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Archive for October 2011

I am haunted by Tebow

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Sports is an unusual topic for TRC. Though I am a fan of my local sportsball teams and love soccer and watching Twins and Vikings games, I don’t generally give sports much serious thought. It doesn’t matter to me if my team wins five minutes after the match, and that’s about how it should be, I think.

But this is a sports post about that most internet-friendly athlete of the last two weeks. Tim Tebow. What is it about Tim Tebow?

Tebow is not the first outspoken evangelical Christian to make it in sports. He is not the first football player to point to the heaven’s to give thanks for God’s preference that he and not someone else should score a victory point. He is probably the first to star in a pro-life advertisement to run in the Super Bowl, but overall, no, Tebow is not actually that unique: Professional athlete, dating a womand who is perfectly beautiful in that famous person’s girlfriend way, Outspoken Christian, generally seems like a Good Enough Guy. So why does Tebow drive people (myself included) absolutely crazy? I see this picture, and it drives me up the wall. Why?

Tebow is simply fascinating.Tim Tebow fascinates me. His supporters fascinate me. His haters fascinate me. The people who write about him fascinate me. Apparently he was a superstar in college, I have heard. And he is a terrible NFL quarterback, it would seem. People love that he is terrible. People love that he was celebrated so highly in college, drafted in the first round, and might not be any good. Why?

Why does Tebow get the coverage he does? Here’s an article on Tebow as a Protestant Saint. Grantland, the website of excellent sports writing and boring “pop culture” writing, loves to write about Tebow. One thing they have written about him is this:

In broad strokes, it’s fair to say that how you feel about Tebow depends on how you feel about youth groups and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and, I don’t know, WWJD bracelets and raft retreats with a lot of bonfires and swaying. Other religious players are religious individuals; Tebow is a whole culture. It helps that, as an NFL player, he’s both nontraditional and kind of bad, which makes it easy to see his success as guided by a higher power — if a dude with that background and that throwing motion completes a touchdown pass, it almost has to be a miracle.

Tebow is that big of a deal. Tebow is synonymous with on the field prayer. Literally. The word Tebow has become a verb for bowing in prayer in random locations, like a football field. See: Tebowing.com.This has become popular enough that, after sacking Tebow in a game, the Lions’ Stephen Tulloch and Tony Scheffler partook in a bit of light-hearted Tebowing. This apparently caused such a stir that Tulloch took to twitter to clarify that he was not mocking god. For real.

One reason that helps to explan why Tebow drives me batty: It appears that Tebow’s evangelical proselytizing is the most succesful thing about Tebow. Tebow plays football, sure, but Tebow is a Man of Faith. It’s almost as though when discussing Tebow, one must continually use the proper noun Tebow rather than the pronoun shorthand. But what’s the difference with Tim Tebow? Why does enjoying Tim Tebow’s terrible performance on the field make so many people so happy?  I don’t think anyone wishes any ill-will towards Tebow. I know I don’t. I think having Tebow succeed in the NFL, and be around for years would give another interesting bit of storyline–like professional wrestling, having the obnoxious character around is great for the plot.

And that’s why I think that Tebow rubs people the wrong way; by playing the good guy Tebow set himself apart as the bad guy. He already wrote the plot before he succeeded in any marginal way as a professional athlete. His strong-man-of-faith principles and devout belief are not problems, they are (for many) the reasons Tebow it to be respected and supported. But that has the potential of becoming the only Tim Tebow. If Tebow were just another athlete who turns out to be a terrible football player in the NFL, religious or not, well, people would forget about him. But now they won’t be able to: TebowMania was already written into the hearts and minds of the faithful by Tim Tebow himself, long before he succeeded, or failed, as a professional football player. And that is something his religion will never be able to overcome. Now let us all Tebow in prayer.

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Written by Christopher ZF

October 31, 2011 at 21:54

Student Debt and the Passion of a Lost Generation

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Student debt can be a crushing burden. Decisions one makes as a youth can potentially weigh down an entire life. Often, students are told by parents, teachers, and university professors to pursue what they love, that passion is more important than money. And in the walls of a university, this is an appealing argument. Outside school, too, this should be the driving force of one’s life.

