Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Los Angeles's new Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels

I've always been interested in church architecture. I don't always remember the different parts of a church that I learned in Art History 101 (and 102), but I do spend a great deal of time looking around at the space during a Mass in a church that is new to me.

I approve of the new LA Cathedral, at least what I can make out from the website. It seems to include elements of modern design while maintaining the inspiration of awe that the best of Old World churches aspire.

A lot of newer churches I've been into lack artwork. The windows, which are sometimes not even stained glass, are increasingly abstract or merely tinged panels. Once you step inside, there is no obvious reminder the saint for which the church is named. I like religious art for art's sake.

No offense to any Protestants, but these new churches sometimes seem like Protestant assembly halls. The seating is arranged like a theater. The musicians are a rock band, with drummer, guitarist, and a lead singer with one of those hands-free microphones like what Britney Spears lip-synchs into while prancing around on stage. The priest is often a younger one whose homily style is that of an over-enthusiastic second grade teacher. A Mass which was once an overly solemn ritual with trapping has morphed into interactive performance art in attempt to be communitarian.

I don't want a return to the Tridentine Latin Mass, although I understand where those who do are coming from, but I do want a feeling that I am stepping into a place which is just a bit different from the world outside. I guess it all boils down to my personal preference for a little heterogeneity.
(1:50 PM) 1 comments

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Why Yes, Trent Lott Is a Racist Dickweed

Trent Lott isn't alone in his thoughts. And that is why we still need affirmative action in some form.

Oh, I will admit that affirmative action does result in normally qualified whites missing out on opportunities. On the other hand, affirmative action exists as an expiation of guilt.

I compare affirmative action to Israel. The truth is, if all things were done right, there would have been no European colonialism of the Middle East under the the mandates of the League of Nations and the Arabs would have had sovereignty sooner than they did. Sad but true.

At the same time, Israel exists as a remedy for the Holocaust and through that centuries of anti-Semetism, a sentiment which is not totally extinguished. I don't begrudge the existence of Israel and I will defend its right to exist, yet I know in the back of my mind that its creation involved injustice, an injustice which is easier to overlook because the slighted parties tend to act like militant, violent jackasses.

Likewise, affirmative action exists to remedy the effects of slavery and years of Jim Crow, of official and unofficial segregation in the years since the Emancipation Proclamation. In a just world, blacks would have never been imported as slave labor to the United States. But we can't wipe that away with a time machine, now can we?

People like Trent Lott lead me to believe that a need for affirmative action in some form is still out there. What that form is, I'm not quite sure.

Well, actually, I do have an inkling. Break up residential segregation. Well, you can't just point and tell people to move, but you can make it easier. Just how to go about that is a mystery.

(4:13 PM) 0 comments

Thursday, December 12, 2002

(Cincinnati Enquirer) Ohio Supreme Court rules school funding system unconstitutional

Perusing a newspaper from my native region, I find this story. A dispute on school funding in Ohio has been kicking around for a while without resolution. The funding system for Ohio public schools, based on property taxes, has been more or less ruled unfair and unconstitutional. Still, there is no replacement in place.

As Ohio makes movement towards a new funding system with "all deliberate speed," it's clear the Supreme Court is losing patience. I'm not sure there is a clear, workable solution, though.

Unless a ton of money is thrown into the system, the top school districts will lose money to make things even and the result is that good schools will decline in quality. On the other hand, poor schools are not guaranteed to improve with increased funding. Really, though, you need to abolish the property tax system or make it equal across the state to accomplish the stated goals. The state supreme court is wisely passing the buck to the governor and the legislature for as long as it can; it is, after all, not really the role of the judiciary to create a new system unless the other branches of government are completely negligent. Also, property taxes are used to fund other than just schools and it would be hard to separate these various streams.

If I were forced to come up with a solution, I would favor a phased-in solution. It won't make people happy, but if there is it not left completely open-ended, the plan won't allow any delay. I'd shift towards state collection of a property tax taking in at least the same amount as under the current revenue regime. The richest school districts will have their current amounts in per pupil spending locked in and won't have any immediate decline, but they also would not get any increases, including no increases due to inflation. This would continue until the poorest school districts are almost caught up. Obviously, the gap doesn't have to be totally closed, because staffing a poor, rural school will cost less due to a lower cost of living that needs to be covered by staff and faculty salaries. I'd also toss the rich school districts a bone by allowing them to pursue external funding for extracurricular activities. I would exclude current building projects from the calculations and would have a separate body to approve infrastructure improvements, which would not count towards per pupil spending (at least not fully).

My solution will not please anyone, but it would be a gradual solution with a clear end in sight. It doesn't drastically change the status quo right away, but trying to do so overnight won't help in this particular problem. It may get a few more people to sign on. Some rich people may acquire a faux-social conscience because the time delay allows other people's kids to pay the price.

If anyone has a better idea which has a chance of moving towards some consensus, I'd like to hear. Sometimes radical shifts are necessary (Brown v. Board of Education), but any time you can avoid a traumatic experience, the less likely you are to foster resentment.
(1:46 AM) 0 comments

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

A solar-powered calculator operates at about 3% efficiency. A power plant operating on fossil fuels operates at a bit over 30% efficiency. Why do we seen to have a souped-up belief that human beings (including government) ought to operate at near 100% efficiency?
(10:18 AM) 0 comments