Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Community Letter" from Dartmouth's President

I print in its entirety, with some formatting changes, a letter sent today by e-mail to Dartmouth alumni and others by President James Wright.


It has been a full winter in Hanover -- and a cold February. For winter carnival we had to haul in snow for the sculpture and a week later a snowstorm caused us to close down some campus operations! Our ski team is undefeated going into the nationals. Our men's and women's hockey teams won Ivy titles, the first for the men since 1980, and now advance in the playoffs. This weekend Susan and I saw men's basketball twice, including our first season sweep of Princeton since 1946; men's hockey; and the main stage production of "Arms and the Man." We met with a parents' group for a reception where the Dodecaphonics entertained us. Last week we had thirty students to our house for dinner and a discussion, and I had two student lunches in my office.

Last week Professor Ron Green of the Religion Department, the Director of the Ethics Institute and the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor of Ethics and Human Values, gave the annual presidential lecture, a celebration of the work of a distinguished faculty member.

Professor Green's lecture addressed the subject of bioethics. Dartmouth has received national recognition recently for its sustainability efforts and for the accomplishments of the Greek system. And, with all of this, students and faculty are quietly going about their work to know more each day about those academic matters that intrigue them. It is in this environment that I write to share with you observations on a few important topics.

Dartmouth's mission, as I have said on numerous occasions, has not changed but organizations periodically should remind themselves what it is that they are about.

Following wide consultation, I have drafted a more concise mission statement:

Dartmouth educates the most promising students of this generation to be leaders of the next generation with a faculty of scholars dedicated to teaching and the creation of new knowledge.

I plan on discussing the statement with the trustees at the March meeting and will then finalize it. I am confident that President Dickey would have recognized this as the mission of the College, even as I am confident that fifty years from now it will continue to inform Dartmouth's purpose -- and be affirmed by the contributions of our graduates.

In this process I also set out to describe a series of core values that mark Dartmouth. As I met with groups of students, faculty, staff from all levels including union employees, alumni and alumnae, and with the trustees, I asked them what it was that best described Dartmouth when it was at its best. What struck me through these many conversations was how consistent the responses were. We are surely all united around these values:

We are committed to academic excellence and to a culture that encourages collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

We expect faculty to embrace teaching and mentoring students with a passion and to be leaders in the scholarly or creative work shaping their fields.

We welcome and respect difference and believe that diversity is a key strength of our shared sense of community and contributes significantly to the quality of a Dartmouth education.

We recruit and admit exceptional students from all backgrounds, regardless of their financial means.

We foster a culture that instills a sense of responsibility for the broader community and the environment.

We encourage the vigorous and open debate of ideas within a community that encourages mutual respect.

If many fine institutions could claim to share these values, few have this combination and none have them along with Dartmouth's special legacy: Since its founding in 1769, Dartmouth has provided an intimate and inspirational setting for distinguished faculty and talented students to come together in one of the finest academic communities in the world.

Dartmouth faculty contribute substantially to the expansion of human understanding around critical issues. Dartmouth is committed to providing the best undergraduate liberal arts experience in the world and is enriched by excellent, historic professional programs in the Dartmouth Medical School (founded 1797), the Thayer School of Engineering (1867), the Tuck School of Business (1900) and the graduate programs in the Arts and Sciences. Together they sustain an exceptional learning environment that emphasizes independent thought, academic excellence, and the lifelong pursuit of learning.

Pioneering programs and continuing leadership in computation and international education are hallmarks of Dartmouth. The College provides a comprehensive out-of- classroom experience, including service opportunities, engagement in the arts, and strong athletic, recreational, and outdoor programs. Dartmouth graduates are marked by an understanding of the importance of teamwork, a capacity for leadership, and their keen enjoyment of a vibrant community.

Alumni/ae loyalty to Dartmouth is legendary and their engagement is a defining and sustaining quality of the College.

A couple of weeks ago, we posted the statement on the Dartmouth homepage and invited feedback. I have been gratified by the number of people who wrote to say that they thought it captured the essence of Dartmouth and who wanted to tweak one part of it or another.

Let me reflect briefly on a few of their observations.

Some respondents wanted more explicitly to recognize the critical role played by research as well as the contributions of the graduate schools. The mission and values statement aims to be inclusive of all of Dartmouth's schools and programs. We expect all of our graduates to assume leadership -- as they have done. And research -- the creation of knowledge -- is a vital part of Dartmouth's contribution to a better world and this culture of discovery energizes the teaching environment.

