Archive for December, 2013

Knowledge and Faith

In the interim between Christmas (my religious holiday) and the new year, newspapers are full of stories about knowledge and belief. The knowledge stories deal a lot with death, accidental and intentional, and factual information about the world we live in as well as the universe. I will pass over murder, war, accidental death, etc., all of which seem to sell a lot of newspapers and attract listeners and watchers, and move on to science. We are taught that science and the scientific method are the gold standard for knowledge. When I took high school chemistry I had to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements that had the exact number of elements in existence. Since then, I have been shocked to find the list has expanded. The universe itself, which has always been described as infinite, but containing certain fixed characteristics seems to be expanding both in size and characteristics. But, it is in the realm of what we may describe as medical science that certainty is constantly changing. I can’t list the number of pills I have taken in the assurance that they would produce a particular result only to find that they may produce others as well. Like many others, I have swallowed vitamins to make me strong and healthy only to find myself today in a morass of conflicting “findings.” As a child I had body parts removed to restore health that today would be treated without surgery.

There are different religious beliefs about how everything started, why we are here and how we should behave. As a college professor, I have long been aware that faith and factual knowledge are inseparable. “I have reached the limits of what I can find that is factual, so I believe I can draw these conclusions, show these relationships, etc.” The wording is mostly different, but the meaning is the same.

As a Christian, I have just participated in a celebration of the beginning of our story of how we got here, what it should be all about, and, therefore, how we should behave. My faith in this story has given my life direction, provided assurance to proceed when I really felt none, comfort in adversity and the ability to make choices when knowledge provided no, or mutually conflicting, directions. I have to admit that life to me has been worrisome and Christian faith (and my wife) have gotten me through the uncertainty.




John Boswell
The two guys who made and continue to make this site possible and readable

Marvin Mostow
Jim Murphy

  Peace in your heart, Peace in your home, Peace on earth

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Technology, Wealth and Jobs

One of the things talked about in a recent blog is whether the economy and life we knew before this series of economic busts beginning in the 1990s hit us will return. Since the end of WWII when hundreds of thousands of young men came home to continue their education and the pent up wealth that accrued to men and women working in industry through the war went to market, life just got better and better. Unions got wages raised, more people bought mechanical possessions, factories produced more things and that required more workers. Farming became a census category that got smaller and finally disappeared. The invention and continued development of electronic devices applicable to daily life led to continued employment and increased “enjoyment” of life. Sending a man to the moon was hailed the beginning of accomplishments unthought of.

Recently (in my terms), it was made possible for American firms to ship production to countries with much cheaper labor. Moving production from north to south in the United States for cheaper labor had occurred after WWII, but now textile and furniture in North Carolina have gone to Asia. Whatever the product, it could be made cheaper in Asia and by the turn of the new century jobs in everything from steel making to computers were going overseas. What was left in this country was being produced with fewer people and more robots.

The recent recession simply brought this problem to the forefront. So far the situation has been explained and handled simply as an old fashioned recession. The Federal Government has dug down and provided more help for the unemployed and the Fed has bought bonds like mad and kept the stock market happy. Most commentary is about when, not if. One of our problems is too much stuff, not too little.

Very few people talk about this conundrum. One who does is Stephen D. King (not the scary novel author). His latest book, When The Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence makes the blunt point that economic growth that we have been used to isn’t coming back. Governments will have less wealth to redistribute and divisions in our society between haves and have nots will grow. A week later Robert Samuelson cited King to raise the question whether, and how, economic growth can be started. He raises the issue about whether we are witnessing a turning point in our history and cites other scholars in his discussion without answering his question.

In the same issue of the Washington Post, Lawrence Summers tackles the problem using different data, but coming to the same question as the two previous authors. He has several suggestions for public spending, which he has laid the basis for earlier in his discussion. One of them is that more money be spent on public infrastructure. A recent news story about deteriorating highways and bridges and the cost to shipping companies using figures generated from the companies provides supporting evidence.

In one sense these authors are depressing. In the larger sense they are encouraging. Consideration is being raised beyond financial markets which in themselves generate little economic growth. These columnists and news stories are giving us something to focus on that could be the basis of growth. What we need is this kind of discussion. Not only could something real come from it, but it could raise the spirits of those of us fed a steady diet of stocks, bonds, banks and Congress. And, the majority of legislators could get away from the political games played by a few of their colleagues.

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Leadership 2

If we were to judge the roll out of the Health Care Bill at the national level, I think we would have to give the national leadership, particularly the President, a pretty low grade by Danchev’s five criteria.

If you start with educator, it seems that none of the leadership understood that this was not the same mass operation that the WWII draft was. Still in effect in the Korean War, when my assigned number came up I would report for induction into the army and go where I was sent. Since I did not want that to happen, I volunteered for a naval OCS program and got my draft notice while on active duty with the navy. That was pretty simple compared with the health care program choices making enrollment in a health care option an individual decision. Kentucky and California are states that bought into the program and are handling enrollment on an individual basis. They are being successful for two reasons. One is that the web program works, and the other is that the workers doing the enrolling understand both the process and the people they are working with. A national leader should have worked to see that both the people doing the enrolling and those of us subject to being enrolled understood that this would be a complex process that would be subject to some glitches. It goes without saying that a working web site is a precondition to success of this program.

The President gets a failing grade as guarantor by not understanding the program and promising people that they could keep their current programs if they wished. He failed as a guarantor because he was not adequately educated.

So far, what has come out about fixing at the national level gives those of us old enough to remember movies of the Keystone Cops flashbacks of running around, billy club waving and little success. More may be going on than we are told, but that takes us back to leadership as education.

As far as being brokers, there is little evidence that anyone has stepped forward, particularly in the legislative process to broker. This may have been tried, but the screaming and shouting from the opposition drowned it out.

We have to hope that the President is at least part of the process of agitation. The Secretary of HHS is certainly agitating, but was she involved in the roll out process enough to know where the problems are?

While progress is being made, this story shows little evidence of Danchev’s leadership activities. For those of us who really want to see this health care program work for all Americans, even if it costs some of us more, I hope leadership emerges at the Federal level.

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Leadership Activities

We are being assailed from all sides, but particularly from the news media, with doleful reports of the failure of leadership in practically all areas of public life. Certainly some of these reports are justified, but what is missing is comprehensive discussion of what leadership is. What we get is a “definition” that supports an author’s particular complaint.

While I have no comprehensive definition of leadership, I do have five activities that I have used in class, which some readers may remember, because they give us a common starting point. And, this last statement is key to making judgements about leadership: they give us a basis to begin our thinking.

Guarantor: If you promise that something should or will happen, you can be counted on to see that it does.

Educator: A leader has to work to inform himself, to be open to changing his/her actions on the basis of new knowledge – to be a learner. In addition, a leader must work to educate those with whom he/she is working – to see that they get information that is necessary to their changing their behavior in a way that helps them integrate some change into their thinking.

Fixer: A leader must be willing and able to fix things that are not going as they were intended to go.

Broker: A leader mediates between and among different and sometimes competing interests. This involves understanding the position of each of the interests and working to represent each interest to the others in a manner that will promote achieving consensus.

Agitator: A leader must follow through to see that projects simply do not become bogged down in organizational complexity. He or she has to find out where projects are, why they are not moving, and deal with the people who can move things along.

Drawn from A Very Special Relationship, by Alex Danchev