I don’t think that turned out quite the way she expected it to

Just follow the link and check the comments.

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Malcolm Gladwell gets a bit too obviously dishonest

Gladwell makes a lot of money writing books, and he has lots of interesting ideas; but “I am interesting” does not excuse “I am dishonest.” If you go to about the 20:45 mark of this video, you will see Gladwell trying to pretend that college admission criteria do not predict success, but doing it by constantly switching back and forth between two non-identical things and hoping you will not notice.

He references a University of Michigan study in which the career performance of people who were admitted to the University of Michigan law school under the very significantly relaxed standards of affirmative action, and who then graduated and passed the bar exam and took up lawyering as a profession, is compared to the career performance of other University of Michigan students whose admission criteria met non-AA standards, and who then graduated and passed the bar exam and took up lawyering as a pofession. And he triumphantly points to the fact that no difference between the two groups’ career performance was detected, as a sign that the admission standards accurately predict future success.

But of course that is a totally b-s comparison. The question is not whether the people who were admitted under affirmative action and went on to succeed were as successful as those who were admitted under ordinary standards and went on to succeed. The question is whether the people who were admitted under affirmative action went on to succeed at the same rate as those who were admitted under ordinary standards. I know that Gladwell knows what survivorship bias is, and I would bet very good money that Gladwell knows perfectly well that the statistics for graduation rates among students accepted under artificially lowered standards are quite dramatically — and tragically — low. For Gladwell is not stupid, and he knows that what really matters is measuring performance from the point of admission, and I don’t think there is any way he didn’t check the statistics that are actually relevant. If it were actually true that students accepted under artifically low standards graduated at the same rate and then performed equally well in their careers, he would have been trumpeting that from his podium.

Instead he tried to elide the distinction in his speech and hoped that no one would notice, in order to proclaim the truth of something that I think he almost certainly knows is actually false.

Lots of respect lost, there.

A prayer request

Gentle Readers all,

Helen and Kai and I would like to ask you to commit to support us in prayer this summer as we spend a week in Bogotá, Colombia working with young people from underprivileged families there. The trip has been organized through Sugar Creek Baptist Church, and we will be working with a remarkable local charity called Conviventia. (I recommend a ten-minute video on YouTube that gives an overview of Conviventia’s services, vision, and philosophy, here.) Our family will be working specifically with young people who are among the students at Conviventia’s schools, and who have been identified by Conviventia as having particularly high potential to be leaders and agents of change within their schools and communities.

If you would like to be a part of the trip financially, that is certainly possible. The trip expenses will run to $1,900 for each of us, and there are other people going on the trip, too, some of who (frankly) probably need the financial help more than we do. There is a link where you can donate to the cost of the trip for our family, here. But you might prefer to follow the other links you see on that page to look at other team members to see whether they could use the donations more.

You can also donate in kind, as we will be carrying with us donations for the kids at the orphanage we will be visiting. I believe the trip organizers are in the process of setting up an online donation registry, similar to a wedding registry or baby shower registry; as soon as I have that link, I will share it here.

But honestly, we are much more interested in your prayers. If God’s people are praying, we will not need to worry about money; if God’s people aren’t praying, then money won’t do much.

We will be traveling between the dates of 20 July and 27 July, but of course we’d rather you didn’t wait until then to start praying. You can specifically pray that my Spanish and Kevin’s will improve between now and July, and in particular that we will be able to arrange to find a native Spanish speaker with whom we can meet at least once a week for an hour to practice. (Helen doesn’t know any Spanish and is not ambitious to learn, as it is quite enough for her to manage her internet ministries in Mandarin and navigate the U.S. in English.) Indeed, there is a long list of specific things you can pray about that come out of the experiences of other people who have done this sort of work before, which we append after the signature.

By the way, for those of you who are Roman Catholic and are somewhat suspicious about the motivations of people who go on a Southern-Baptist-sponsored trip to a predominantly Roman Catholic country: I am Anglican myself, with a Roman Catholic sister, and if I thought the people involved in this trip were motivated by any anti-Catholic animus I wouldn’t be going. One of the explicit items of prayer within the team itself is for spiritual revival WITHIN the Colombian Catholic Church. Nobody on this team is going to be running around telling Colombian Catholics that the Roman Church is the Whore of Babylon.

We appreciate your friendship very much and hope to have lots of stories to share with you when we get back.