Other respondents noted, conversely, that we should not feature the graduate schools since Dartmouth is an undergraduate college. For sure, we aim to have at Dartmouth the strongest undergraduate liberal arts program in the world -- and we will protect and retain this position. We also have, and have had since the 1790s, exceptional graduate programs that are themselves leaders in their fields and that we can be proud of. They are fully a part of Dartmouth and their strength adds to the College's strength.

Some staff were concerned that they were not represented explicitly in the statement. I have always sought every opportunity to affirm the value of officers and staff in making Dartmouth the place that it is, so we will make what is implicit more explicit.

A few students pointed out that we do not have full financial aid for all international students. This is true -- although we have a very generous international financial aid program. Fully two-thirds of our international students receive financial aid, compared to around 45 percent of domestic students, and the aid package for the former tends to be higher.

One of the most important groups at Dartmouth is the Committee Advisory to the President, composed of six senior faculty members, selected by me from a group nominated by vote of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Dean of the Faculty is the agenda officer and the Provost joins in the meetings as well. This group considers promotions and tenure appointments within the Arts and Sciences, upon recommendation of the home department or program and upon review of evidence of scholarly standing and teaching effectiveness. It is a very responsible group that understands so well the importance of its decisions, for Dartmouth as well as for the individuals under review.

In their third year in rank we consider faculty for reappointment and in their sixth year we review them for promotion and for tenure. This month we reviewed a number of reappointment cases from different departments and programs. This was an inspiring and reassuring session. Many of these colleagues are publishing articles and books, receiving grants, giving papers, and taking on professional leadership. And most have established themselves as teachers. The promotion materials included the following comments from students: the "best course" at Dartmouth; "This course makes me think in a different way"; "cares about his students"; "The best teaching I have seen"; "challenged us to question accepted ideas." These faculty are Dartmouth's future.

This spring the alumni/ae will be involved in an election to nominate a trustee. The election is important, and I hope that all alumni/ae will participate. Dartmouth trustees are dedicated individuals who volunteer their time, expertise, and talents to ensuring that Dartmouth -- at the end of the day and at the end of this century -- will continue to be an exceptional, competitive institution that is a model for education.

I wish all four candidates well, and I have a request to make of them and their supporters.

Dartmouth is enriched by vigorous, informed debate and strengthened by critical engagement. It does not, however, advance the College to make allegations or to misstate the facts. Dartmouth classes are getting smaller; faculty are as committed to students and to teaching as they have ever been; free speech is alive and well; we are fully committed to strong, competitive athletic programs; the Greek system is thriving; and administrative positions have grown more slowly than the growth in faculty. We will be recruiting students and faculty this spring, a very competitive process that is vital to Dartmouth's future. We will correct the record if campaign rhetoric interferes with these efforts.

Some people have claimed that one of the new trustee's assignments will be to elect the next president. This statement will likely prove to be correct -- someday. For now though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my retirement are premature. While I may look my age, I am not yet ready to act it. In my thirty-eighth year at Dartmouth, I have things yet to do and I enjoy immensely doing them. So let us hold off on the transition planning.

Many of you know that I served three years in the Marine Corps. Since 2005, I have been visiting wounded Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I have also gone to Walter Reed Hospital. I go bed to bed talking to these young men and women, all of them seriously wounded, and I always urge them to consider returning to school. I have not sought to recruit students for Dartmouth, but a week before Christmas when I visited I gave out twenty-five Dartmouth caps! I am always moved by their stories and inspired by their courage and sacrifice.

From the outset it was clear that these Marines needed more specific educational guidance than any one person could provide. I contacted David Ward, the President of the American Council on Education. He immediately agreed to help develop a program that could respond to specific questions. I promised that I would raise the money for the program if ACE could organize it. President Ward assigned one of his colleagues, James Selbe, to the task. It has proven complicated, but Mr. Selbe, himself an old Marine, has done this. I have been pleased to help out in this effort. The counseling programs at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and Brooke Medical Center will soon be underway. As a result, these young men and women who served so unselfishly and bravely will now be better served themselves. I wish we could do more. We can do no less.

James Wright

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hey Bro Jacques, can you lend me a dime?

