Monday, December 27, 2010

Some photographs of Fall and Winter 2010

I've completed six of nine pages of photographs for my fall and winter photo albums.

Here they are:

A page for the ENTI 2010 Conference in Strasbourg.
And the ENTI Conference culture tour of Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle and Colmar.
And my photographs of Strasbourg, France.
And other parts of Alsace, including Colmar.
I have some photographs from Thanksgiving and December on this page.
And more photographs from the days around Christmas are here.
I've put up some photographs from winter Boy Scout activities.
And I also have a page of general fall photographs, mostly of Boy Scouting events.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some fun videos from 2010

This year I enjoyed some amazing videos on the web. I want to mention the interactive "Wilderness Downtown" film you can see with the Chrome web browser application for the Arcade Fire song "We Used to Wait" ( Also, check out the OK GO! translation party page ( for some amazing videos. My sons especially like the "White Knuckles" and "This Too Shall Pass" videos, which I also like, but my favorite is "GPS Parade (Back From Kathmandu)" video, as it seems more inspiring to me. A great year for interactive art.

The semester is nearly over.

Across my courses and independent studies I've directed this semester, I've had 32 students complete their work for credit, 8 students have received incomplete marks (most of those should be resolved by the end of January), and 4 have received no credit (but I'm open to changing those if the students make extraordinary efforts independently in the next few weeks). I don't like giving so many incomplete grades, but when you teach adult students online, things happen: mental health issues, caregiving issues, family issues, things on the job, legal problems, deployments to the Middle East or Central Asia, and so forth. Most of those incomplete grades were given to people who turned in great assignments and participated well in discussion boards for more than half the semester, but just had big gaps (mostly toward the end of the semester) when they suddenly stopped posting or submitting assignments.

My total teaching load was light (44 students) because I'm the department chair, and have about 10-20 hours of work each week just in administrative duties and service on various committees. I'm chair of a department with about 220 students (mixed graduate and undergraduate, online and on ground), but only three faculty.

During break I will prepare the online lectures for my new course on struggles for liberty and freedom. I'm taking a community organizing and social work perspective on various social movements, revolutions, rebellions, and political causes in which freedom or liberty were expressed motivating factors. We begin with national revolts against imperial rule (from The Maccabee Revolt, Servile Wars, and Provinces rebelling against Roman Imperial Rule down through the American and French Revolutions, the struggles of 1848, and the emancipation, suffrage, and civil rights movements, to modern rhetoric around freedom and liberty in the Tea Party Movement, and various forms of resistance to tyranny political (China, Cuba, Iran, etc.) economic (anti-globalization movement, resistance to corporate power), and social (movements to empower and liberate persons with disabilities, and the resistance to oppressive language and the anti-political-correctness backlash). My goal is to get about 17 lectures down and recorded for iTunes U. I've got to have this done by the first week of June, so I'll be using most of my "vacation" time to get it done.

- Eric

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Obama concessions on tax extensions explained.

Why didn't the Democrats in the Senate and House pass their version of an ideal extension of the Bush-era tax cuts back in September or October? It seems Reid and Pelosi missed a chance to take care of this issue before the election. Because they didn't get the job done, Obama seems to be in a position where he must give concessions to the Republicans, because the Democrats couldn't get their version without concessions through the Senate. Liberals should be putting more blame on the Democrats in congress and less on the White House.

The White House has a fine little presentation by Austan Goolsbee at the White House White Board. It's quite good, and mostly expresses feelings with which I'm in entire agreement. There are two things I would have said differently. First, when he points out that the changes in taxes and programs are only temporary (two year) he suggests this implies they don't have a long-term impact on our federal deficit. I would have said, "they only add to the deficit at this level until we revisit this question in 2012, so if we decide to reduce spending to balance our budget we can decide whether we want to cut these in two years. There's no long-term commitment to these things so we can be flexible about them." I personally would cut defense spending or even Social Security benefits long before I'd cut tax deductions for parents with children going to college or the EITC. But any way, framing the issue as I'm suggesting would have been more honest and more representative of how Obama thinks (he's really into the idea of consultation and negotiation to reach the optimal compromises). The other thing I would have said would be, "Republican intransigence and the inability of Democratic leadership in the House and Senate to push better tax changes through congress months ago have brought us to this situation where we have no time to get a better deal and end the tax breaks for the very wealthy" Of course the White House isn't going to take a swipe at Democratic congressional leadership, but as a non-partisan observer who wants to see the budget balanced as soon a feasible (which seems a long way off, given the current unemployment), I'm angered that Democratic legislative leadership has been so incompetent to get us to this point where fiscally irresponsible policies of the Republicans get shoved down our throats.

If I thought lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans was an efficient way to stimulate the economy I'd be with the Republicans on this, but all the economic research evidence I've seen from non-partisan sources seems to confirm that these particular tax reductions to the wealthy are about the least efficient way to stimulate the economy we have. I personally wouldn't mind if we taxed household income over $150,000 at a flat rate of 55% or 60%. (I think the midpoint of the Laffer curve is somewhere between 50% and 70%, and I think our wealthiest citizens ought to be taxed at such a rate, but I'd have deductions for state taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes, so that after all taxes even the wealthy would keep at least 35% to 45% of their total income).

