Criticisms of Class

Our first essay in my religion class this semester is to write some sort of response to the reading so far. We’ve gone through almost 200 pages about theories of religion and our class format is for the teacher/presenter (students are actually teaching each class, one chapter a day from a different student each day) to walk through an outline of the chapter, summarizing its key points.

The paper, however, is not supposed to be a summary. Recognizing I’ve missed 2.5+ weeks of class, I asked somewhat timidly what the professor was looking for in this paper. It’s not supposed to be a summary, but summarize is all we seem to do.

The professor screwed up his face, seeming flabbergasted that I would ask such a question. As my peers responded in kind (looking as if I’d asked what only an ignoramus would), he asked in a somewhat condescending tone, “Didn’t I put the assignment on Blackboard? Isn’t it all out there already?”

I didn’t know it was, and apologized and said I’d take a look. Opening Blackboard, I went to the assignment and read it.

In this essay, discuss the 19th century theories of Müller, Tylor, Smith, Frazer and Marx. Begin by spending about three pages summarizing the theories of each thinker concerning religion. The challenge here is to identify the essential ideas and concepts of each theory and express them accurately and concisely. Conclude your essay with a critical analysis of each theory. What do you consider to be the major strengths and weaknesses of each? Be sure that you make clear why a strength is a strength and a weakness a weakness.

Be aware that each chapter concludes with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a theory.

So… how is this not summarizing?

I hate being made to feel stupid without valid justification.

This 500-level religion class, though infinitely better, is frustratingly similar to the 100-level history class I’m dealing with this semester. In that class, the Asian instructor essentially covers nothing but names and dates. These names are occasionally given the barest context, but that context is sadly lacking. The purpose of studying history, to me, is to analyze the events, the inspirations, the motives, the whys and the hows. We’re not even getting a good timeline because he jumps around the globe and back and forth across centuries so we can’t even do a comparative analysis.

I don’t know how many thousands of dollars I’ve given this university for what essentially amounts to book recommendations. If not for reading the books, I’d have gotten no real education at all.

How the UAW Pension Plan Represents the American Way (And Why It Fails)

In the United States, we are firm believers in letting the market out, and the automaker’s means of providing retirement and health benefits to its workers is a strong example of this. Where other countries have socialized health care and stronger retirement benefits, the United States has pushed for companies and individuals to assume this responsibility. Whether you believe the US is right or wrong in this stance doesn’t really matter at this point: the current automotive crisis highlights its failure.

It is often said of communism that, as a societal plan, it’s not half bad. In a perfect world, the utopia of communism would be just dandy. The unfortunate fact is that it doesn’t work in real life: human nature ensures a certain amount of greed will always prevent the ideal of communism from working.

In a similar way, capitalism is a double-edged sword that is currently striking at our own throats, but our current crisis hasn’t been caused solely by greed. Rather, the downfall of the automakers is due to globalization, and that the rest of the world simply doesn’t play by the same rules we do.

Within capitalism, a company’s primary objective is to make money and, if they have them, keep their stockholders happy. To a greater or lesser extent, it is every person for themselves, and that is why workers can gain an amount of power for themselves within capitalism: they have the same motivation and potentially the same bargaining power as the companies. Unions form, and a balance is struck between management and workers.

As we’re seeing in our auto industry, this has necessitated higher prices for our vehicles, but there was little option at the time. Public perception is just as important for selling goods as low price and decent quality (just look at the current battle between Target and Wal-Mart), so it was important that the automotive companies keep their workers happy, insured, and taken care of. Capitalism had struck a balance, and everyone was happy. The system had succeeded.

But half a century later we’re seeing the system crumble, and it’s because we’re not competitive enough. Foreign automakers, who do not support pensions or as much of the insurance costs for their workers, are able to sell vehicles for $4-6000 less than their American counterparts, and subsequently are weathering this financial crisis far better. It must be admitted that the Big Three’s addiction to SUVs didn’t help anything, but I doubt it would have made that big of a difference. The model itself is failing, regardless of the product. Capitalism’s means of long-term provision are flawed.

Socialism is something of a dirty word in some places in the United States, but in examining both the global market and our world neighbours, I believe that there are some aspects of our societal welfare that must be socialized. We simply cannot remain competitive economically if our companies must bear the cost of retirement and health benefits, and while such services would be a drain on the federal government, they can be restructured to cost less than they currently do. (The French universal health care system costs thousands of dollars less per person than the system used in the United States.)

There is no one ideal way to do business, and the United States has used hybrid models since its inception. If we allow our fear of socialism to prevent us from adapting to global economic realities, we will fall behind and more jobs, homes, and lives will be lost.

2Wire FTL

I was so excited about getting my laptop all set up with Linux last week that, when I got home with it on Friday, I wanted to get it connected to our wireless network and transfer files and set everything up just the way I like it, etc. So I got the access key off the bottom of the 2Wire “Gateway” (which is a combination modem/router) that SBC foisted upon me years ago when I first got DSL, typed that key into my laptop, and watched the connection icon swirl futilely.

After a few frustrated minutes, I looked back at our modem/router/gateway. Rather than the three happy green lights I was used to, it kept flashing red and turning itself off. By the end of my fiddling with it, both the power and the broadband lights were solid red and I had managed to throttle an error message out of the curs’ed box.

Somehow, the firmware in the device had become corrupted, and because the 2Wires have no reset process, the only solution is to 1) Have AT&T replace it if it’s under warranty or 2) Buy a new one. Considering my gateway is almost four years old, I called AT&T on Saturday and bought a new one for the one-time-only low low price of my soul.

Amusingly enough, a Mediacom representative came to my door during this debacle to offer free setup for cable internet and whatnot. Even with this frustration with my gateway, it’s still better than Mediacom, so that made me feel a little better.

We’ll hopefully have the new gateway by Wednesday or Thursday. Until then, perhaps I’ll finally beat some of those XBox games I’ve been putting off. (Mass Effect was overcome yesterday and a second game was begun. Oh, the beauty of space opera!)