Thursday, May 31, 2007

    creation museum open in OH

    The new $27 million Creation Museum is open. Let's all go see. Salon has an interesting write-up about it, but the most entertaining part is the comments.

    Some paraphrasing:
    • Eve is a babe
    • Adam trims his beard
    • Bears have canine teeth so must have eaten meat
    • The grand canyon seems to have taken longer to create than a flash flood would account for
    • A day seems awfully busy if only 24 hours
    • Christians aren't supposed to make money
    • Eve was a babe.

    Being raised in a fundamental house (Baptist mom, Church of Christ dad), I know the thinking behind the museum all too well.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    Academic freedom, tenure and Ward Churchill

    I have been interested in the ongoing saga of Ward “little Eichmanns” Churchill for quite some time. And I am not alone, do a quick search of the InsideHigherEd site and you will find a lode of articles and commentary.

    Here are some of the links that caught my eye:

    After reading the committee’s reports, I found a lot of the commentary to be verbal dysentery. The committee, while elitist and snooty to the Ethnic Studies department, did a good job of teasing out freedom of speech from poor academic work (he plagiarized). What was missing, though, were the Originality Reports, which I would like to see.

    A few culled excerpts (source):

    · “As one example, Professor Churchill stated in his response to the Investigative Committee that ‘I doubt that any even marginally prolific scholar’s publications could withstand the type of scrutiny to which mine has been subjected.’” -- Sure, poison the well for other lazy academics.

    · An overarching question that emerged in our discussions is whether different scholarly "standards" apply in ethnic studies than in other more
    traditional fields, such as history.

    · Professor Churchill's academic background and choice of publication venues are untraditional. Although many of his writings, including nearly all those discussed in this report, address historical and/or legal issues, he does not have formal training at the graduate level in those fields. Professors writing on the topics he addresses would typically have a Ph.D. in history or a law degree; Professor Churchill's graduate degree is an M.A. in Communications Theory.

    · Many of Professor Churchill's publications predate his employment as a tenured Associate Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder in fall 1991 and his promotion to (full) Professor in fall 1997. Our Committee therefore believes that at the time he was hired, the University was aware of the type of writing and speaking he does.

    It seems that Churchill was the victim of not submitting a paper according to the (often unwritten) rules of “scholarship.” That is, he is not the typical child of the academy and will be punished for that.

    One should know his place.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Memorial Day--a day late

    Previous memorial days have seen me rushing to get the lawn mowed before the local parade goes past the end of my block on their way to the town cemetery where they set off a 21 gun salute and place flags on all of the veteran's graves. I have felt it only fitting to not have the mower competing with the high school band.

    This year, well, it was much the same. I only got the front yard done before the drums could be heard in the distance.

    This year was also different because of my current project. I am working for a member of the Industrial-Military complex (but only for another week). That's right, I am embedded...sort of. I work for a contractor who is intimately wedded with the Army. So, there are fatigues just feet from me daily.

    One of the other civilian co-workers remarked last Thursday that the two majors in the office sure took a lot of time off. Before I even thought about it, I blurted out "yea, but there is that whole getting shot at thing." A little embarrassed at my quick mouth (I have only been here two weeks), I hastened to add "you know, most have been deployed twice going on three times. I feel that once stateside they can take all the time they want." And, I meant it. I hadn't thought a lot about it before, but in that moment, the entire Sheahan-anti-war thing took on a different hue. I still think W is a bumbler (if not a criminal) for his Iraq debacle, and I have always sided with the soldiers (especially the National Guard--two weeks and a weekend a month my ass!), but last week and over this last weekend it took on a deeper import for me. I actually knew some of the guys. It moved from abstract to startlingly real.

    So, I stopped mowing a little earlier, just in case the sound carried.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    I'm in first class, Bitch!! (said a la Dave Chappelle)

    Can anyone tell me why in the name of all things pleasant can passgengers with first class tickets get into their own line in the security screening?

    I can understand if they get preferential treatment from their respective airlines, but security is now run by the Federal Gov't. Why is the government giving preferential treatment to the airline's clients?

    Why? why? why?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

    I regret the evolutionary need of religion, at least on this point

    I have no longer posted about the Darwinian demand for religion, then I read something like this, and I seriously rethink my whole proposition.