If you've seen the White House White Board presentation, here is some more I have to say about the presentation:
Some people say the expenditures (whether they are tax cuts or tax expenditures or just spending isn't clear) on the right (Democrat's) side would also be on the left (Republican's) side, but this isn't exactly right (or wrong). Many Republicans have traditionally supported things like the EITC and the Child Tax Credit, but the rhetoric from the Republicans in the election and most recently has been very much about framing the issues with Republicans in favor of shrinking government, cutting spending, balancing the budget, reducing deficits, and opposing "spending we can't afford" like extending unemployment benefits (unless there are cuts elsewhere in the budget to pay for them). But realistically, what tax expenditures or spending would Republicans cut in order to support continuation of generous EITC benefits or the child tax credit? Are they opposing the $80 billion plus tax expenditure of the mortgage interest deduction? Are they proposing reductions in Social Security benefits? Do they want to significantly cut Medicare? Are they talking about reducing the Defense budget? No, they mostly aren't. I think it's fair to say that things like a reduction in the Social Security payroll contribution, the child tax credit, or the EITC are significantly higher priorities for the Democrats, and in general are not protected by the Republicans. So the White House was being fair in showing these in the right (Democrat) column.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cartoon Story

Here is a fine little story. It's all in your head. Yes it is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pulled Muscle. Ouch.

Last week on Monday I pulled a calf muscle in my right leg. I had always thought a pulled muscle was something like a sore muscle, but it's much worse. It's actually a tear in muscle tissue, and in serious cases a person may require surgery to repair or help reattach a muscle to a tendon. It seems to me comparable to the pain of a broken bone, although not really quite as bad as that. My muscle tear seems to be not too severe, but not too mild either. Sometimes the pain is excruciating and intense, even now, ten days after the injury. This makes me laugh, as it seems a ridiculous situation. Anyway, it seems the best thing to do is to avoid using my right leg as much as possible, so I won't be going on hikes or riding my bike to work and back. This is disappointing to me. But, by November I suppose I'll be better, and back on the bike and ready to hike.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembering September 11, 2001

In one of my on-line courses we were discussing how major historical events have influenced, and most of the participants in this course mentioned the events of September 11, 2001. I remember in the morning as I cooked my breakfast and listened to NPR, and heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I had no television, and I knew about the plane that flew into the Empire State Building many years ago, so I went off to campus and began my class as if nothing much special was happening, but my students were highly agitated, and one of them asked if we were really going to have class, given what had happened in New York. I was astonished that they would be so worked up about an airplane (I supposed it must have been a small aircraft) crashing into a skyscraper. At noon, when the class ended, there was a message on my office phone from my father, telling me that my sister and brother-in-law were safe (they were investment bankers in New York City, and sometimes went to meetings in the World Trade Center, and in fact one of my brother-in-law's best friends was killed that day). I called to ask my dad what was up, and when he told me the towers had collapsed I responded with something like, "you mean they collapsed from the top down to where the airplane hit them, right? because those towers are made of steel, and I don't think they could just collapse because an airplane hit them." I still hadn't seen any pictures.

The American response to this crime has been very significant in shaping all our lives since then. The wars, the waste, the mismanagement, the fear, and so forth has been very much what I feared we would have. A state of permanent war. But I've been impressed by how good America has been about distinguishing between the cultists and the mainstream. I see Osama bin-Laden and the theologians and strategists around him to be very much the same type as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Chizuo Matsumoto (Shoko Ashahara), and I think most Americans recognize that our Muslim neighbors have nothing to do with terrorists like Osama bin-Laden (no more than Christians had anything to do with Timothy McVeigh). I must admit I'm glad the Taliban don't rule in Afghanistan, and I'm pleased that Saddam Husayn and his government met the fate that seemed appropriate, but the costs have been overwhelming in treasure and in blood, and the research I've seen suggests our mismanaged campaigns have caused excess deaths in the Middle East and Central Asia at two orders of magnitude over what we suffered nine years ago. I remember in 2002 protesting and holding a sign I'd made saying something like, "When we bomb there will be collateral damage and civilian dead. How is that different from what terrorists do?" My anger at the military and political leadership that has fought these wars badly is like my feelings about Abraham Lincoln's early generals. They're a bad lot, and a disgrace.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Built to Spill

Here are some of the Built To Spill songs from last night. We have Car, Hindsight, and a cover of the Grateful Dead's No Simple Highway.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Podcasts and iTunes-U

I listen to podcasts pretty regularly. In fact, podcasts and iTunes-U probably get more of my listening time than radio.

Here are the four podcasts I listen to most often:

Focus 580. This is better than any of the national interview and talk show formats on NPR (I can't stand to listen to those, because the public call-in questions tend to be so annoying). The calls they take on Focus can also be annoying, but they sometimes aren't, and the hosts, David Inge and Celeste Quinn, are extremely good.

Le Show with Harry Shearer.

Planet Money, on NPR.

State Week in Review on WUIS with iTunes-U.

I also listen to these sometimes:

Performance Today.
This American Life.
Sound Opinions.
Fresh Air.
Media Matters.
Faith Matters.
Brookings Audio Events.
Swarthmore College Featured Events.
The UIS ECCE Speakers Series.
Podcasts from the University of Oxford.

Since I have a 40-45 minute commute each way on days when I ride my bike to campus and back home, I can usually get in a couple episodes each day, and then I often go to bed at 11:00 or midnight and listen to a podcast as I fall asleep. When I'm doing work that doesn't require much language thought (like editing photographs or making a photo album) I'll also listen to podcasts when I'm not listening to music.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reasonable service and scholarship expectations at a teaching-oriented college

Recently some faculty and administrators in my college were considering what sort of expectations we have for clinical instructors, in terms of their teaching, scholarship, and service. This inspired me to consider how much hours it takes to teach well, and what time this leaves us for committee meetings, service to the college and department and community, advising, research, keeping up-to-date in our fields of expertise, and so forth. I’d like to share my calculations here.

First of all, let’s model an ideal situation, where faculty work a reasonable number of hours per week. I think 44 hours per week is a reasonable workload, and in a 44 hour work week for university faculty, I would suppose about 8 hours of labor are actually spent at lunch, breaks, walking around campus to get to meetings, and various other activities that don’t really contribute to teaching, service, or scholarship. So, a typical faculty in this ideal state would about 36 hours of productive working time per week in a semester in which to do what they are paid to do.