We don't make these up, we just report, on the bizarre twists in the Derrida archives tussle mixed up with a sexual harassment suit of another professor at UC Irvine. Read this article. This snippet is especially insipid:

"Toward the end of his (Derrida) life, he enjoyed the same status as Aristotle among the ancients, and every perception of injustice was routed to his desk," said Avital Ronell, a Derrida protege who teaches at New York University. "Even as he was crawling with fatigue, he put himself in the service of those seeking his help and needing the strength of his prestigious signature."

Hey, where was Hans-Georg Gadamer when my car was towed? I hear Juergen Habermas can be tapped to intervene on landlord disputes!

HT to Margaret Soltan.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Last Straw by Joe Galloway

Hat tip to my dear friend Manny Shargel in Tallahassee:

Walter Reed Hospital Scandal is 'The Last Straw'

As The Washington Post probe proves, there's more to supporting our troops than making "Support Our Troops" a phrase that every politician feels obliged to utter in every speech, no matter how craven the purpose. How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning?

By Joseph L. Galloway

(February 21, 2007) -- There’s a great deal more to supporting our troops than sticking a $2 yellow ribbon magnet made in China on your SUV. There’s a great deal more to it than making "Support Our Troops" a phrase that every politician feels obliged to utter in every speech, no matter how banal the topic or craven the purpose. This week, we were treated to new revelations of just how fraudulent and shallow and meaningless "Support Our Troops" is on the lips of those in charge of spending the half a trillion dollars of taxpayer's money that the Pentagon eats every year. The Washington Post published a probe, complete with photographs, revealing that for every in-patient who's getting the best medical treatment that money can buy at the main hospital at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, there are out-patients warehoused in quarters unfit for human habitation. Some of the military outpatients are stuck on the Walter Reed campus, a couple of miles from the White House and the Capitol, for as long as 12 months. They've been living in rat and roach-infested rooms, some of which are coated in black mold. There was outrage and disgust and raw anger at this callous, cruel treatment of those who have the greatest claim not only on our sympathies, but also on the public purse. Who among the smiling politicians who regularly troop over to the main hospital at Walter Reed for photo-op visits with those who've come home grievously wounded from the wars the politicians started have bothered to go the extra quarter-mile to see the unseen majority with their rats and roaches? Not one, it would seem, since none among them have admitted to knowing that there was a problem, much less doing something about it before the reporters blew the whistle. Within 24 hours, construction crews were working overtime, slapping paint over the moldy drywall, patching the sagging ceilings and putting out traps and poison for the critters that infest the place. Within 48 hours, the Department of Defense announced that it was appointing an independent commission to investigate. Doubtless the commission will provide a detailed report finding that no one was guilty -- certainly none of the politicians of the ruling party whose hands were on the levers of power for five long years of war. They will find that it all came about because the Army medical establishment was overwhelmed by the case load flowing out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, brave soldiers who were wheelchair-bound with missing legs or paralysis, have been left to make their own way a quarter-mile to appointments with the shrinks and a half-mile to pick up the drugs that dim their minds and eyes and pain, and make the rats and roaches recede into a fuzzy distance. All this came on the heels of my McClatchy Newspapers colleague Chris Adams's Feb. 9 report that even by its own measures, the Veterans Administration isn't prepared to give returning veterans the care they need to help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal, mental health ailments. Nearly 100 VA clinics provided virtually no mental health care in 2005, Adams found, and the average veteran with psychiatric troubles gets about a third fewer visits with specialists today than he would have received a decade ago. The same politicians, from a macho president to the bureaucrats to the people who chair the congressional committees that are supposed to oversee such matters, have utterly failed to protect our wounded warriors. They’ve talked the talk but few, if any, have ever walked the walk. No. This happened while all of them were busy as bees, taking billions out of the VA budget and planning to shut down Walter Reed by 2011 in the name of cost-efficiency.
Among those politicians are the people who sent too few troops to Afghanistan or Iraq, who failed to provide enough body armor and weapons and armored vehicles and who, to protect their own political hides, refused to admit that the mission was not accomplished and change course. But it's they who are charged with the highest duty of all, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural in 1865: "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan. "How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning? How dare they ever utter the words: Support Our Troops? How dare they pretend to give a damn about those they order to war? They've hidden the flag-draped coffins of the fallen from the public and the press. They've averted their eyes from the suffering that their orders have visited upon an Army that they've ground down by misuse and over-use and just plain incompetence. This shabby, sorry episode of political and institutional cruelty to those who deserve the best their nation can provide is the last straw. How can they spin this one to blame the generals or the media or the Democrats? How can you do that, Karl? If the American people are not sickened and disgusted by this then, by God, we don’t deserve to be defended from the wolves of this world.

