Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Generation Gasp, March 30, 2013

His Holiness Pope Francis
His Holiness Pope Francis (Photo credit: Christus Vincit)

Pope Francis must provide Obamacare for the Catholic soul

Saturday, March 30, 2013
Claire's solo column last Saturday, concerning the new pope, created quite a stir. In fact, it drew more comments than any other dozen of our columns combined. Most of the feedback was positive, applauding her position that with the Catholic Church, the more things change the more they remain the same.
Some of the reactions were negative. Right-to-lifers were particularly critical. For example, one reader wrote, "I love the phrase 'Women who NEED abortions' just because they don't want the child they are hosting. Nice!!!" I replied to that email, " I just returned from leading a student study tour in China during (my university's) spring break last week. It may not be individual women so much as the world as a whole that needs more abortions and birth control. I could not help but be frequently reminded that, when I was the same age as the 15 students on the trip, there were only half as many people crowding the planet (3.5 billion v 7 billion and still growing.)"
While the selection of a Latin American as the new pontiff may appear at first glance to be a progressive gesture by the College of Cardinals, on reflection an old cynic, such as myself, might be forgiven for seeing pragmatic politics at work. Central and South America are bastions of Catholicism. What better way to keep those hundreds of millions of parishioners faithful than tapping one of their own? Further, keep them producing more and more little Catholics and the Church's future should be secure.
If this is the Vatican's strategy, what hope does this poor, straining planet have? Green is the popular color of the moment. We recycle. We condemn new pipelines and technologies, which could make America energy independent. At the same time, we leave largely unaddressed the single most serious threat to our earthly environment: our sheer numbers.
In the rain forests and the Pampas, expanding populations will continue to crowd out thousands of other species, some we are told as yet undiscovered. Deforestation only temporarily fends off poverty, as the population soars toward Andean heights. A more friendly reader responded, "Well said, Claire. If he wants the Church 'to be poor', he can start by disposing of much of its unnecessary wealth. I was in the Vatican Museum recently and, besides including altogether too many statues of young boys, it contains priceless treasures that could provide quite well for the millions he wants to serve."
Moving beyond the issue of choice v. life, another supportive reader provided this unedited stream of consciousness: "bravo well said and there is one Jewish MAN WHO ALSO THINKS THE POPE IS A POOP _ HE ALSO NEEDS TO SAY LOUD AND CLEAR AND MAYBE YOU TOO CLAIRE _ GOOD WRITER THAT YOU ARE _ THE CRHISTIAN CHURCH MUST REVISE AND REWRITE THE NEW TESTAMENT TO TAKE OUT ALL LANGUAGE THAT SAYS THAT
We might also well wonder what the Church might be like if women could be ordained and priests could marry. Might more males and females find they have vocations? And might these new breeds of female and happily married male priests be less likely to harbor child-molesters among their ranks? After all, the Episcopalian Church, which comes closest to the Catholics in rituals, dogmas and sacraments - but permits female ordinations and priestly unions - seems largely to have avoided the costly, embarrassing debacle that has shamed the priesthood and sent a few offenders and their higher-up defenders off to jail.
No, fresh from China, where the one-child-per-couple policy may be a quixotic, but at least a serious, attempt at bringing population growth under control, I find myself favoring Claire and her supporters' positions. The best I can hope - and this is only hope, not faith - is that Pope Francis proves to be for the Papacy what Obama is to the Presidency: a reformer fixed upon uprooting arcane, harmful, and hopeless past practices in favor of real reform. The Church needs its version of Obamacare for its soul, if it is to save itself from history's rubbish heap of dead ideas and save its millions of poor parishioners from additional generations of overcrowded, wasted lives.
I've heard you should never discuss politics or religion in mixed company. Few other topics are so divisive and so likely to incite hostility and disagreements. Furthermore, it's fairly pointless for a conservative Catholic and a flaming liberal to argue about anything: one rests on faith while the other is like a dog with a bone, shaking around every statistic in their arsenal.
I won't deny that I'm the latter. I could count off 20 reasons a woman might need - yes, need - an abortion, but I highly doubt it would help our dear reader to see women as more than mere vessels for "hosting" bundles of cells. Because to some people, a potential human life, wanted or not, will always be more important than the needs and circumstances of an already living, breathing human being. I don't expect to change that with a single article.
To the people who continue to push a staunchly pro-life stance, I can only ask this: did you adopt a child this year? Volunteer at a clinic to help single mothers? Become a foster parent? If not, then I'd like to know exactly what you suggest we do with all the needy children your anti-abortion laws produce daily.
Finally, for the record: I never said the Pope was a poop. I just think a lot of his views are crappy.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jump on the birth control bandwagon