    Newt leave-my-dying-wife-for-my-secretary Gingrich spoke to the graduates of Liberty University four days after Falwell became less well bemoaning things like the following (I expurgate at my pleasure):

    In our hours of desperation, both as individuals and as a country we return to our founding truths, time and again.

    Even today, these truths continue to sustain and guide us. In this age we face the irreconcilable wing of Islam, an enemy who does not believe that God created all men equal by right. According to their evil ideology, the Islamist believes that justice is only owed to fellow Islamists--while the rest of humanity (even fellow Muslims) has no rights.

    I wonder if he means the founding truths of Jamestown or of Plymouth? I wonder if he means religious intolerance or a growing economy built on slave labor? Yes, I love America, but one should not be so blind to its failings.

    Also, the Bible is not the text one should reach for when arguing about equality. Paul okayed slavery ("slaves obey your masters" and told women to basically keep their place). But I should just let me keep defining an boogey-man Islamist Radical.
    Just as with the Nazis and the Communists, darkness is again falling across the earth, and it is again the calling of America to light her moral lamps, and place them out, for all the nations to see.
    Radical Islam are now the Nazis...and I guess he is trying to allude to Stalin, but on the whole the Communist were rather poor worker drones, toiling away. Why bring them into this?
    In hostility to American history, the radical secularist insists that religious belief is inherently divisive, and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms when religious belief is excluded.
    Yes, yes, the poor Christians, marginalized from public office (White House, Senate, Supreme Court), seats of influence (SecDec) and controlling numbers all over the land. Yes, the discrimination is real. Yes, yes, yes. The radical secularists (what is a radical secularist, btw?) are shouting out the debate of school prayer, creationism, and good-ole, American self-righteousness.

    Well, there is a long history of the last...and it is good to know that Gingrich is joining right in.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    The evolutionary basis for belief

    I have long felt that there is an innate need to believe—so strong that some will die for the right or possibility to do so. Steve Paulson, writing for Salon, presents an interview with Lewis Wolpert (Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast). Wolpert, a softer, gentler Richard Dawkins, proposes that the emergence of the ability to understand cause and effect resulted in (or occurred simultaneously with) the emergence of belief. The more people came to see the results of a cause (hone this stone and throw it at the beast to kill it—mmm, good), the sharper this thinking became.

    Religion, then, is an offshoot or byproduct of a means of thinking. Evolution, then, actually resulted in religion.

    I can relate to this notion. I choose to no longer be religious (don’t believe it), but I would in no way want to limit or deny someone else that right. Why would I. A religious mass is, on the whole, a peaceful mass (right fringe groups notwithstanding). As long as I am not tag-teamed on my doorstep by happy-smilies, then I am good to live and let live.

    I mean, after all, it is only natural.

    In slightly related news, Jerry Falwell is dead.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

    Academic freedom and "shooting" students

    As an update to an earlier post, it appears that a group of Murfreesboro, TN teachers (secondary school this time), staged a mock shooting scenario on a class trip. For five minutes they convinced the group of sixth graders that a gun-man was hunting for them. The students cowered in a dark room for some five minutes. One of the "teachers" even dressed the part, pulling on the door's handle.

    Now, when a college prof, with a specific intro and sign-off has a dramatic enactment to jump-start discussion (even if ill-timed and insensitive), I get behind him against the forces of narrow-minded political-correct-fascists.

    But when elementary kids are crying for their lives, I want punishment, swift and severe.

    If it were my Pookie in that class, I can guarantee that the "teachers" better be armed when I show up for Parent-teacher conference.

    Man, that pisses me off.

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    Wild-n-Wacky Wiki

    As I was listening, recently, to Grace Slick seduce me with "White Rabbit," I thought I would google-wiki it.

    Come to find out, aside from three errors in fact from the lyrics (see below), the bass line is shared between three songs: "White Rabbit," "Can You Feel It" (The Jacksons), and [holding my head to realign my world] Madonna's "Material World."

    Don't believe me. Hear for yourself. Link works in Firefox.

    While I warn my students against citing, Wiki does have some useless, yet utterly cool, information.