And how long is a semester? Well, faculty probably work on their courses and administrative duties a couple weeks before classes start, and then classes go on for about 15 weeks, and then there is the week of final exams, and the week after final exams when faculty are grading those exams or final papers and so forth, so that’s 19 weeks of work. Usually there is a week of vacation in there somewhere, either spring break or the Thanksgiving break, but in this ideal scenario we’re just ignoring that in the hopes that in this ideal world the faculty get a week of vacation in there. That gives a typical faculty member about 684 hours to labor in a typical semester, at least in this model in which they are working a reasonable work week.

During the 15 weeks of courses, faculty must show up for classes, and that usually involves 2-4 hours of time per class each week (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll say 3 hours). Each week a faculty member teaching three courses must be present with the classes of students for about 9 hours. This time is the same whether a class has four students or 84 students.

Then there is a flexible amount of time a faculty member can devote to preparing for each class session or preparing for their class before the semester begins. They can design and prepare exercises, simulations, lab assignments, lecture notes, and so forth. They can update everything. They can make new tests, new discussion questions, and choose new readings. They must design a syllabus, and they must prepare assignment descriptions or tests. There is a minimum threshold to all this work, and there is probably a maximum number beyond which additional hours of labor get someone no discernible improvements in the quality of instruction.

Another significant variable shaping the need for this sort of labor is the experience of the faculty in teaching the course. If it is the faculty’s first time teaching the course, and the faculty is new, and the course is in an area the faculty knows about, but it’s not the faculty’s specialty, then preparation time can be immense, easily 10 hours per week just to do a reasonable job. If the faculty has taught the course a few times before, and the course is directly related to the faculty’s special interests and expertise, then class preparation times are drastically reduced, and one can probably do an excellent job with just 2-3 hours of preparation per week of classes. Typically there is more time devoted to this class preparation in the two weeks preceding the start of classes, and then a fairly constant amount of time throughout the weeks of classes, and then almost no time devoted to it in the weeks following classes, so all in all, the average over the 19 weeks of work in a semester is probably close to the average spent in a typical week. This is a number of labor hours that is also fairly constant and independent of class sizes. In fact, preparing lectures and group exercises and discussion questions for a class of 55 may require less time than the more detailed preparation one might need to do for a more intimate and personal class of 15.

Then there is the time devoted to evaluating student work and giving students individual attention, mainly through writing comments on their papers or lab work, but also in grading tests, answering questions or e-mails related to class during office hours, and so forth. On one extreme, a faculty member can give almost no feedback and use only multiple-choice tests. On the other extreme, a faculty can give copious feedback on writing style, reasoning, critical thinking, sources, grammar, and so forth. The minimum requirement that leads to almost no feedback aside from submission of grades at the end of the semester probably averages out over 19 weeks to about 5 minutes per student in class per week (slightly over 90 minutes per student per semester). If one gives five assignments and a few tests and gives copious helpful feedback on each assignment, assigns a great amount of writing and actually carefully reads all the writing and comments on a fair portion of it, then one could easily devote 12 hours per student per class per semester, averaging nearly an hour per week per student during the 15 weeks of classes (although not spread evenly across the 15 weeks of classes, but rather concentrated in weeks following submission of assignments).

So, here are my hour estimates for the time required to teach three courses with 18 students in each course over a semester, at a minimal level, a high level, and the highest level that still makes sense, using 1.5, 8, and 13 hours per student per semester as the times faculty would devote to student feedback; 2 hours, 5 hours, and 10 hours as the time faculty would devote to class preparation on average per week; and 3 hours per week for actual in-class time for each course during the 15 weeks of the semester for all three scenarios:

Time in a semester per course:

Average reasonable time for an experienced faculty member giving high quality feedback: 280.

Time for a newer faculty teaching some new courses and giving outstanding help to students in the class: 460 hours.

Time for an experienced faculty member doing a minimal effort with minimal feedback to students: 110 hours.

In actual practice, I think something like 200-250 hours per course is the actual labor time for teaching at a level of excellence with some degree of efficiency after you’ve had two or three years of experience as a professor. However, most faculty teach at a level of high quality (very good work) rather than a level of outstanding excellence, so most faculty get by with some sort of effort around 170-200 hours in a semester per class they teach, assuming the class sizes are around 18-20 students.

What is the amount of time this leaves faculty for their research, their scholarly work, their attending meetings of their department or college, their service to various governance committees and other sorts of clubs or committees on campus? What about their time meeting with their advisees, or the time they spend talking to prospective students or alumni? What if they must travel for a three-day trip to a conference where they present a paper and attend many hours of sessions? What if they are volunteering in the community or in a scholarly association, and helping to serve on an advisory board, or organize a conference, or do accreditation site visits? What about the memos they must write, the schedules and book requests they must submit? What about service on search committees, hosting potential colleagues to campus visits or reviewing scores of files of job applicants? What about training sessions? What about the 40-60 e-mails they receive each day? What about showing support for students by attending student events? Anyway, if a faculty member is spending 200 hours per course per semester, this leaves about 84 hours per semester for all the research and service. If a faculty member is spending 170 hours per course, they will have about the same number of hours per semester (174 hours) to do all their scholarly and service and administrative work.

Now, how many hours are faculty expected to devote to service, and how many hours are required to produce high quality scholarship? Assuming a professor puts 510 hours into teaching three courses with 54 students across the three courses over the semester, and then divides their time with 90 hours in scholarship and 84 hours in service, that gives them about 4 hours and 45 minutes each week for scholarship and 4 hours and 25 minutes each week for service and administration.


1). If a faculty is expected to teach 4 courses per semester rather than 3 (as clinical instructors may be asked to do), there will be no significant time left for scholarship or service. Faculty teaching 4 courses per semester should have no expectations for service or scholarship.

