Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Universal Pre-K?

A chic policy proposal that has gained steam in a few different states is for the public school system to be extended to younger children. I would like to quickly examine the arguments for and against this policy.

While I do not have any background in child development, the research tends to be pretty strong that children are extremely impressionable from the ages of 3-5, and that pre-school education can have a positive impact on their cognitive and social development. Thus, universal pre-k advocates make the argument that education at the pre-school level is every bit as compelling for the state to provide as K-12 education.

To this end, advocates claim that a proper education is necessary to succeed in society, and those who do not have access to pre-school will not be able to compete academically, or in the marketplace, with those who are able to receive private pre-K education. There is a lot of truth to this claim, actually, when one looks at the education gap that exists between those on the lower and upper ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Universal Pre-K, therefore, is fundamentally a tool to provide equality to those who would otherwise not be able to receive this type of education. While that might sound great, there are also a lot of reasons to be against this policy.

1. This would cost an arm and a leg. It would cost billions of dollars a year to provide universal pre-school, and for a larger state would cost close to a billion dollars. Enacting policy of this sort would be economically detrimental.

2. A huge percentage of families do not need the government to pay for their pre-school. The same problem that occurs with other huge government programs is that the government wastes a ton of money on those who do not need it.

3. This policy is incredibly paternalistic. The state determines the best way to educate children, and limits the choice that parents have to make. Parents whose taxes are going toward the state-run pre-school will be economically coerced into sending their kids to these public schools rather than choosing a private pre-school of their choice for an additional cost. These kids are really young, and we are going to entrust hours of their care to the state, rather than schools that are chosen by parents. I do not like trading parental influence for state influence.

4. There are other alternatives. While I’m not huge on any government spending, if we must do so, let’s do it intelligently. Providing vouchers to disadvantaged children to attend the same private schools that well-off kids attend would be a far better use of tax revenues than universal pre-school. Schools that effectively prepare children for K-12 will attract more students and the market will take over as a regulatory institution. This is a viable alternative. My other favorite alternative: do nothing. In fact, let’s abolish public schools altogether… but that’s an argument for another day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Football 492: Advanced American Football Theory

I am an avid fan of the National Football League. Well, calling myself just “a fan” would probably be an understatement. I have personally attended roughly 175 NFL games in my lifetime. Being only 21 years of age, that means I have been to every home Steelers game in my lifetime except 3. Additionally, there have been only a handful of Sundays in my life in which I have not watched an entire NFL game, and only a few more in which I haven’t watched multiple NFL games. I think I am more than an average fan… I would call myself a modern football expert. You might disagree, but based on this characterization of myself, I would like to teach you some theories that I have formulated. I have developed immutable football theory for both on-field strategies as well as for front office football activity.

I will start with commandments that should apply to off-the field activity.

1. Never fire a capable coach. This is perhaps the most important thing I have to say, so if you remember nothing else, remember this. Never be that guy at work who is always saying “Fire Cowher, we’ll never win with him!” The Steelers have the best aggregate record from 1992 to the present in the entire NFL. They are also the only team to have only one coach during that span (in fact, there is no other team that has had less than 3!). Look at all of the best teams in the league right now (Indianapolis, Denver, Dallas, Seattle) and look at their Head Coaches. They have all been there a few years, and are all proven winners. Seattle stuck by Mike Holmgren, a championship coach in Green Bay, despite having some mediocre seasons strung together. So many experts called for Holmgren to be fired, but Seattle stuck by him. Now they are the best team in the NFC.

Realize why keeping your coach around is so important. During the salary-cap era in the NFL, the roster turnover is amazingly high. Teams, on average, change about one-third of their roster every season. This kind of instability makes it very difficult to build off of the previous season’s momentum, which is important to becoming a Superbowl contender. Thus, having the same head coach every season provides some semblance of continuity, far more than switching head coaches every few seasons.

So, Ravens fans take note – just because Brian Billick is having a poor season does not mean he should be fired. He led you to a Superbowl, and he has never had a losing season. I hate him, and I hate the Ravens – so I hope they do fire him – but it would be a huge mistake. Green Bay and Philly should also take note – your coaches did not suddenly forget how to coach football, and change is not a good thing.