    Wiki tells me that:
    Three references, mentioned in "Alice in Wonderland", are all mixed up in the song: First of all, The White Knight does not talk backwards, the Jabberwocky does. Secondly, the Red Queen does not say "Off with her Head", the Queen of Hearts says that. Thirdly, the dormouse never said "Feed Your Head". It's not mentioned elsewhere in the book.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

    Why not to be a slut: reason 425

    The BBC reports that oral sex leads to throat cancer. One more reason not to be a slut. That is, if women were just good girls, they wouldn’t get hurt or sick. They bring it on themselves, really.

    At least that is the continued, underlying assumption. The article cites a study appearing in the NE Journal of Medicine (so it must be true) that in 300 people who didn’t smoke or drink (more slutty behavior), that the incidence in throat cancer was “almost nine times higher for people who reported oral sex with more than six partners.”

    It seems that the study consisted of asking newly diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer about their medical history and sex lives. If there was previous evidence of oral HPV virus, then the incidence of cancer rose 72%. So, they conclude, that oral HPV is a leading contributor to cancer of the throat. OK, I follow that.

    Then the researchers make the leap that the best means of transporting HPV to the throat comes, as it were, through sex play. But, buried away from the headlines and leading paragraphs is this chestnut:

    Oral sex was said to be the main mode of transmission of HPV but the researchers said mouth-to-mouth transmission, for example through kissing, could not be ruled out.

    Or this one:

    Dr Julie Sharp, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "There is conflicting evidence about the role of HPV, and this rare type of mouth cancer.”

    So, when you dig a little deeper, they really don’t know if there is a direct link from crotch HPV and oral HPV, nor do they really know the means or the method of the cancer’s growth.

    But, just to be safe girls, keep your mouths closed. We would all feel better. [ßextreme sarcasm for the online impaired]

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

    Education has no class has an intriguing Q&A with Peter Sacks (Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education) from which I pull a string of quotes below.

    In a recent posting, I described how higher ed discussions should include the terms “Access” and “Exposure.” Peter Sacks falls directly into the access side—that is, instead of a degree providing access, there is a strata whose access is limited or denied.

    Libertarian Free-marketer: “So what? Each person will succeed or fail according to his merits. It is natural. Hell, it is natural selection. The best and brightest go to the good schools and get the good jobs. So there it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    Bush Whack-job: “No Child Left Behind was crafted to address just this sort of thing. Why, back in Texas there were plenty of poor kids who couldn’t read or nothin’. With NCLB, as we like to call it, these kids and their teachers get the kick in the butt they need in order to pass the test. I like it. It has compassion.”

    Kerry Liberal: “I think that the current administration has failed the American public. With its over-attenuation and attention on standardized metrics, this administration has illustrated an unnerving capacity for obfuscating the real problem: that the lower income families, hard working families, are being denied basic social services—namely access to quality education.”

    Clinton moderate: “I know such people as these. I grew up among them. If not for the good graces, I would have, myself, stalled in the backwaters of Arkansas. But I was given a hand up, given a chance, and I took that chance. You can too. We can bring hope to Hope, Arkansas and everywhere with your help.”

    Me: Sacks offers up a brief history of the shift of national attention (see Paglia from earlier post) from the higher class getting an education to opening up educational access to all:

    After the Second World War, presidents from Truman through Nixon held up the ideal of equal educational opportunity as a centerpiece of the American enterprise. We believed that higher education was so fundamental to our nation that federal and state policy would ensure that nobody would be denied higher education because of an inability to pay.
    And so the Staffard loans go out (to the right vendors, apparently) and the Pell grants given all with the hope that education will bring a brighter future. And it will. Don’t get me wrong here, I am a direct product of a higher education taking a working-class kid from West Texas and opening up his thinking and opportunities. That said, the present system is based on fundamental inequalities that continually go ignored, overlooked or otherwise unaddressed:

    We are creating a system in which ability to pay is the main thing that separates those who go to college from those who don’t go to college.

    Paglia called it “brand name college” seeking. With the better brands come a higher cost—if one is considered at all. But, fine, branded colleges in a free market should seek to raise their market cap to its fullest. But public schools?