2). If class sizes increase from 18 to 25, average hours devoted to feedback to each student will decrease (assuming hours allocated to scholarship and service remain constant). If a faculty member devotes 3-4 hours to individualized attention and feedback for each student (in reading and critiquing assignments and so forth) over the course of a whole semester, can this give the student an equally high quality education as when faculty devote 6-8 hours per semester to each student? We are assuming here that class preparation hours from the faculty and actual class time are held constant, and we’re just reducing individualized instruction and feedback. Is that individualized feedback and evaluation so important that a reduction of two or three hours per student in the time faculty give to individualized attention (over the course of a whole semester) going to harm students? I think it will.

3) Taxpayers who help fund universities should insist that public universities organize their spending and administrative structures in such a way that average class sizes remain at or below 20 students per class. A change in average class sizes from the 15-20 range up to the 20-25 range probably diminishes the quality of education in colleges that are not highly selective (students at highly selective schools probably need less individualized time from their instructors). Certainly a rise from the 15-20 class size range to the 25-30 students per class will greatly diminish individualized feedback from faculty. Faculty will need to compensate by training students to give peer feedback and using peer feedback to supplement the greatly reduced faculty feedback.

But still, faculty and the taxpaying public should fight to keep class sizes smaller. Universities ought to spend more than 50% of all revenue gained from tuition payments and allocations from unrestricted state funding to the costs of direct student advising and teaching (and library services). Efficiency gains in the structure of universities and allocation of money toward direct provision of services should be a high priority, and take precedence over attempts to squeeze greater “teaching efficiency” from faculty. Teaching 25 students rather that 15 students per class is not necessarily more efficient in terms of actual learning gained by the students in a classroom. That is, economic efficiency is not the same as pedagogical efficiency. Given the constraints of reasonable workloads and working hours and the need for quality scholarship and service, and given the actual numbers of hours needed for class preparation and individualized feedback, maximum efficiencies in teaching are probably obtained in class sizes of 15-20. Average class sizes of 20 are sustainable if public subsidy of teaching costs are set at close to 50% and average tuition costs actually paid for a year of public university education are set at about 20% of median year-round full-time income and faculty earn incomes at close to the median year-round full-time income for college-educated males, provided that over half of tuition and unrestricted state subsidies go to direct instructional and advising and library costs, and administrative and support costs are kept at less than 50%.

3). If quality scholarship requires more than 4-5 hours of work per week over a semester, and faculty are expected to have a reasonable work week of about 44 hours, then faculty will need to reduce time devoted to courses or to service and administration. Universities should be careful not to lay administrative burdens on faculty that would likely exceed an average of 4-5 hours per week. If university governance requires that some faculty give significantly more than 5 hours per week to departmental service or university service, then a system should be created to allow those faculty to teach fewer courses or smaller courses.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hawking and Mlodinow say God did not create the universe

The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design. The title was “Why God Did Not Create the Universe.”

When a certain type of scientist makes this claim, their position always runs along these lines: science can explain whatever phenomena a religious person uses God to explain, and since science can explain it without requiring God or supernatural powers, it follows that God and supernatural powers don’t exist. Boiled down to its essence, the argument is that if we use parsimony (Occam’s Razor) we won’t have any reason to believe in God, at least not any reason based on our desire to explain or describe what we perceive in the universe.

The Hawking and Mlodinow argument follows this line. They point out that when people didn’t know much about science, they made up stories about gods or supernatural forces to explain their experiences. Even now, some people suppose there must be a God because there is something rather than nothing. We exist in a universe that seems to have just the right settings to allow life to evolve, and our planet seems remarkably well-suited to human evolution. This seems like a remarkable coincidence, so perhaps God designed the universe to be just right for us. Yet, science (as presented in the Hawking and Mlodinow book) has shown that there can be many universes, and universes can emerge from nothing, and if there are a nearly infinite number of universes it follows that there must be some universes such as ours where life as we know it can evolve. And since life has evolved here, this just happens to be a universe where it’s possible for life to emerge and evolve. So, we don’t need God to explain this universe, its creation, or its remarkable suitability for life.

The sort of God this argument dismisses is one who would fashion a creation in such a way that there would be gaps, cracks, holes, and incongruities within the creation so that intelligences within the creation would be able to logically discern the existence of the Creator, and understand that the Creator had intervened within the creation. It also dismisses a God who would set up a universe with two conflicting systems, one a system of physical laws and forces working according to a particular set of rules, and another a system of supernatural forces working according to an entirely different set of rules. In other words, the "God of the gaps" idea that we believe in God because only God can explain certain observed phenomena (like the existence of the universe) is refuted by science which has eliminated all gaps. This is an argument against a God who inspires belief because people need a "god hypothesis" to fill in explanations for things that aren't understood.

But really, there is no point in entering into a debate with such assertions. Occam’s Razor (the rule of parsimony) will always rule out God. Any evidence of God (defined as an all-powerful, all-knowing, Source of creation and Sustainer of reality with attributes analogous to what we experience as will and consciousness and emotion) can be explained parsimoniously as evidence for more advanced civilizations, rather than God. That is, in a universe such as ours it is quite plausible that there could be entities who belong to races or civilizations that evolved and advanced past our current technological state hundreds of thousands of years ago, or even millions or tens of millions of years ago. There could be beings in this universe that passed our present state of evolution and knowledge over a billion years ago. Such entities and their civilizations might be able to manifest all sorts of powers and technologies which would look to us like the work of an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God. But, if we apply the rule of parsimony, we must stick with the hypothesis that all indications of this “God” are in fact the manifestations of natural and scientific technologies far beyond our current understanding. Advanced alien races and technologies, rather than supernatural gods or magical powers of a deity, can always be suggested as an alternative scientific explanation for what appears to be evidence of God. Such explanations, which conform to Occam’s razor, give us questions about any god that science eventually finds. For example, from what race of beings did this god evolve, and how did the god develop powers and attributes, and by what technologies or physical laws does this god manifest seemingly miraculous powers and attributes? This is quite different from the typical religious contention that God was uncreated, and God is above questions related to causes, technologies, and so forth.