2. Team Chemistry is actually important. Football teams should care more about team chemistry and makeup than they do. Successful teams place character at the top of their list for potential draft picks or free agents. This might seem obvious with all of the recent Terrell Owens news, but most NFL teams will never learn their lesson. The Steelers value character, so much so that they did not even try to re-sign Plaxico Burress, a player who was never in trouble with the law and was a big contributor on the field. They didn’t attempt to resign him because they felt he was soft and that he wasn’t a hard worker. The Steelers receivers are clearly not as good this year, but the offense is more highly ranked. Go figure. The Saints, Vikings, Raiders, and Philadelphia don’t seem to value character very highly, and look at their records. The Broncos, Colts, Steelers, and Chargers value it very highly, and look at their records

Now, onto on-field strategies:

1.Blitzing is stupid. Endlessly, football announcers talk about how important it is to pressure the quarterback, and I agree. But, to blitz a lot is just foolish. Sure, rushing an extra guy sometimes (that makes 5 rushers) works pretty well, and can fool an offensive line. There is absolutely no reason, however, to rush 6 guys or more. Almost every time a defense does this, the extra guys seem to get in each other’s way, and the result is a huge gain when the quarterback passes it over their heads. I can’t really prove this to you until you start watching NFL games – most sacks come on 5 man rushes or less, and most big offensive plays happen when 6 guys cross the line. Don’t blitz.

To this end, people think the Steelers blitz a lot. Heck, they are often called “Blitzburgh.” But the Steelers don’t really blitz that often. They play a 3-4 defense, so they get to the quarterback by sending their 3 defensive lineman, plus one linebacker (somebody different every play), and sometimes 2 linebackers (that would make 5 rushers). The Steelers rarely send 6 guys across the line, and they certainly don’t do so on 3rd and long.
Now, a rebuttal to this would be that statistics show that offenses only score 12 percent of the time or something when the quarterback is sacked even once on a drive. I understand this statistic, but I wish there was a statistic that says the percentage of time that the offense gets a first time when the defense sends 6 guys on a blitz. I bet the number is above 60 percent.

2. Do not punt on 4th and less than 4 inside the 40 yard line when you are losing. I am so sick of seeing teams punt it into the endzone from the 40 yard line on 4th and 2. The average NFL play averages 5.3 yards – and most teams convert about 50 percent of their 4th down conversions! A first down in this situation almost assuredly gets you 3 points, and maybe 7. A punt gets you, at best, 24 yards of field position, and often less than that. It doesn’t make any sense.

Even more importantly, it sends a message to your team that you don’t think that you can get 2 yards for a first down. Psychologically, this is very detrimental. I have absolutely no evidence of this, other than to say that there are a few teams that I have noticed punt a lot in opposition territory – Buffalo, Miami, and Arizona. All three teams are terrible.

3. Run, run, and run some more. The team with more rushing yards in a game wins something like 80 percent of NFL contests. Why don’t people understand this? Only one passing team has won the Superbowl in the last 15 years that I can think of (St. Louis). Passing-first teams are often good, but not great (Kansas City, Philadelphia). Running first teams are much more consistently good (Indianapolis despite having Peyton, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay before this year, San Diego). Rushing teams are better, enough said.

Nothing displays this more than NFL teams around the goal-line. This might be an entirely different law, but the fade route is the worst play in football. Teams try it all of the time, and it has about a 3 percent effectiveness rate. I made that up, but it is in fact the worst play in football.

Well, I have so much more to say about football than this, but this post is getting long as it is. I’ll post more about football every week probably during the season. Please post your thoughts on football in general here, but I’m more interested in your thoughts on homosexual marriage below, so please continue that discussion in the meantime, as you await a post on contraceptives, which should come in the next day or so.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Why You Should Be Against Homosexual Marriage

I'm a theologically conservative Christian - so of course I'm going to argue against homosexual marriage, right? Well, that shouldn't be as obvious as it might be in American society today. Scripture is clear that homosexuality is wrong - just as it is clear that adultery, gossip, slander, and greed are all wrong. With each of these sins, we legislate in some ways, and we leave them to the realm of personal liberty and responsibility in other ways. But this post is entitled, "Why You Should Be Against Homosexual Marriage," implying that I will give you an argument as to why we should in fact, legislate against homosexual marriages. I will convince you of this fact, based almost entirely on secular sociological argumentation - though my argument will be particularly enticing to committed Christians who believe in the importance of the traditional family.

The argument is simple: the traditional family includes a father, mother, and their children. The sociological data, and basic common sense, always concludes that the best thing for children is to have a mother and a father, and the best-case scenario is for them to be their biological parents. Anything that undermines the family structure hurts the sociological foundation of our society. It is cliche to say that the family is the building block of our society, but it is cliche for a reason - it is true.