    While UM President Mary Sue Coleman was making wonderful speeches about diversity, something like just 12 or 13 percent of Michigan’s undergraduates were receiving Pell Grants, ranking the public University of Michigan among the most elite private institutions on this measure.

    Branded schools, to be honest, are good for the student. Brands give access. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business will run companies. A graduate of UofM’s business will run companies. A graduate of Western Michigan University (a land-grant, teaching university) will work for companies. We are not being naive here. What we would like, though, is truth in advertising. If America is the land of opportunity, then so be it. If it is, truthfully, the land of opportunity for some, not so much for others, and none for you…then let’s own up to that as well.

    For example, the average SAT score of students whose families earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year is 1436. That’s compared to the average of 1656 for students whose parents earn $100,000 or more — a 220-point difference

    220 points erases Uof M’s affirmative action padding.

    I will seek to specific more concretely what I would like to see.

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    Higher ed soporific

    It seems that recently you can’t click a fiber optic mouse without coming across some blog talking about the role of higher ed. I kind of like that.

    Two blogs in as many days are Dean Dad’s and Salon’s Camille Paglia. DD veers off of a discussion of Marilee Jones (MIT Admissions Dean fired for lying about her education) to roam around why people would opt out of going to college (it is hard, he says) and go right to work (unwilling to pay the opportunity costs of staying in school). DD ends by lauding the missionary-like zeal of grad schoolers “scraping by” on “pittances” and delaying their gratification. Success comes, he implies, through good, honest toil.


    Paglia has intrigued me from the first time I looked at the cover of Sexual Personae. To a repressed Bible/English major, I found it shocking and thrilling: Rock-n-Roll criticism. Paglia is back writing for Salon in which she presents four pages spread out along politics, news, pop-culture and et. al. Her recent posting, page 2, has some of her most provocative writing I have seen from her. I loved it.

    She too veers away from her initial topic (Virginia Tech shootings) and slips into higher ed’s role in life (it must be an irresistible force), point out that age-based academic groupings is a relative new phenomena (she points to her recent review of “Teenage” as appears in the NYTimes Book Review). With high school, grouped as it is along the arbitrary criteria of age, “as become just a frantic, callow rat race for brand-name college admission.” She goes on: “Age segregation by grade, in my opinion, is a mechanistic atrocity that spawns ruthless social cliques, who oppress and enrage the losers in the provincial pecking order.” That pretty much sounds like High School to me (see the film Heathers).

    Paglia’s fix is to promote and return to vocational ed. Discontinue the illusion that everyone needs to be a BA/BA/MA/MS ad nauseum, and allow specific trades to be explored. It is a nice dream. Parents, though, will not get behind little junior forgoing medical school in order to pursue a dream of landscape engineer. Sure it happens, but a prevailing ethos is a prevailing ethos precisely because so many people do NOT fight against it. That is, as long as upwardly mobile is assumed (and for the US, it goes all the way back), our Horatio Alger determination allows little deviation.

    Paglia ends with a zinger: “We need to strip the elite aura from the claustrophobic ‘prestige’ jobs in sterile corporate offices, where high salaries drug the worker clones from recognition of their own imprisonment and castration.” I would say she overstates, but I am, myself, sitting right now in a cube contracting for defense contractor in order to get that higher wage. The irony for me, though, is that I need the wage to pay my student loans.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Access and Exposure

    College degrees (or should I just say college classes?) are a handy indicator that the person has been exposed and should be granted access. That is, a college education provides exposure and access. Skills are secondary; thinking is optional.

    I am taking my inspiration for this post from the Marilee Jones firing from MIT. Apparently the dean of Admissions lied about her education way back, and it was ferreted out. She was fired—as she should be.

    The discussion about her, though, quickly moves to the value and role of education. Ms. Jones was an excellent dean by all accounts, so why fire her now? Does the degree mean that much?

    First, it wasn’t the lack of degree that was cited as the reason for her getting fired, but that she lied. So, take the lack of degree off of the table. Could she do the job without a degree? Well, she had been doing so for quite a while, so yes.