*** Joseph L. Galloway ( is a legendary war correspondent, winner of a Bronze Star and co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young." His column on military affairs is distributed by Tribune Media Services.***

Sean Hannity: Kids, Do Your Homework!

Just in from Fox News: Child development expert Sean Hannity considers a San Francisco school's decision to ban homework except for reading and special projects a bad idea. He wants his kids to do math, reading, "organized sports," and stay away from liberal friends.

When queried by his counterpart Alan Colmes about whether he believes in local control of schools, Hannity shrugged and intoned against "San Francisco values."

In other news, Dinesh D'Souza locates the source of campus left wing ideology in lax parents who didn't get Ashley or Biff to do their times tables and let them play with marbles and read Jacques Derrida instead.

The (now not so) secret life of Cory Kennedy

A tale for our age, dear reader!

Remember Kato Kaelin? No, I figure you didn't or if you did, it is something completely in passing. However, he was on several channels of national TV for several weeks (not just YouTube).

How about the three guys who invented the "Whassaaaaaap" routine? Yes, they were interviewed by Katie Couric and Paula Zahn, but nobody has heard of them since.

What about Lawrence Turow, aka Mr. T? He had a big part in one of the Rocky movies, and was a star on “The A Team.” Remember that show? No, figure you didn't.

Popular culture thrives on novelty, and it seems that Cory Kennedy is the latest in this "phenomenon" of amusing ourselves to death with instant celebrity, sort of the logical extreme of other non-talents such as Paris Hilton and Edie Sedgewick, who are, as the saying goes, famous for being famous.

Hmmm: Parents run a diploma mill! (Hawking HS diplomas in "less than a week").

Post Oscar posting...

Watching the Oscars is a tradition in our house. I didn't think I could do it last night, due to work, but I just stayed on my ole laptop and watched. I had just gotten back from a sleet filled drive to Evanston and back, to take our daughter back to college. Here are some snippets of an email I had with her last night and today. She is headed to Los Angeles this summer to try herself.

I am not above commenting on dress. Our favorite was Gwyneth Paltrow, for me it was the understated color (apricot?) as I am becoming partial to orange more and more (perhaps I am a closet Illini?). Our daughter liked Jada Pinkett Smith's dress and that of Kirsten Dunst, although said Kirsten looked like she was on something:

"I didn’t see Jada’s dress. I missed the first 15 minutes of the show. I remember from my recent viewing of Mona Lisa Smile again for my class that Kirsten Dunst, who basically shares the lead with Julia Roberts, has sorta lazy eyes, seems like they are half closed sometimes. Maybe just high cheekbones.

It was funny, but I was on email with a colleague at NC State and he made an Oscar reference, and I told him I liked Nicole’s look, and he said something funny, can’t remember exactly, but that he has found he really enjoys a cherry lollipop. I don’t remember the bow, but the paper mentions it.

The paper also criticized Ellen D. for being too low key, but that is what I liked about her. Her humor was appropriate, and unlike other Oscar hosts, she didn't draw undue attention to herself.

I didn’t like Jerry Seinfeld at all. One was the example of supposed “humor” in the reference to criminals who must pick up trash in orange jumpsuits with a stick with a nail on the end. I don’t like put down humor at all, especially by wealthy people of others less fortunate. The other was his stating that the films he was introducing were “depressing.” What IS depressing is having to look at his gawky face!

I liked the Melissa E. touch of acking her “wife” ole Jeff grad Tammy Lynn (note: Tammy Lynn Michaels is from Lafayette IN, and went to the big HS in that neighboring city, along with Axl Rose).

I thought some of the stuff about Gore was Hollywood getting on the latest bandwagon, because an A-lister like Leo is for it. Of course I am for Gore’s agenda, but truth be told, his movie was essentially a PowerPoint show with some stuff thrown in. He is to be commended, but he is not doing the science and so forth of combating global warming.