Based on this, we have to examine if legalizing homosexual marriage (or de facto homosexual marriage, i.e. civil unions) undermines the traditional family. I'm not making the elementary argument here "gay people can't have children and aren't as good as a mother and father," though those are certainly true claims. Instead, I'm making the argument that changing the definition of marriage to include homosexuals fundamentally redefines marriage from a family institution to something much more shallow - something that is only symbolic of love and committment. Surely, heterosexuals have done this on their own, with the extensive use of contraception, and more significantly no-fault divorce, but there are still cultural norms against adultery and divorce, though they are not necessarily as strong as they once were. Changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual marriage would crush those norms by completely separating marriage from parenting.

I have so much more to say about this, and I could bring up the arguments against mine, but I'll save that for discussion (which will hopefully happen). In the meantime, I want to give you some evidence. Homosexual marriage has been legal and accepted in the Scandinavian countries since about 1989. Since then, illegitimate birth rates have gone from 11-31 percent in the Netherlands, and in certain areas of the pro-homosexual country of Norway, they are as high as 82 percent. Read this letter written by Dutch scholars, which testifies to the decay of marriage in their country. This is precisely what happens to marriage as an institution when gay marriage is accepted.

So, Christian or not, you should be against homosexual marriage. Not because homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to commit to each other and love each other, they just can't use marriage as a symbol of their love. Marriage should not be symbolic, it should be a social contract between two people, an agreement that they plan on spending the rest of their life together, for two purposes - companionship, and more importantly to parent together.

I have so much more to say about this stuff... including a theory that the family is to society as the contract is to capitalism, but that is probably for a different day...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Am I Part of the Religious Right?

I was sitting in a class the other day, and the professor started bashing the Religious Right. He claimed that they were blinded by the "Constantinian Temptation," to put the full force of the state behind the Church. He made the argument that when we overlap the state and the church, disastrous things happen. Without getting into examples, I completely agree, and I think that independent, robust religious institutions and civil society bolster the state, as does a state that emphasizes the necessity of freedom of religion.

As my professor railed on the Religious Right, I began to get defensive. I'm a committed evangelical Christian, and an ardent Conservative. Surely, I'm a Conservative largely because of my religious convictions (I was borderline socialist before I gave my life to Christ). Though I am very religious, and very much on the political right, I have never been blinded by this Constantinian temptation, or so I think. Hence, I need to determine if the religious right really desires to Christian-ize the government and that will determine if I am a part of the religious right.

First, I decided that there were certain political values that I was committed to, independent of (though obviously shaped by) my Christian values. I believe in the free-market and limited government. I believe, in a more traditional conservative sense, that we should not radically change institutions based on the value of tradition and the uncertainty of the future. I believe in the authority and limitations of the constitution. If you'd like to discuss each of these, I would be happy to - including biblical support for each of these ideas. I can argue for each of them from a sacred or secular point of view, and I therefore think that these beliefs are not contingent on my religiosity.

So, what defines the religious right? Is it defined by being a Christian as well as being a conservative? Or, is it being conservative ONLY because you are a Christian? I am starting to think that the latter is true, and I'll give you two reasons: Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

First of all, there's a great post over at this blog called "We're Not Israel". Read it. I would love to explain the argument, but he says it better than I could. Pat Robertson does not advocate my political position.

Secondly, we have James Dobson. Now, James Dobson is nothing like Pat Robertson. I like James Dobson. But he needs to understand the influence he has and act far more responsibly. You wouldn't believe how highly Christians view Dobson's opinions - too highly in my opinion. Sometimes, he is wrong. One example, among many, is his support for Harriet Miers. He did so because she is an evangelical Christian - not because she was the best choice for the Supreme Court.

These two guys are examples of what my professor was talking about. Blinded by their faith rather than guided by it (sometimes!), they influence politics in negative ways. If they are the Religious Right, I do not want to be. Not because they don't say things and advocate policies that I agree with, because they often do (well, Dobson more than Robertson), but because their political disposition is inherently flawed.

So, my professor was correct. Crazy religious right. Be religious... Be conservative. But do not call yourself part of the religious right.

First time blogger

Welcome anyone who is actually reading my very first attempt at a blog. I hope to post very regularly in order to keep this thing interesting, but I know that blogs are only exciting if people read them and comment, so I hope that you find the substance to be worth discussion.

To this end, the following are my favorite topics of discussion: theology, politics, and sports. I must warn you - I think in very vague, general terms, which means that most of my posts will be more theoretical than practical, though I'll try to marry the abstract with the pragmatic. Mainly, I'd love to constantly discuss ideas, and when I'm at a loss for ideas to talk about, I'll probably post something on football, lacrosse, hockey, or baseball.

Expect a post from me in the very near future... though don't expect it to be proofread or revised. I'll type everything in my head and hit publish. Hope you don't mind.