Sincerely,

Kenny, Helen, and Kevin

SUGGESTED SPECIFIC TOPICS OF PRAYER

Travel:
* Luggage and belongings not lost, stolen, or broken.
* Protection of tickets, credit cards, passports, and money.
* Passing through customs without problems.
* No mechanical problems with planes / ground transportation.

Health and safety:
* Protection from accidents, crime, natural disaster, terrorism, and dangerous animals.
* Protection for sickness (in particular, right now in Colombia, measles, and in Bogotá, altitude sickness).
* Time for sleep and exercise.
* Safe food and water.
* Protection from drastic weather.

Spiritual:
* Time for intimacy with God in quiet times.
* Protection from discouragement, fear, doubt, demonic attack, etc.
* Demonstration of purity, humility, boldness, wisdom, patience, love for people, teachable spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
* People coming to know Christ at a personal level.
* People who are already Christians becoming better equipped for service and ministry.

Team
* Team dynamics: unity, love, good communication, patience, effective exercise of spiritual gifts.
* Team dynamics: absence of jealousy, envy, bitterness, and pride.
* Grace for cultural adjustments, dealing with jet lag, being away from family and friends, and lack of privacy.

Long term
* Spiritual growth.
* Changed lives.
* Long-term commitment to, and involvement in, world evangelism.

Scriptural passages for use in praying for this trip:
* Exodus 4:12, 33:1-4
* Psalm 4:8; 19:14; 121:1-8
* Isaiah 40:29-31; 55:10-11
* Zechariah 4:6
* Acts 1:8; 4:29-30
* Ephesians 3:16-20; 6:10-20

Thought this was funny, but a bit too political / non-Baptist for Facebook

There were protesters at the grocery store [says a Facebook poster] handing out pamphlets on the evils of America.

I politely declined to take one.

There was an elderly woman behind me, and a young (twentyish) female protester offered her a pamphlet, which she politely declined.

The protester put her hand on the old woman’s shoulder as a gesture of friendship and said, in a very soft voice, “Lady, don’t you care about the children of Iraq?”

The old woman looked up at her and said, “Honey, my father died in France during World War II, I lost my husband in Korea, and my son fell in Vietnam. All three died so bitches like you could have the right to stand here and badmouth our country. And if you touch me again, I’ll stick this umbrella up your ass and open it.”

God bless America.

On the “badness” of words like “disability”

“Deafness is a sensory difference. It only becomes a disability when the educational system fails the child and family.” — attributed on Facebook to some person named Christine Yoshinago-Itano, who is presented as a possessor of a Ph.D.

 
I don’t think it does a lot of good to play semantic games like this. Deafness is, quite literally, a disability: one is not able to hear, and hearing is a useful ability. Of course it is a disability that can be overcome; but it is still a disability. To call a disability what it is, is not to disrespect the person who has it, nor to devalue them; it is simply to speak the truth. By the same token, when medical science is able to take a person who has not been able to hear, and give them that ability, I don’t see how any person of good character can deny that this is a good thing and a reason for rejoicing. And that is true even if one is oneself deaf and has no hope, under current medical science, of ever hearing — the only reason I can imagine not to feel joy on the other person’s behalf, is envy, and envy is one of very nastiest of sins. Trying to claim that deafness is a difference but not a disability, strikes me as an attempt to pretend that being able to hear is not fundamentally better than not being able to hear, and this seems to me to be, at bottom, a rather silly pretense.

This is not at all to deny that deaf people can respond creatively to their deafness, or even that they can turn their deafness into a means for creating particular kinds of good that they would not have produced had they not been deaf — that is, that the thing that is naturally a liability can be turned into an asset. I am quite sure that a deaf person who triumphs over his deafness can reach the point of being genuinely grateful that he is deaf. But that is true of all bad things. It is true of cancer; a cancer survivor can be a tremendous inspiration and a source of comfort to other people who are suffering. Even somebody who dies of cancer can turn the cancer into a good thing; I will for the rest of my life remember our Chinese friend Xinwei who got cancer despite being by any measure one of the godliest and most admirable people anyone could ever hope to meet. I will remember her not because she died of cancer, of course. But I will never forget her response when her Christian friends, in confusion and anger with God on her behalf, asked, “Why you?” — and Xinwei answered simply, “Why not me?”

To say that a deaf person can see so much good come out of his deafness that he can reach the point of being glad he is deaf, is merely to say that Romans 8:28 applies to deafness. An orphan who responds to being an orphan bravely and creatively and in the light of Romans 8:28, can end up being grateful that he was orphaned, in the sense that he is grateful for the good that came out of his being an orphan and would not take a trade in which he gave up that good in exchange for not having been an orphan. But while that is 100% true, it is still ridiculous to pretend that it is not a fundamentally bad thing for people to be orphaned.