    Then what is a degree for? Access and exposure. Let me explain. First, a few caveats: not all degrees are created equal. A liberal arts degree is all about exposure (although access is to be debated), while a science, engineering, business, etc. degree is, arguably, more about access. It is a sliding scale, with factors of specific degree plans, job positions, etc. But, for discussion purposes, it falls like this:

    Access Exposure

    Sciences/business Liberal arts

    Of course, as with any spectrum, there are some middling ground (archeology would be an exposed/access; fine arts an access/exposure).

    Pretty much any job is a club of some sort. Entry is only permitted if a person has X, Y and sometimes Z. For a range of jobs, X is a degree in the field (AA, BA, MA, etc.). One needs a law degree and bar exam to practice, doctors need med school and internships, etc. So, access is limited for these fields. I suppose is should be.

    Exposure, though, is what people trot out when they speak of higher ed. “The best that is thought or spoken” sort of thing. A college grad will be exposed to various paradigms, cultures, practices, etc. that will expand her mind. At least, that is the argument. In fact, the exposure side exists almost exclusively when higher ed discussions arise. People will get apoplectic about the importance of exposing, or not, young minds to the world of ideas.

    That is a load of crap.

    Sure, I think that the exposure side should be included. It should be expanded. To assume that a college grad will be exposed (who is the judge for this anyway—is there a standard or measure here) to “enough” by a survey of British literature puts a lot on Donne and the like. And really, I could care less if my surgeon felt the pathos of ball turret gunner. I do care that she was paying attention to her gross anatomy labs. For the skilled professions, exposure helps more at dinner parties than in obtaining a job (see super-important caveat to this below).

    What about business? Entry-level is entry-level. The college brand will do more to give a guy access than will the specific courses. Got an MBA from Harvard, then come this way to higher-exec-ville. All others, get at the end of that long line and await your cube assignment.

    So, here are the terms of the discussion: access and exposure. My personal interaction with this tomorrow (or so).

    Super-important caveat: I don’t think there is enough exposure of the skilled professions to other paradigms. I wish the doctors would open up to non-medical interventionist approaches—that holistic or homeopathic approaches were more explored. But, why I wish to be and what is are world’s apart. So, in a sense the pathos of the ball-turret gunner might show the way to realizing an open-minded approach to medicine. Yet, even typing this I feel as if it is too much to expect, given the noise of job obtainment and advancement (“witch” doctors don’t work at Mayo).

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

    Pookie hits the jackpot

    There are certain events in a child's life that must, for them later, really stand out. I think Pookie had one over the last weekend.

    It began at a hockey game. Actually is was a small, 3-on-3 tournament in which her three uncles were playing. It was just after 10, and there were not many others in the arena. Dam'ma gave both Pookie and Boy (her year younger cousin) some money for a cookie. It was one of the very first times they were allowed to venture that far alone. Lovely Wife kept track of time.

    "I think they have been gone too long," she says after a few minutes.

    "They're fine," says Dam'ma.

    I get a look, which is code for "go see." I go see.

    The arena is set up with a large, atrium-like hallway connecting both the ice arena and the basketball courts. Concessions take up a part of this area. There are also some video games, an air-hockey table and the like. The kids are actively playing air hockey: their heads just above table level.

    "What are you two doing?"

    "Playing air hockey." Ask a dumb question...

    "Your mom is worried about you."

    "Why? We are right here," says Pookie playing with one hand and holding her shirt with the other. It is then that I notice that she has something wrapped up in the bottom of her shirt.

    "Did you get your cookies?"

    "They were closed," says the Boy. "So we put the dollar in the machine for quarters--which explained the air hockey. "And we got some tattoos."

    There are some phrases that always seem to get a parent's instant and undivided attention, even when the kids are 5 & 6. "And we got some tattoos" is one of them.

    "Oh really?" Was all I could muster.

    And then it came out.

    I must attempt to describe the tone. Whenever Pookie gets excited, her voice gets higher and her speech gets faster. She had both going at full speed.

    "We put the dollar in and it kept giving us MONEY!" she says with great emphasis on "money." "And so we got a tattoo out of the machine and LOOK," she says holding up her shirt. It was full of quarters.

    I have never seen two kids so happy. They had hit the jackpot in the change-machine slots.

    Turns out Dam'ma gave them a $10. The look on their faces when the quarters kept falling must have been priceless.

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