The Coppola/Lucas/Spielberg trio looked like three older white males, almost like the old Hollywood establishment, acking another older white male, Scorcese, for one of those awkward Oscar moments when the “prize” just has to go to someone who has been ignored over the years. Every year there is some sentimental favorite.

I generally liked the montages and retrospectives. Jennifer Hudson almost popped out of her dress, and her singing is more like screaming at times."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us

Wow. Check out this haunting video, Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us, by Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropology faculty member at Kansas State and creator of a viral video!

Hat tip to 3Quarks Daily...what did I read before I found ya?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Compulsively Checking Email

Mary McKinney, a psychologist in Chapel Hill, has another terrific column on her blog regarding the academic life, and how to manage (or mismanage) it, entitled Email Addiction. Here's a the whole thing.

In my experience, email is the most insidious, seductive time-waster we face.
In fact, for many of us, email is a pernicious addiction.
Checking and replying to our electronically-delivered messages seems like a necessary, innocuous occupation, but it is also a major form of procrastination.
Sometimes we open our email browser with the intention of sending someone a specific message. Often, though, we are checking our email because, well, that is what we do. We check our inbox many times a day, even compulsively.
When I am giving workshops to faculty or graduate students, I take a poll of how frequently participants check their email. Everyone seems to check their email several times, and the majority of academics admit to more than a dozen incursions per day.
How much would you weigh if you ate a piece of chocolate every time you check your email? Would obesity - or even diabetes - be the result?

A Bit of Mourning for the Chief is Appropriate

Though Chief Illiniwek is a caricature that is best retired, that will come this Wednesday during halftime at the UI-Michigan basketball game. So now it perhaps is appropriate to let those who honor something they call the Chief mourn his passing. They are sad and feel a loss because the Chief is not a caricature to them, it is something larger and grander. So let's let them mourn, and then help them move on to a new symbol.

This article gives a sense of the feeling surrounding the issue. Here's a snippet.

Shaun Gaston, 60, of Champaign, recalled her parents taking her to Dyche Stadium in Evanston to see the Chief perform at a UI-Northwestern game when she was 5 years old.

"My mother had tears in her eyes when he came out. I came to school here. I had the dance down so if they ever needed a sub, I'd be ready. It's a revered symbol, a tradition, an honor. It's not a mascot. I do not want to see a mascot – ever," she said, adding she never leaves the seat she's had for 30 years at basketball games when the Chief appears.

Farewell Chief Illiniwek...Good Riddance

The Chief: Historically inaccurate and a degrading caricature.
Thank goodness the chief is gone from UIUC. But of course that is just the beginning of the healing. Having lived through a similar wrenching debate at Dartmouth, I am thankful for this at Illinois. But why did it take so long?

This article in Inside Higher Ed gives some of the background and discusses the length of the debate.

Here's a snippet:

The backlash against critics of the chief has been “very real” and has frequently reached the point of harassment, Spindel said, noting the recent furor over Facebook entries involving university students. One Facebook group that attracted over 110 members is titled “If They Get Rid of the Chief I’m Becoming a Racist.” One of its postings reads, “[W]hat they don’t realize is that there was never a racist problem before ... but now I hate redskins and hope all those drunk casino owning bums die.”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Promotion and Tenure Logic

Ah, 'tis the season for the fate and rank of so many good faculty members to be decided. Thus, I thought I would pass along this tidbit I received a while ago, from my good friend and collaborator Len Waks, on the sometimes exasperating logic of tenure and promotion committees. The reference is to philosophy, but dear reader, it could apply to any discipline!

This reminds me of what my friend Mike Kelly (with whom I went to grad school and later spent a year with as a visiting professor at U. of Alberta) used to say:

"In P and T logic, every fact can count for or against any conclusion."

You know: Professor X says "Well, Professor A has published two articles in MIND." Professor Y says, "Right, and just look at the junk MIND now publishes."

Friday, February 16, 2007

An Honest Conversation about Alcohol

From Inside Higher Ed. Kudos to the former president of Middlebury for doing something about this issue that vexes All our college campuses (well, not BYU). The 21 year old drinking age is counterproductive in so many ways. Here are some snippets:

The current law, McCardell said in an interview Thursday, is a failure that forces college freshmen to hide their drinking — while colleges must simultaneously pretend that they have fixed students’ drinking problems and that students aren’t drinking. McCardell also argued that the law, by making it impossible for a 19-year-old to enjoy two beers over pizza in a restaurant, leads those 19-year-olds to consume instead in closed dorm rooms and fraternity basements where 2 beers are more likely to turn into 10, and no responsible person may be around to offer help or to stop someone from drinking too much.