If you were a college student in the past 10 years or so, and are middle-class or lower, you probably took out student loans to pay for that degree. And if one loves books, or art history, or 13th century religious iconography, following that advice with passion will cause problems when you have to pay off those student loans. When you graduate, excited about the world and its opportunities, do something big and interesting. Because after that, you might find that the world doesn’t want to pay you, or at least not very much, to pursue your passion.

This is our own fault. Believe it or not TRC does believe strongly in personal responsibility. If you took out a 100K in student loans, you are responsible to the institution which borrowed you that money. It must be paid back, even if, at 25 years old, you realize that you made a terrible decision at 17, and will pay for it for the remainder of your adult life. Alas. These are the rules, which, even when soul-crushing, are still the rules.

The US is in an a difficult place regarding student debt, and it could have serious consequences. The nation now carries more student loan debt than it does credit card debt. The costs of tuition have been rising at staggering rates, and show no signs of tapering off, and in the meantime wages for graduates are decreasing. Student debt, it is being said, could drag this economic recession on and on, and leave a generation of college students unemployable. By year’s end, a projected $1 trillion in student loans will be outstanding in the United States. A trillion dollars. How is repayment going?

 Barely more than a third of loan holders are actively paying down their debts, indicating that the burden may be too much for many. What effect will the ballooning student debt load have on the economy in the long term? According to Alan Nasser, professor emeritus of political economy at Evergreen State University, the American dream is about to become the American nightmare.

That doesn’t sound good. Too many people are having too hard a time surviving and one cause of the difficulty is simply that middle-class kids did what they were told middle-class kids do: go to college. College is a benefit, and it should be encouraged. The college years are the best years of one’s life (they really were), and the intellectual pursuit is among the greatest endeavors of human existence (truly). It is not culture or society’s fault that millions of young, highly educated people are unable to get a job. But culture is not guilt free, either. There is plenty of responsibility for this $1 trillion dollars. The question should be, what are we going to do about it so it does not erase a generation?

Who knows. Are there any viable solutions? At Occupy Wall Street there is a growing cry for student debt relief. There is an argument to be made for debt forgiveness: if we forgive the crushing debt burden, individuals will have money to spend on goods and services rather than sending their money (or not sending money, as the case may be) to pay off interest on student debt. Mrs. TRC and I have discussed this. We are doing well in comparison, working and able to meet our payments. But if we didn’t have to make the monthly student loan payment we would immediately: buy a car, buy a computer, re-do our kitchen floor. Would it help if we opened up what little capital is available to Americans and allowed them to direct that money towards economic recovery? It seems reasonable, but I’m not economist.

Either way, that’s not likely. And no one should be surprised that our government does not forgive a trillion dollars in debt to its own citizens. It’s not our style, and it may not be the best solution anyway. A strong argument against simple debt-relief is that it is unfair to people to worked tooth-and-nail to pay their education off and did not accrue debt. This person, the argument goes, did not need a private school education, and found a way to pay for it without loans. That is true, and that individual deserves the praise of our society; that person is a role-model. I think there are too few of those individuals; I wish I had been one.

Another plan is out today from President Obama to help ease the burden of student loans. The President’s plan “allows borrowers to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income, a significant reduction from the 15 percent cap in current law. And the plan would allow for loan forgiveness on a remaining balance after 20 years of payments.” Pay 10% of your income for 20 years, and the rest is forgiven. That seems generous. Whether it will work or be welcomed remains to be seen.

There is also a third option that TRC has thought of lately, and it’s terrifying, but no less realistic. It is said that if you do not find a job within five years of graduation, the odds of ever working into the competitive position you could have decrease significantly (I heard this on MPR, and am looking for the source). That is going to be a lot of students in the wake of this recession. And it will not be just liberal arts majors who want to be curators or book-store owners, but law students and scientists, and individuals from every field with graduate degrees, and thus more loans, because why look for a job when there are none? Better to keep learning and acquiring degrees to be more competitive when jobs come back. One may disagree with this line of thinking, but it is not uncommon and results in a lot of MAs, MSs, PhDs, JDs, etc.