For the fact that a person who responds to bad things with courage and creativity can see good things come out of those bad things, does not change the fact that they are intrinsically bad. You can bring good things out of racism, as far as that goes, if you respond to the racism with courage and compassion and forgiveness; but racism is still evil.

And deafness is still a disability no matter how much Dr. Yoshinago-Itano wishes to pretend that it is not. Indeed, the implication of refusing to call deafness a disability would almost seem to be (though who knows what is going in her mind) that she thinks of “disabilities” as things that cannot be overcome, and that she thinks that to call something bad is to deny that good can be brought out of bad things if the response is good — which would be a far more fundamental and disastrous falsehood than the falsehood that deafness is not a disability.

Now there will always be people who use a person’s disability as an excuse for disrespect or devaluing, and, because the connotations of words are associative and formed by experience, disabled persons are likely to form bad associations with the word “disability” and to come to find the term offensive. At that point there are two choices. One is that you can try to make all the rest of society pretend that a disabled person has no disability (or whatever word the disabled person has formed a bad association with), by labelling the word in question a Bad Word, and by demanding that everyone find some euphemism and pretend that a disability is not a disability. This is, I believe, foolish, for two reasons: it fosters the idea among the disabled person that his personal emotions should dictate the entire world’s linguistic usage — and the handicap of narcissism is a far greater handicap than mere deafness. The ability to recognize that one’s emotions are out of sync with reality, and to choose to face reality head-on, is a fundamental characteristic of adulthood; encouraging people to demand that their emotions be catered to by the rest of the world AT THE EXPENSE OF TRUTH, is a truly vicious thing to do to people, for it is to encourage them to remain forever in the mindset of a four-year-old.

But another reason is simply that we know perfectly well what will happen: people will switch to the euphemism, and then the same people who used “disability” to disrespect and devalue, will use the euphemism the same way…and a few years later the people who told us we were all bad people for using the word “disability” will be telling us we are all bad people for using…whatever word they previously told us all good people would use.

Society would be far better off if we set the social expectation that (a) we would speak the truth, (b) those who speak the truth would do so gently and respectfully, and (c) those who have been hurt by those who spoke the truth disrespectfully, would have the emotional maturity and intellectual good sense to distinguish the truth from the disrespect. In other words, society would be better off if we set an expectation that people would be truthful, charitable, and emotionally grown-up.

But after fifty years of living in America, I’m not holding my breath.

Should have said that in my head before saying it aloud…

Helen has finally decided what my Chinese surname should be: it is  (皮), which, when it is not playing the role of a surname, basically means something like “mischievous” or “naughty” — “mischievously obnoxious,” perhaps. The type of person who likes to pull pranks, but not the kind of pranks that actually hurt people…that sort of thing.

So, in order to understand the story that follows, a quick bit of Chinese grammar from someone who doesn’t know Chinese very well — I promise, O Gentle Reader, that it will be truly quick. Chinese doesn’t have anything that an English speaker would recognize as “tense,” such as past / present / future, but it does have a verb marker for what linguists call “aspect.” If you say, “够皮的 gòu pí de,” this merely means, “You’re sufficiently obnoxious,” in the sense of, “Okay, that’s enough.” But if instead you say, “够皮了 gòu pí le,” the le adds a sort of sense that you didn’t used to be naughty, but you have now completed the task of achieving a sufficient level of naughtiness: “your work here is done,” so to speak. At least I think that’s what le does. (All you Chinese Gentle Readers may now pause to snicker at the 洋鬼子.)

Anyway, Sunday night I was climbing into bed while Helen worked at her desk in our bedroom, and I said or did something obnoxious, I don’t remember what. And she gave me a, “Gòu pí de.

“I would think that would be, ‘Gòu pí le,'” I said, “since I have accomplished the task of being obnoxious.”

Helen considered a moment. “Yes, you could say, ‘Gòu pí le,’ there,” she allowed, and turned back to her work with the obvious intent of setting aside the distraction I represented.

I continued, however, to vaunt my linguistic prowess. “I thought so,” I said. “I figured, ‘Gòu pí le,’ would mean, ‘You have sufficiently achieved -ness.”

And Helen’s reaction…well, let’s just say I should have listened to that one in my head before saying it out loud…