Some people come to belief in God through the teachings of Messengers of God. Unlike many other branches of human religion that follow Messengers of God whose lives and revelations are considerably obscured by historical distance and lack of solid evidence, Baha’is follow the Revelation of a Manifestation who lived from 1817-1892. There are plenty of obscuring legends and exaggerations around the life of Baha’u’llah, but we have enough physical and historic evidence, as well as original source materials, to make some factual observations about His life and message.

Yet, even these, which I take as convincing proof and a basis for faith, could never overcome a strong attachment to the rule of parsimony. Baha’u’llah revealed scriptures of high excellence and wisdom, sometimes spontaneously and rapidly. This seems like a possession by the Holy Spirit or a Revelation from God to those who have faith. But, rather than resort of supernatural explanations, one could use the rule of parsimony to point out that many people have revealed poems, stories, and other miraculous material while in trances, or under hypnosis. There have been cases of automatic writing (spirit writing) and so forth, all related to dissociative mental activity, and this isn’t so different from the way Baha’u’llah revealed Baha’i scriptures. Baha’u’llah evidently saw and heard things that others couldn’t hear, and this sort of phenomena is fairly common in people who suffer from schizophrenia, or persons who aren’t mentally ill, but who experience objectively non-real experiences such as alien or fairy abduction or conversations with dead ancestors (at least non-real to mortal observers, but I have no idea about what is going on in the brains of such people). Delusions are also widely known, and Baha’u’llah’s beliefs about His station could be explained as delusions without invoking a supernatural God to explain them. The fact that Baha’u’llah seems to have fit in with prophetic predictions about a Manifestation of God could be dismissed, if we use parsimony, as coincidence, or as stretching the facts to fit vague prophetic traditions. A person could just argue that Baha’u’llah didn’t in fact fulfill prophesies. Likewise the remarkable or miraculous events surrounding Bah’u’llah’s life or his remarkable abilities could be dismissed as untrue stories, or merely remarkable coincidences or luck. It is always more scientific to invoke Occam’s razor and explain away aspects of Baha’u’llah’s life as coincidence, false stories, or something else that doesn’t require a divine supernatural God.

Even if one did accept that something seemingly supernatural was going on in Baha’u’llah’s life and Revelation, it would be more parsimonious to suggest Baha’u’llah was merely using natural forces that science hasn’t yet detected and explored, rather than to accept that God was involved. In fact, in some of Baha’u’llah’s writings (such as the Tablet of Wisdom) it appears that Baha’u’llah was picking up some ideas current in his time and culture about history, rather than picking up direct factual information about history. This fits with an idea that natural technologies or powers were involved, rather than an all-powerful, all-knowing Divine Force.

Baha’i writings about miracles also seem to take this view, that miracles and miraculous events should not be relied upon as evidence, unless one has directly experienced the miracle or event for oneself. The supernatural stories surrounding Baha’u’llah are evidence to those who were present when the miraculous events took place, but for the rest of us, such stories are merely stories, and we should not take them as evidence for Baha’u’llah‘s status as a Messenger of God. After all, there are many people who have sometimes exhibited miraculous powers or encountered supernatural forces, and this sort of experience isn’t really all that unusual.

What frustrates me is that atheistic scientists who present these arguments that Occam’s razor and the rule of parsimony remove God from the question because science can explain everything without God are claiming that the domains of logic and empirical evidence (the sort of evidence that can be reproduced and manipulated through experiment) are sufficient domains to explain the world. In essence, they are claiming that science and logic and rational thought are sufficient for our beliefs and models of the world. This is, I believe, a mistake. There are other domains of life and other models of understanding that work quite well, and are needed, and some of these domains are outside of science. Religion is one of these domains. I think when religion makes propositions about the natural world, it is the duty of the religious person to subject their assertions to scientific investigation. But the scientific method is not an especially useful way to investigate the realms of meaning, value, ethics, theology, and so forth. There are other realms such as arts, economics, human relationships, dreams, and various other aspects of the world that may also lie mostly outside of the scientific method. That is, we use models of understanding and meaning within these realms in a way that makes science and rational thought not really very useful. Scientific methods can be applied in order to try to unify all knowledge under the umbrella of reason and rational thought and the scientific method, but I think the scientific method will not eventually capture a satisfactory understanding of all aspects of human experience and life.

The continuing attempt by certain scientists and atheists to remove superstitious belief in a God who must intervene to make things happen in this universe is usually quite unsatisfactory. They are arguing against a level of theological understanding that seems to only exist in certain fundamentalists or very conservative and traditional theologians. It seems a waste of their intellect. I suppose there are enough literally-minded religious traditionalists and fundamentalists running around in our world to keep the atheists and scientists busy, but rarely do I see anything written in a sensitive way that would really persuade a literalistic believer. Nor do I see a sophistication in the dialogue that would engage with someone who had a more sophisticated critique of scientism or a more post-modern theological belief system. Mostly, these books are intended for an audience that already accepts science and tends to have a simplistic view of religious believers, or a condescending view toward religious faith. It is of course interesting news that cosmologists have answers they find logical and scientific to questions such as why is there something instead of nothing, and how did the universe emerge out of the pre-universe, and why is it that our universe has scientific laws and constants that seem to make it such a nice place for life. But to then take answers to such questions and make a claim that this tells us something new and important about God is not very convincing.

I continue to have faith, but I see my faith as being outside of my scientific approach to the world. My faith is unscientific. That’s not a problem that needs to be resolved.


Last night we watched Centurion. It wasn't a good movie. It was an adventure war film set in early second century Scotland. Lots of action and blood and violence. Very little else.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Park51 Controversy

Today as I was walking through the library I picked up one of the mainstream newsweeklies (TIME). The cover was asking if America was anti-Muslim. Inside, I read a poll that claimed about 61% of Americans oppose the Park51 Project. This was a real bummer. I had supposed that the people who were loudly complaining about this were just a fringe. I'm puzzled how so many Americans can take this position. I like what Juan Cole wrote about this issue. I think he has it right. So does Scott Kurashige.