Millions, probably. And the vision of these over-burdened and underemployed college graduates making coffee around the nation will eventually, finally, demonstrate what people around the country have known for a long time: the university system needs to change. The system cannot be: take out loans to go to school to get a job to pay off the loans you needed to go to school. That is a heartless cycle, and will destroy too many people in its wake.

Or we’ll just stop attending higher-education. The US will continue to run colleges and universities that compete with the best institutions in the world and continue to increase tuition to meet costs, but Americans will not attend those schools, at least not the majority of Americans. And this would be a loss of monumental proportions. Learning what you are passionate about, like your teachers said, is what college is for, and learning how to follow that passion for the rest of your life should take priority over monthly interest payments.

Written by Christopher ZF

October 26, 2011 at 11:02

Pot destroys Kettle, as GOP too extreme for Pat Robertson

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The Cultural Barometer in the United States is starting to get some very strange readings. When I saw this over at Think Progress, I thought there had to be a mistake. But it turns out there is no mistake.

Pat Robertson, yes, that Pat Robertson, apparently thinks that the current GOP field of presidential candidates is “too extreme.” This is a real report. Pat Robertson thinks that someone else holds political and ideological views that are too extreme for his taste.

Said Mr. Robertson:

“I believe it was Lyndon Johnson that said, ‘Don’t these people realize if they push me over to an extreme position I’ll lose the election?’” … “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the frontrunners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election…They’ve got to stop this! It’s just so counterproductive!”

This doesn’t say anything that I think most on the political left have not already noticed, but the current GOP is moving fast and far to the Right. When they passed the ideological rigidity and extremism represented by Pat Robertson is anyone’s guess.

Written by Christopher ZF

October 25, 2011 at 17:01

Posted in Politics

Welcome to Rick Perry’s America

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TRC is reviving an old (old) blog feature from a previous era, the Welcome to ________’s America.

So, welcome to Rick Perry’s America.

Perry called the birther movement “a good issue to keep alive…You know, Donald [Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke [Obama] a little bit and say, ‘Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’ I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction.

Well said. You’ve never looked more presidential.

Written by Christopher ZF

October 25, 2011 at 10:30

GOP can’t actually want a bad economy…right?

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I’ve been curious of late as to how Republicans respond to statements like this:

Of course, with their single-minded focus on defeating Obama and controlling both houses in Congress, Republicans most likely will continue to block the most effective job-creating initiatives. 

I’ve said some variation of this a couple of times, and the sentiment is pretty common from the Democratic and liberal spectrum in the United States. The charge is, essentially, that defeating President Obama in the 2012 election is more important than aiding in economic recovery in the United States, right now. It is similar to the idea that liberals wanted Iraq to continue as a clusterfuck during President Bush’s years, to continue to embarrass his unjust war. And some liberals probably did want to see that. But not many, and the rest of us made a strong argument against that kind of barbarism. Now, the GOP is receiving a similar attack.

This is a pretty serious charge, and one that should cause Republicans to get defensive and start working towards improving the economy. Which I don’t see happening. I understand its all politics, and that President Obama presented a Jobs Bill that was never going to pass in the first place. But there are bipartisan ideas on how to create jobs being presented, right? And they are not being passed, right? Presumably everyone in both parties wants the economy to improve (except maybe fringe folks on both sides), and I trust that the Republican individuals in congress want unemployment to go down, and jobs to go up. But the GOP doesn’t even seem to be trying very hard to counter the accusation.

So how do Republicans respond to the charge that they prefer a bad or worsening economy to improve their electoral chances?

Written by Christopher ZF

October 24, 2011 at 16:49

climate change reality confirmed by skeptical researchers using Koch money. Can we move on yet?

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Here’s a beautiful sentence to share this Friday morning: A massively scaled study funded (in part) by the Koch Brothers and overseen by a skeptical physicist has concluded that global warming is real. What do you know?