CREDO action
Thank you for the new the Affordable Care Act rules on contraception, which ensure that women have access to no-cost birth control. Please continue to protect this access, regardless of the right-wing opposition.
Submit a comment now:
Take action now ►
Dear Jim,
The Obama Administration made every reasonable effort to compromise with religiously-affiliated employers when implementing rules on women's access to birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
An update to the birth control benefit in the health care reform gives religious employers the ability to hand the responsibility to provide birth control coverage to a third party insurance company.1 But right-wing opponents led by the Conference of Catholic bishops are still balking at the plan.2
President Obama did the right thing for women when he rejected the demands of rightwing activists and gave all women access to no-cost birth control through their insurance coverage.3 But before these new guidelines go into effect, his administration is holding a public comment period on the new rules. We know that anti-woman activists will flood President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services with comments urging the administration to overturn its historic decision.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the medical community agree that providing no-cost birth control is an essential part of preventive health care for women. And Kathleen Sebelius, the director of HHS, said that providing birth control at no cost to women should be like "covering flu shots."4
However, before activists from CREDO and Planned Parenthood began petitioning President Obama, the New York Times reported that the president was dangerously close to caving to the demands of the anti-woman lobby by adding a giant loophole that would keep a large number of women from being able to access no-cost birth control.5
CREDO members sent over 160,000 petitions and made over 3,000 calls to the White House asking President Obama not to cave. In the end, President Obama listened to our call to protect women's health. But that doesn't mean our work is done.
Some right-wing organizations are already balking at the plan even though it allows religious employers to avoid providing birth control directly to their employees. These anti-woman extremists will surely use the public comment process to file reams of objections to the plan. So let's make sure the president hears from those of us who want him to stand strong and protect access to contraception.
Make sure that President Obama hears that the vast majority of Americans support his decision to ensure access to no-cost birth control for all women. Click below to submit a comment in support of access to contraception:
Thank you for standing up for women's access to birth control.
Jordan Krueger, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Submit a comment now:
Take action now ►
Learn more about this campaign
1. Julie Rovner, "White House Tries Again To Find Compromise On Contraception." NPR, February 01, 2013.
2. Imani Gandy, "So What's the Deal with the New Contraception Mandate Rules?." RH Reality Check, February 01, 2013.
3. N.C. Aizenman, "Obama Birth Control Policy: Administration Lays Out Proposals For Carrying Out Compromise." The Huffington Post, 3-16-2012.
4. N.C. Aizenman, "New U.S. rules require insurance coverage for contraception." The Washington Post, 8-1-2011.
5. Robert Pear, "Democrats Urge Obama to Protect Contraceptive Coverage in Health Plans." New York Times, 11-19-2011.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A new take on multi-tasking?

Urine the game
Urine the game (Photo credit: m.gifford)
Urinal gaming (no, I'm not kidding):

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Can voters ban consideration of race/ethnicity in college admissions?

The Supreme Court intends to tell us.

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Keystone State librarians consider impact of MOOCs on their domains

MOOC (Photo credit: Sarah_G)


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Italian Supreme Court gives Knox's acquittal the boot

Amanda Knox reacts at the announce of the verd...
Amanda Knox reacts at the announce of the verdict of her appeal trial in the Meredith Kercher' murder (Photo credit: Beacon Radio)
Apparently, double-jeopardy is not an available defense in Italy.|main5|dl1|sec1_lnk1%26pLid%3D289095

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Francesco Sisci says self-immolation is no solution for Tibetans

English: The Seventh Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso
English: The Seventh Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SINOGRAPH Surrender is the best option for Tibet
Self-immolation by Tibetans taints the rule of those in Beijing who are in charge of Tibet, but does not change basic facts and the reluctance of the majority Han Chinese to see it become independent. With autonomy always a distant dream, the best hope for the Tibetan cause is not suicide, but a strategic surrender. - Francesco Sisci (Mar 20, '13)

BEIJING - Is there a future for the Tibetan cause? After two years of protests and more than 100 suicides across the historical region of Tibet, it is hard to see any real evolution in the cause of Tibetan independence or even autonomy. 

Certainly, Chinese rule in Tibet has been tarnished by the wave of self-immolations that shows no signs of receding. Beijing has imposed new rules on satellites dishes, banning reception of subversive broadcasts from India and other countries. It has slapped new restrictions on the use of inflammables and applied new controls on monasteries and checks on the activities of monks. 

These measures are bound to push more common Tibetans, even those who might be more sympathetic to the government, toward the cause of those committing suicide. But China being what it is - and unlikely to radically change in the next few years - even if the suicides were to number 1,000 or 10,000 among Tibetans in China who represent less than 0.5% of the population, that would hardly shake Beijing's resolve in its rule of the region.