I just don't know what to say. I guess I'll say I'm frightened a bit by it. I happen to believe that Mohammad was a Prophet of God. The Angel Gabriel gave Him the Sacred Verses. It wasn't a standard hallucination or a fabrication. God's Will became manifest in the Qur'an. Islam is a beautiful religion, and a path toward Truth. How on earth can people really believe that the Taliban and the Wahhabi/Salafi represent Islam? It's like my agnostic or atheist friends who think that snake handlers and the Christian Identity Movement represent Christianity, never caring about what people like Reinhold Neibuhr or Hans Kung or Matthew Fox have said.

Happy Ramadan! Eid al-Fitr will be here in a couple weeks (sunset Thursday the 9th of September in North America).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Just took a short personality test.

I just took a short personality test. The results were pretty much a confirmation of what I think about myself. Here is a link to the results: I'm a O65-C13-E59-A83-N32 Big Five!! I'm pretty low in one dimension (13th percentile, meaning 87% of the population is likely to score higher than I did), and it's related to how organized I am. The interpretive blurb says, " Low scorers tend to be disorganized, undependable, negligent." I guess my colleagues in my department at work are in for a treat in having me as their department chair now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Photographs from drive west are up.

I've finished the last page in the summer photograph series (of nine pages). This one mainly features photographs from the four-day drive I took to reach my sister's new home in Salem Oregon. I was driving her car and bringing along her family's bird and dog and hermit crabs. I didn't really have the ability to stop and do much sight-seeing, but I did take short breaks at several state capitol buildings, and even left the animals in the car for very short (ten minute or so) quick peeks inside a few of the capitol buildings.

I left Saint Louis around 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday the 17th and reached Lincoln, Nebraska at about 8:30 p.m., where I spent the night with my cousin Lesa and her family (Joe, Jake, and Logan). I saw the Nebraska state capitol on the morning of the 18th and headed out of Lincoln around 9:30 a.m., and arrived in Laramie, Wyoming around 6:30 p.m. There I spent the night in the home of my friend Mike Brotherton. On the 19th I left Laramie around 11:00 a.m. and arrived at my motel in Boise, Idaho around 10:30 p.m. Friday the 20th I departed Boise around 11:00 a.m. and arrived in Portland, Oregon around 5:30 p.m. I visited some friends and family before finally arriving at my sister's home in Salem around 10:00 p.m. The total expenses for this trip were about $440.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cream Soda showdown

Last night Arthur and I had a taste test between four Cream Sodas. We compared Shasta, IBC, Sioux City, and Jones Cream Sodas. It would have been a blind taste test, but Jones Cream Soda is clear, while the other three had a honey color to them. I closed my eyes as Arthur randomly served me, so I was unable to use my eyes to distinguish the Jones soda from the others.

Both Arthur and I preferred Jones Cream Soda to the other three brands. It wasn't really a close contest. For me, Shasta was the runner-up, with IBC and Sioux City clearly in third and fourth place. Arthur, however, liked Sioux City as his second-best sodas. Arthur liked all four brands, but I clearly preferred Jones and Shasta, and I wasn't too crazy about IBC or Sioux City.

The problem with this taste test is that we were missing two very good brands that I think I would have liked. Sprecher's and A&W Cream Soda weren't in the mix. I think these might be comparable to Jones and Shasta, but I won't know until we've tested them. And of course, I know that how well people like a food or drink in a taste test isn't really an indicator of what they will like if they are sitting and sipping a drink or eating a food over an extended time. Some foods that make a good initial taste impression in a taste test have flavors or other qualities that make them less enjoyable if you're taking your time and consuming them over a longer period.

We actually very rarely drink any soda. In our family we drink water mostly, and milk as well. Our family goes through about a gallon of milk each day. We sometimes have orange juice, grape juice, or apple juice, and on special occasions we'll get some other sort of juice like berry juice or one of the blends that has pineapple or mango in it. I'd estimate we might have an average of two soda cans or bottles per month, if even that much.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Childhood Poverty in the United States

I recently prepared some materials related to childhood poverty in the United States. I've uploaded a Powerpoint presentation to go along with all that. Go ahead and have a look.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gross Domestic Income

I think I'll start using the Gross Domestic Income instead of the Gross Domestic Product from now on, and I'll question the competence of economists or journalists who continue to rely on the GNP rather than the GNI when the GNI is available. But it isn't widely available yet. And, the official figures are all very suspect anyway.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Summer photographs are up.

I've finished most of pages of photographs from the summer. It was hard to choose just a few to put up on the web. Anyway, the seven pages are up.
First page, Shanghai World Expo.
Second page, Shanghai Museum and more Shanghai.
Third page, more Shanghai, and also photos from Hong Kong.
Fourth page, photos from Taiwan.
Fifth page, photos from Taiwan and summer camp at Camp Bunn
Sixth page, photos from the trip to Ontario.
Seventh page, more photos from Ontario.
Eighth page, more photos from around the Midwest and home.
Ninth page, I haven't done yet.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Updated some web pages

I've updated my web page about my favorite music. There are four categories with 16 musicians or bands or composers or music-related links for each category. There is a new category for "recent" bands (mostly formed since 2002, and some formed only in the past year. There were many dead links I had to prune and replace. Everything seems to be working now.

And I've finished five of the eventual nine summer vacation web pages. Pages one, two, three, six, and seven are complete.