The study was headed by Richard Muller, a physicist long skeptical of the climate change results that have been funded by governments, and thus skeptical of climate change (skeptic here being used in the true sense of the word, not to be confused by the deniers funded by the denial industry). So he and a team of researches collected private dollars to conduct their own study, on an incredible scale, to see if independent research conducted outside government purview would follow the line on global warming.

Now, the data is analyzed and the study is concluded and the result remains the same. The first four words of the press release sum it up:  “Global Warming is real.” This is an important study, and as the press release continues, can hopefully help “cool the debate over global warming by addressing many of the valid concerns of the skeptics in a clear and rigorous way.” It is being submitted in four studies for peer-review, and will make its way in to the literature, adding to the bloc of evidence that already exists.

Let me say that Richard Muller carries some weight among climate change deniers and skeptics. So much so that (as Brad Plumer writes) Anthony Watts of the denial-blog Watts Up With That, said: “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” Hopefully Watts and others are able to see beyond their bias and accept what science has been telling us all along.

But as the science of climate change becomes more and more indisputable, it is important to remember the denial movement will become ever more intransigent and unreasonable. It must do so to survive, because if people are open to evidence and reason, they will eventually be convinced by science.

Phil Plaitt reminds readers that this is not, and there never will be, a watershed tipping point for deniers to suddenly come around and accept the science, no matter how well reasoned an argument Richard Muller makes to abandon the skeptical position (see WSJ link, below). Instead, Plaitt calls for patience and vigilance.

I know this new study won’t sway climate change deniers. It can’t, because nothing can. The reason for that is simple: This isn’t about the science. If it were, the conversation would have been over years ago. Instead, it goes on, because it’s about ideology, not facts….It’s nice to see the previous scientific studies bolstered by this independent one…But, as I have been saying all along, there will never be a “crossing the finish line” moment. (emphasis Plaitt’s)

This is becoming every day more self-evident. Denialism continues its steady path throughout the US and its Government, even as the mountain of evidence continues to expand. Maybe this study will bring us one step closer to reality.

Read: Richard Muller, The Case Against Global Warming Skepticism in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Written by Christopher ZF

October 21, 2011 at 10:07

7 billion and counting.

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The world is about to be populated by 7 billion human beings. That is a lot of people relying on an ever-decreasing number of resources to fuel our bodies, our electricity needs, our transportation, everything. It’s worth spending some time thinking about. There is no prescription here, but continued population growth at these rates does have consequences.

What does 7 billion people mean? Scientific American has a few ideas to report from an Earth Institute forum that was meant to “celebrate, raise awareness and sound a few alarms regarding a U.N. estimate that the 7 billionth human is due to join the party Oct. 31.”

So here are some numbers and predictions to ponder regarding human # 7,000,000,000:

  • “The 7 billionth addition to Homo sapiens represents a spurt of 4 billion people in five decades.”
  • “The growth rate prior to the mid-20th century was much slower and had effectively held steady for thousands of years until the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution.”
  • “By 2100, the African continent will have overwhelmed a historic balance among continents, with “five sub-Saharan Africans for every European.””
  • “With the steady increase over the past half-century has come improved life expectancy to a global average of 70 years.”
  • “Dwindling natural resources, food and water could mean 1 billion starving people across Africa and South Asia’s “hunger belt” sooner than many think.”
  • “We are going to need to construct a city of a million people every five days for the next 40 years”
And the most important aspect to remember: “the Earth is finite.” If we don’t figure out a new plan for everyone on the planet we will use up the resources on Earth, because the resources are not infinite. There is a fixed amount of water and air to be used, or polluted beyond use. The process of producing coal takes a whole lot longer than does the process for digging it up and burning it. What happens after 7 billion will likely be very similar to what happened after 6 billion. But will we be able to say the same at 8 billion marker? Or 9 billion? At some point things are going to tip; no one knows when or what it will mean. Whatever the solution to our resource problems will be, I sure hope it won’t be mining the moon because there’s nothing left on Earth.

Written by Christopher ZF

October 20, 2011 at 15:53

Posted in energy, population