This, for Beijing, is an issue of cold-blooded political calculation, and time is on its side. Despite the potential growing sympathies for the self-immolators, there are some very important trends at work in the region.

Tibetans in Tibet are becoming increasingly different from those living outside of Tibet. They listen to different music, watch different TV programs, and even speak a language that is becoming distinct on the two sides of the Himalayan highlands. Moreover, even without taking into account the position of the government, normal Han Chinese (the vast majority of the population) are warming to their Tibetan "possessions".

Tibetan living Buddhas are roaming China, spreading their religious message and being wined and dined by rich and powerful Chinese in search of some form of spirituality to feel connected to. To them, traditional Chinese Buddhism is losing steam and appeal, while new Western Christianity is too foreign and at odds with their traditional mindset. Tibetan Buddhism is both authentic and reverberates with old beliefs. To these people, who might even be sympathetic to the Tibetan plight, the loss of Tibet would be like losing a piece of the country's soul. This bond of common Chinese to Tibet is becoming deeper, and it goes well beyond nationalistic attachments to a stretch of land or a rock out in the water.

In this sense, a new identity seems to be developing for both Tibetans, who are becoming more integrated into China and increasingly detached from their brethren living in India or abroad, and for Han Chinese, who feel closer to Tibetan culture and religion and who find in the Himalayas a new source of spiritual life after decades of communist or capitalist materialism.

The self-immolation taints and humiliates those in charge of Beijing's rule in Tibet, but does not change the basic facts: the greater integration of Tibetans into Beijing's China and the warm feelings many Chinese have for Tibet. Conversely, in a way the suicides help to strengthen these deeper trends. Tibetans will be more cut off from foreign influence and face more Chinese authorities, and thus naturally will have a stronger sense of belonging to China's Tibet, which they may dislike but they can't avoid.

In a way, it is like the situation with Native Americans: they may have disliked and fiercely opposed colonization, but in the end, more than ever they belong to the United States. Meanwhile, the Han Chinese - even when they are sympathetic to the Tibetan cause - will develop stronger feelings for Tibet, and thus deep in their souls will be more reluctant to let it go.

In this situation, the death of the Dalai Lama will make things worse for the cause of Tibet. Beijing will choose its own Dalai Lama, and the Tibetans outside of Tibet will choose theirs. The sentiment in Tibet will be split. No doubt many - if not most - people will support the Dalai Lama who resides outside of Tibet, but it is also likely that a minority, which might grow, will listen to the Beijing-appointed Dalai Lama, especially if he manages to more closely address the worries and concerns of the Tibetans in Tibet, while the Dalai Lama outside of Tibet becomes more and more detached from the qualms and sentiments of Tibetans in Tibet.

This trend is not likely to be reversed even in the case of massive democratization in China. Conversely, a more democratic China could feel stronger about Tibet, and thus resent direct or indirect attempts to break it apart from the rest of the country. Then a democratic China, answering more directly to the will of the people, would have less room  to maneuver in dealing with Tibetans in exile.

Unless one believes there could be a major breakup of China with a civil war and all its trappings, the prospect of an improved climate for exiled Tibetans to talk to Beijing is worsening by the day - also, paradoxically, because of the self-immolations.

What then would I say if I were an adviser to the Dalai Lama? I would tell him that, generally speaking, there are two options on the table:

1. Work toward a civil war in China that could blow up the country, and thus create an opportunity to carve out Tibet's independence or greater autonomy. The possibility of success for this is slim and depends on the general thrust of the countries in the region: are they willing to foment a civil war in China that could kindle chaos in the whole world? In reality, this is still an option, although chances are becoming thinner, as the potential global costs of a civil war in China grow by the day.

2. Surrender to Beijing today rather than tomorrow because the current conditions are better than they will be in future. And in doing so, try to extract as much as possible by presenting a case for an alignment of interests between the Dalai Lama and Beijing. This would mean forfeiting decades of fighting and dreams of independence or great autonomy, but it would avoid the greater split between Tibetans within and outside of Tibet. It will be difficult because the people out of Tibet have lived all their lives according to these dreams, and to smash them in return for nothing will be very painful and hard to explain - especially since the possibility, albeit small, of massive civil war in China still  exists.

Realistically, chances are that, as has happened so far, the Tibetan leadership will not clearly choose between the two grand options, and this will continue to stifle their initiatives. They could opt, as they have done, for small tactical campaigns, such as the Dalai Lama's tours, supporting protests in Tibet, confronting Chinese authorities where they can, and spreading to far-flung parts of the world followers of the Dalai Lama who can undermine China's image and soft power.