Friday, July 23, 2010

First of summer photos are up

I've posted two pages of photographs from our summer adventures. One is a set of photographs from the World Expo in Shanghai, which we visited in June, and the other is a set of photographs from a trip to Ontario. These are the first and sixth pages out of nine pages I plan to put up sharing photographs from our summer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Books our students thought worth mentioning

I've had a busy semester. No posts on the blog in March and April. That's pretty bad. Anyway, I'm going through the final end-of-semester papers from seniors in my senior seminar, and I've been noticing the books these students reference. They must write a paper describing all the courses they took and what they learned in their undergraduate education, and some of them have listed books they found memorable or influential. I'll share a list of some of these sources I've pulled from the student reference lists. These are some of the books students in our program have encountered in recent years.

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition: An Anthology (Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies). (2003). New York, NY: Wiley.

Aslan Reza. No God but God. The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. New York New York: Random House, 2006.

Barnes, Susan. Computer-Mediated Communication. Boston: Pearson Education, 2003.

Bean, Thomas, et al. Content Area Literacy. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 2008.

Boddice, R. (2009). A History of Attitudes and Behaviours Toward Animals in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Britain: Anthropocentrism and the Emergence of Animals. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.

Boyer, Ernest L. College, The Undergraduate Experience in America. First ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Cherlin, A. J. (2009). Public and Private Families: A Reader (6th Revised edition ed.). New York: Mcgraw Hill Higher Education.

Davis, M., Eshelman, R., and McKay, M. (2000) The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, (5th Ed.) New York: MJF Books.

Droegkamp, Jan. Liberal Studies Handbook. Springfield, IL: University of Illinois, 2004.

Eiseley, Loren C. The Star Thrower. First ed. New York: Random House, 1978.

Elbow, Peter. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Feldman, Noah. Divided by God. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Fisher & Harrsison. Substance Abuse Information for School Counselors, Social Workers, Therapists, and Counselors. 4th Edition. Allyn Ed and Bacon Press.

Fisher, Louis & Adler, David Gray. American Constitutional Law, Seventh Edition. Durham NC: Carlina Academic Press, 2007.

Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” From The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Turnsburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1983.

Gronlund, N.E. (2004) 7th Edition Writing Instructional Objectives for Teaching and Assessment. Paperback. Pearson.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996.

Homer. The Odyssey, translated by S.H. Butcher and A. Lang. Vol. XXII. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001.

Hooke, Alexander E. Virtuous Persons, Vicious Deeds. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1999.

Indian Tales and Others by Neihardt, John G.. (1936). New York: Macmillan Company.

Jolly, Alison. Lucy's legacy : sex and intelligence in human evolution. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. : 1999

Kellenberger, James. Introduction to Philosophy of Religion. First ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

Kellough, R.D. and Jarolimet, W. (2007) Teaching and Learning in the Elementary School, 9th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Kellough, Richard, and Jioanna Carjuzaa. Teaching in the Middle and Secondary Schools. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2006.

Kidd, Thomas S. American Christians and Islam. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

King, T. (2006). Medicine River. Boston: Penguin (Non-Classics).

King, T. (2008). The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Indigenous Americas) (1 ed.). Minnesota: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Kingston Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York New York: Vintage Books, 1975.

Kolb, David A. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory. Hay Group, 1999.

Komives, Susan R., Nance Lucas, and Timothy R. McMahon. Exploring Leadership. Second ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy, Second Edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Lenski, S.D. and Nierthermer, S.L. (2004) Becoming a Teacher of Reading: A Developmental Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House."

Macionis, J. J. (2007). Sociology (12th Edition) (MySocLab Series) (12 ed.). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall.

Macionis, J. J. (2009). Social Problems (4th Edition) (4 ed.). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall.

Marlowe, J.D., and Cummins, S. (2008) Evidence for Paralegals (4th Edition) Aspen.

McGinniss Joe. The $elling of the President. The Classic Account of The Packaging of a Candidate. New York New York: Penguin Books, 1969.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege and Male Privilege."

Mcluhan, M. (1997). Essential McLuhan. New York: Routledge.

Millman, Richard, and George Parker. Geometry. New York: Springer, 1991.

Momaday, N. S. (1990). The Way to Rainy Mountain (9th Paperbound Printing ed.). Albuquerque, CA: University Of New Mexico.

Momaday, N. S. (2010). House Made of Dawn (P.S.). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Moore, B. N. (2010). Philosophy: The Power of Ideas (8 ed.). Boston: Mcgraw-Hill College.

Morgan, Robin. Case Studies in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Myers, Dee Dee. Why Women Should Rule The World. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Neihardt, J. G. (1991). When the Tree Flowered: The Story of Eagle Voice, a Sioux Indian (New Edition) (New ed.). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Neihardt, J. G. (1998). The Giving Earth: A John G. Neihardt Reader. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Neihardt, J. G. (2002). A Cycle of the West: The Song of Three Friends, The Song of Hugh Glass, The Song of Jed Smith, The Song of the Indian Wars, The Song of the Messiah (50 Anv ed.). Toronto, Canada: Bison Books.

Nerburn, Kent. Letters to My Son. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999.

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State and Utopia. Basic Books Inc. 1974.

Pence, G. (2007). Medical Ethics: Accounts of the Cases that Shaped and Define Medical Ethics (5 ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill.

Platt, R. (2006). Crime Scene: The Ultimate Guide to Forensic Science. New York: DK ADULT.

Platt, R. (2008). Forensics (Kingfisher Knowledge). New York: Kingfisher.

Pojman, Louis P., and Michael Rea. Philosophy of Religion. Fifth ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson & Wadsworth, 2008.

Posner, George. Field Experience - A Guide to Reflective Teaching. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2010.

Possin, Kevin. Critical Thinking. Winona, MN: The Critical Thinking Lab, 2002.

Powell, Sara Davis. Introduction to Middle School. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2005.

Rachels, J. (1991). Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Oxford Paperbacks). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2009). The Elements of Moral Philosophy (6th Revised edition ed.). New York: Mcgraw Hill Higher Education.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1979, 1999.

