporate farm lobbies.

The EUObserver reports that a new website, FarmSubsidy.org, has been launched today. The website is not yet fully operational, but once it is, it will begin to shed much needed light on this troublesome issue.

Go check out the site, offer comments, and help get this project off the ground.

Europeans are very proud of their democratic credentials, so they should be eager to find out just where their money is going.

The up-side of all this could be freer trade and effective help (as opposed to more governmental aid) for developing countries.

Stay tuned.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

Here’s a fair-minded and illuminating defense of C. S. Lewis and his Narnia books in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, against the rather vicious attacks of current children’s book author, Philip Pullman.

HT: Arts and Letters Daily

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

The Financial Times reports that generous farm subsidies in the United States and Western Europe are increasingly beleaguered. If the US and Europe don’t voluntarily eliminate the unfair advantage their agriculture producers enjoy in the global market, then developing nations are likely to take legal action through the WTO. No one wants to see American agriculture destroyed, but the injustice of developed-nation subsidies in light of the struggles of developing-nation farmers is hard to deny. The ramifications of ag subsidy reform are debatable, but many have argued that it will help rather than hurt smaller farms in the US. We may find out soon.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 1, 2005

A section compiled by Matt Donnelly at Science & Theology News calls the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance’s recent formation a continuation of “the recent and laudable trend of faith-based organizations making a serious attempt to grapple with the religious basis for environmental stewardship.”

The section also provides links to their coverage of a number of other aspects of “the intersection of religious belief and environmental protection.”

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Oh, come all ye faithful?

Seems like ridding City Hall of Nativity scenes and other religious art is not enough for some people. Now, homeowner associations are getting into the act.

In suburban Detroit, the Samona family was recently notified by their subdivision’s guardians of the common good (and lawn decorations) to remove an outdoor plastic creche. Nothing was said about some other figures on the lawn, including a holiday Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The Detroit News wrote a front-page article about the overreaching association watchdogs, and the Samonas were suddenly a cause celebre in Motown.

Of course, the homeowners association backed down, and sent over a holiday gift basket with a contrite letter of apology. But not everyone has simmered down. Here’s what one of the neighbors had to say about the Samonas’ run-in with suburban secularism:

Anthony J. Dickow lives in the same Tollgate Woods subdivision as the Samona family and says the story has “stirred my blood and I am outraged!”

“Let’s say I wasn’t a big fan of Halloween. Why the heck was my neighborhood decorated with all of that nonsense? I didn’t see anyone complaining about that!…. I’m so mad, I plan on going to Wal-Mart after work, buying the largest most elaborate nativity scene and placing it on my front lawn!” Dickow said.