All these small initiatives have not dented Beijing's rule in Tibet and have actually, as we saw, reinforced the deeper integration of Tibetans into China. They make real sense only in case of an all-out effort to bring down unitary China, something that is not likely to happen any time soon, as we saw. Meanwhile, Tibetans out of Tibet will lose the leverage to negotiate.

This, to me, reinforces the need for the second course of action. But will His Holiness the Dalai Lama accept this analysis and prevail over his many counselors? He is the only one who is able to do it, but can he really?

Francesco Sisci is a columnist for the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. His e-mail is 

(Copyright 2013 Francesco Sisci.)  (Posted with his permission.)

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

New pope, same old line

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...
emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Français : emblème pontifical Italiano: emblema del Papato Português: Emblema papal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pooped out on the Pope

Saturday, March 23, 2013By CLAIRE CASTAGNERA
There's been a whole lot of hubbub surrounding the election and inauguration of the new Pope. And with good reason, I suppose; Pope Francis is a pretty progressive guy. At least, he's considered progressive in the Bermuda Triangle that is time in the Catholic Church, mostly because he deigns to ride in cars with other people rather than sit alone in his papal car like all the previous old fogies.
But after only seven days, I hear that the backlash against the new Pope is already beginning. People are calling his views "medieval" - as if that's a surprise, considering he works for one of the oldest and least adaptable institutions in the world. I mean really, can you trust a guy who is in a position of power that doesn't even accept resumes from female applicants? Just because Pope Francis rides on the bus with the cardinals doesn't mean he'll ever stoop to confab with the nuns.
Other folks with whom Pope Francis will not confab include: gay couples, people who would like contraception and sex education, and women who need abortions due to said lack of contraception and sex education. Sure, he'll make pleas for the poor, but he's only doing his due diligence there: he's aiding an institution that sets up the poor and undereducated to have scores of poor, undereducated babies. Then he calls gay adoption "discrimination against children" - children in need of homes and who, I imagine, would only be so lucky as to be adopted by a loving gay couple.
So yes, I guess it's nice that the Pope is shaking things up in his own way. The Catholic Church can only be improved, little by little, by any alterations. But let's not kid ourselves and think Pope Francis is really one of us simply because he's slightly less haughty than his predecessors. He's still sitting on high in his Papal throne, so far removed from the lives of anyone I know. If you're one of the poor and disadvantaged that he claims to want to help so badly, you're more likely to find assistance at your local Planned Parenthood than in the arms of Pope Francis.

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Who's behind the MOOC hype?

Count me in:

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Northern Kentucky U fires AD for alleged misconduct

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Tenured faculty, now the minority, clutch at power

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DOE gives "competency based" assessment a boost