Reynard Charles, Valente Judith. Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006.

Sax, B. (1992). The Parliament of Animals: Anecdotes and Legends from Books of Natural History, 1775-1900. Fairfax: University Publishing Association.

Sax, B. (2002). Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats, and the Holocaust. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Sax, B. (2004). Crow (Reaktion Books - Animal). New York: Reaktion Books.

Shedletsky, Leonard, and Joan Aitken. Human Communication on the Internet. Boston: Pearson Education, 2004.

Stevenson, L. (1988). Seven Theories of Human Nature (2 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Tannen, Deborah. “Wears Jumpsuit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husband’s Last Name.” in The Meaning of Difference. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Taulbert, Clifton. Eight Habits of the Heart. First ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Thio, A. (2009). Deviant Behavior (10th Edition) (10 ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Waldman, Steven. Founding Faith. How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty. New York New York: Random House, 2008.

Walzer Michael. Spheres of Justice. A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. Basic Books Inc. 1983.

Wharton, A. S. (2005). Working in America: Continuity, Conflict, and Change (3 ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill.

Wren, J. Thomas. The Leader's Companion. First ed. New York: The Free Press, 1995.

Wright, Robert, The moral animal : the new science of evolutionary psychology. Pantheon Books, New York : 1994.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lincoln's 201st Birthday

We observed Lincoln's 201st birthday here at the Hadley-Ives household by spending a couple hours sledding. We built a ramp at the bottom of a steep hill on the public golf course here in town (which has one of the very few hills in this area of glacier-flattened central Illinois). I went over it a couple times, and I'm now feeling rather sore.

I spent about an hour this evening reading poetry about Lincoln, and then I decided to make a web page collecting some of my favorite old (copyright-expired) poems.

I spent much of the day reading student papers in my classes, and I'll probably spend most of tomorrow afternoon writing feedback for them and updating web pages for the classes.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Pie chart showing Obama's proposed FY 2011 budget

I did my federal taxes last night. Once again our contribution to the federal government through income taxes will be around $1,500. That doesn't seem like much. Anywhere, here is where the money goes if Obama's proposed FY 2011 budget is approved.

Monday, February 08, 2010


We should get about 8 centimeters of snow tonight, and maybe another 6-8 centimeters on Tuesday and Tuesday night. We already have some snow on the ground, so this should be good. Temperatures won't get above zero (Celsius) for five or six days at least, so the sledding should be great. On Saturday night I took my sons and some of their friends sledding at the local park here in Springfield, and the snow was very hard and slick, with some powdery snow on top, and this made the sleds tear down the hill at incredible speeds. I think we probably exceeded 40 kmh, or even 50 kmh. I'm looking forward to some more sledding this week.

Other than that, I'm mainly working on my classes. I've posted a couple blogs on my policy class blog related to the White House proposed budget and a report on welfare spending.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Primary Elections

Today I voted in an Illinois primary election. In Illinois you must ask for a particular party's primary ballot. I had a choice of Republican, Democratic, or Green ballots, and it was difficult to make up my mind. I have some opinions about the Democratic candidates for governor and senate, and so I was tempted to vote on the Democratic Party ballot, but then there are several other contested races where I hadn't done any work to investigate the candidates, so I would have left many choices blank. Likewise in the Republican races there were a couple candidates I would have wanted to vote against, but I generally knew very little about most of the Republican candidates, aside from one who is a personal friend (and running uncontested) and another I like who is going to win her primary easily anyway. So, I took a Green Party ballot. I'm very happy about the Green Party's senate candidate LeAlan M. Jones. Also, it was easier and faster to vote on the Green Party ballot, because none of the positions were contested, and there were many offices where no Green Party person was running.

I checked out my county clerk's election results (Sangamon County Election Results). It appears that 92 other persons in this county took Green primary ballots as I did. That is only 0.41% of all the persons who voted in the primary election, the numbers are probably low because the Democratic and Republican parties have interesting contested elections, and on the Green Party Ballot all you could do was confirm that you supported the uncontested candidates (or just not vote for some of them, if you only supported some Green candidates -- the Greens have put some fairly flaky people to stand for elections before).

I'm the only person in my precinct who took a Green primary ballot, and the precinct across the street from me didn't have anyone take a Green ballot. But at least 93 of us in the county did, so that's comforting to know.

Some of my coreligionists (Baha'is) don't vote in Illinois primaries because you must ask for a particular party's ballot or else ask for a nonpartisan ballot (and there was nothing on the nonpartisan ballot today). Baha'is aren't supposed to become involved in partisan political party politics. Well, I'm an independent voter and I've never actually joined a political party. Taking a party's primary ballot doesn't mean one is a member or partisan supporter of that party. I think we all have a duty to be involved in elections and political discussions. We just must do so with our allegiances to basic principles and ethical motives, rather than agendas to help a particular political party gain more power.

Monday, February 01, 2010

White House Proposes FY 2011 Budget

I've been studying the proposed FY 2011 budget released by the White House today. I created this pie chart to show where the money is going.

The three things I like least about the budget are: 1) there is no projection into the future where the budget ever gets balanced; and 2) security spending is still about 13% of federal spending, which is about twice as high as it needs to be; and 3) meaningful foreign aid to reduce poverty remains a trivial part of the budget.

The things I like about this budget are: 1) it increases spending on education, including a provision for a large increase in Federal Pell Grants; and 2) The National Institutes of Health will get a slight increase (in FY 2010 there is a proposed budget for $31.1 billion, and in FY 2011 the NIH get $32.1 billion). I like the optimism in the projection that unemployment benefits paid out to those getting unemployment insurance will be only $158 billion in FY 2010 and then drop way down to $100 billion in FY 2011. I hope we really do experience that. I wonder about this optimistic picture, because with mandatory outlays for the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service the FY 2010 projection is $78.4 billion and the FY 2011 projection is $82.4 billion.