GEN-13-10 March 19, 2013 Subject: Applying for Title IV Eligibility for Direct Assessment (Competency-Based) Programs
Summary: This letter provides guidance to institutions1 that wish to have direct assessment (competency-based) programs considered for title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) program eligibility. The letter outlines how institutions can have competency-based programs approved under the current regulations on direct assessment programs.
Dear Colleague:
Over the last several years, some institutions of higher education have developed new and creative program models in which students are provided with the means to acquire the knowledge and skills at an individual pace to demonstrate achievement of specific competencies identified as necessary to complete a program and earn a degree or other credential. A majority of these program models are offered in credit or clock hours and can be accommodated under the current title IV, student financial aid regulations as non-term programs. An increasing number, however, are not offered in credit or clock hours, and many of the institutions offering such programs want them approved for participation in the title IV, HEA programs.
Section 8020 of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 (HERA) (Pub. L. 109-171) amended the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), and established the eligibility of direct assessment programs to participate in the title IV, HEA programs. Specifically, the HERA provided that instructional programs that use direct assessment of student learning, or that recognize the direct assessment by others of student learning, in lieu of measuring student learning in credit hours or clock hours, may qualify as eligible programs if the assessment is consistent with the institution’s or program’s accreditation. The HERA also provided that the Secretary of Education must initially determine whether each program for which an institution proposes to use direct assessment is an eligible program.
The Department of Education (the Department) published an interim final rule implementing the HERA provisions on August 9, 2006, and subsequently published a final rule on November 1, 2006. Those final regulations, located in 34 CFR 668.10, define a “direct assessment program,” outline the procedures and requirements for an institution that offers such a program to apply for the program to be determined an eligible program, and specify limitations on the use of title IV,
1 The guidance in this Dear Colleague Letter generally applies to institutions that currently participate in the title IV, HEA programs and wish to add a direct assessment program. Institutions that are not currently participating should contact their school participation division for instructions on how to complete the application process.
1HEA program funds. Under current regulations, the entire program must be provided by direct assessment. Those offered partially with credit or clock hours and partially via direct assessment are not eligible programs.
Generally, 34 CFR 668.10 includes the following requirements:
Instead of using credit hours or clock hours as a measure of student learning, instructional programs may use direct assessment of student learning, or recognize the direct assessment by others of student learning. Examples of direct measures include projects, papers, examinations, presentations, performances, and portfolios.
An institution that wishes to award Federal Student Aid (FSA) funds in a program using direct assessment must apply for approval from the Department. The application must specify the equivalent number of credit or clock hours for a direct assessment program (including how equivalencies will be established if students are permitted to take less than the entire program based on an assessment conducted at the outset). The Secretary will use these equivalencies to determine whether the program meets the minimum requirements for an academic year and as the basis for payment period and award calculations.
As a part of its application, the institution must explain how it determined the equivalent number of credit or clock hours for the program, i.e., its methodology for determining these equivalencies.
An institution must demonstrate that its institutional accrediting agency has reviewed and approved its offering of the direct assessment program.
An institution must demonstrate that its institutional accrediting agency or State licensing body has agreed with the institution’s assessment of its credit or clock hour equivalencies.
A direct assessment program may use learning resources (e.g., courses or portions of courses) that are provided by entities other than the institution providing the direct assessment program without regard to the limitations on written arrangements between an eligible institution and an ineligible institution or organization under 34 CFR 668.5(c).
Federal Student Assistance (FSA) funds may be awarded only for learning that results from instruction provided, or overseen, by the institution. FSA funds cannot be awarded for any portion of the program based on study or mastery obtained prior to enrollment in the program, or based on tests of learning that are not associated with educational activities overseen by the institution.
Several types of programs and coursework that might otherwise be eligible for FSA purposes are not eligible if they involve direct assessment, including:
o Programs at foreign schools;
o Preparatory coursework required for entry into an eligible program; and
o Courses necessary for an elementary or secondary school teaching credential or certificate.
Remedial coursework measured through direct assessment is not eligible for title IV, HEA program funds. However, remedial coursework offered in credit or clock hours in conjunction with a direct assessment program is eligible for FSA funds.
If the institution plans to make changes to the program that would affect any of the information provided in its application to add a direct assessment program, it must obtain prior approval from the Department by reapplying.
It is imperative that faculty and academic officials work closely with their institution’s financial aid administrators throughout the process of developing a direct assessment program and completing the application for title IV, program eligibility to ensure that all applicable aspects of title IV, program eligibility are addressed and that the program can be operationalized for title IV, HEA purposes. In addition to the criteria in 34 CFR 668.10 listed above, an institution must demonstrate that the program meets the financial aid-related components in §668.10(a). In its application, an institution must explain the method for reasonably equating the direct assessment program to credit or clock hours and related parameters of the program, including minimum weeks of instructional time, payment period, how an academic activity will take place during each week, and the definition of a full-time student. An institution should also address issues such as how it plans to measure satisfactory academic progress (SAP) for students in the direct assessment program and how or whether the financial aid system will be configured to process aid for students in the program.
For more detailed information on the eligibility requirements for a direct assessment program, please refer to the regulations at 34 CFR 668.10 and to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the FSA Handbook. In addition, the attachment to this Dear Colleague Letter contains step-by-step instructions that an institution should follow in completing the E-App to apply to have a competency-based program approved to participate in the title IV, HEA programs. While there is no prescribed, uniform competency-based education model or approach, the Department will work closely with interested institutions as they move through the approval process. We encourage institutions with competency-based program models to apply for title IV, program eligibility under the existing framework for direct assessment programs.
Competency-based approaches to education have the potential for assuring the quality and extent of learning, shortening the time to degree/certificate completion, developing stackable
credentials that ease student transitions between school and work, and reducing the overall cost of education for both career-technical and degree programs. The Department plans to collaborate with both accrediting agencies and the higher education community to encourage the use of this innovative approach when appropriate, to identify the most promising practices in this arena, and to gather information to inform future policy regarding competency-based education. Currently, the direct assessment authority in the HEA is the mechanism through which title IV, HEA funds can be provided for competency-based education, and we understand that it may not adequately accommodate this educational model. The Department intends to use what we learn from participating institutions to inform future discussions regarding the reauthorization of the HEA.
For general questions about direct assessment programs, please contact Kay Gilcher by telephone at 202-219-7011 or by e-mail at
David A. Bergeron
Acting Assistant Secretary
for Postsecondary Education

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