Any college president who thinks his or her campus has drinking under control is “delusional,” McCardell said, although he acknowledged the political pressures that prevent most sitting presidents from providing an honest assessment of what’s going on on their campuses.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Back Yard Snow, West Lafayette, Indiana

The big storm, a February record 17".

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It fits just right

Now, they try to keep me from getting up here next to A. G.'s new George Foreman grill, where I can continue my wallpaper removal project, by putting this bowl here. Well, I will show them -Hazel Rud

For the Upcoming Interminable Political Campaign Season...

Hat tip to my dear friend in Tallahassee for sending this along, and many more...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not my job...

Vox Clamantis in Deserto: Bill Moyers on Democracy

Jim Horn, who blogs with me on the group blog Education Policy Blog, and who runs his own fine blog Schools Matter, brought this column by Bill Moyers to his readers' attention today. I post it here in its entirety.

Discovering What Democracy Means
Bill Moyers
February 12, 2007
Bill Moyers is chairman of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy andan independent journalist with his own production company. On February 7, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation presented Judith and Bill Moyers the first Frank E. Taplin, Jr. Public Intellectual Award for “extraordinary contributions to public cultural, civic and intellectual life.” This is an excerpt of his remarks.
We are often asked whether our kind of journalism matters. People are curious about why we give so much time to novelists, playwrights, artists, historians, philosophers, composers, scholars, teachers—all of whom we consider public thinkers. The answer is simple: They are worth listening to.
Some years ago I was invited to testify before a House of Representatives committee on funding of the arts and humanities. Opponents were making their skepticism felt toward PBS, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I had been present at the creation of all three during my time in the White House with Lyndon Johnson, and now all three were once again in the crosshairs of conservatives like Ronald Reagan who were asking: “Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?” Reading Shakespeare, it was said, does not erase the budget deficit. Plunging into the history of the 15th century does not ease traffic jams. Listening to Mozart or reading the ancient Greeks does not repair the ozone layer.
We had recently produced two series on poetry called “The Language of Life” and “The Power of the Word.” Our series on “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” was resonating far and wide, much to the displeasure of sectarian dogmatists. We had created a documentary special called “The Power of the Past,” about how Florence valued art for public, and not merely private, consumption. Our series “A World of Ideas” offered conversations from a wide spectrum of voices: Chinua Achebe, Carlos Fuentes, Northrop Frye, Joseph Heller, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Rodriguez, Bharati Mukherjee, Jonas Salk, William L. Shirer, Tu Wei-ming, Toni Morrison, Joanne Ciulla, Ernesto Cortes, M.F.K. Fisher, Mary Ann Glendon, Leon Kass, and so many others who opened viewers to what my old friend and colleague Eric Sevareid once called “news of the mind.”
Critics said these programs taught no one how to bake bread or build bridges. And they were right. Despite public television—not to mention symphony orchestras, municipal libraries, art museums, and public theaters—crime was still rampant, the divorce rate was soaring, corruption flourished, legislatures remained stubbornly profligate, corporations cooked their books, liberals were loose in the world doing the work of the devil, and you still couldn’t get a good meal on the Metro to Washington. Why persist, some members of Congress wanted to know, when there are so many more urgent needs to be met and so many practical problems to be solved?I did not have a tried-and-true answer for members of the committee. I could not hand them a ledger showing that ideas have consequences. I chose instead to tell them what they could have learned if they had been listening to the people who appeared in our broadcasts.
They would have heard the novelist Maxine Hong Kingston say: “All human beings have this burden in life to constantly figure out what’s true, what’s authentic, what’s meaningful, what’s dross, what’s a hallucination, what’s a figment, what’s madness. We all need to figure out what is valuable, constantly. As a writer, all I am doing is posing the question in a way that people can see very clearly.”
They would have heard Peter Sellars, the iconoclastic director of Shakespeare in a swimming pool and Mozart in the Bronx, explain that he wants “to put our society up next to these great masterpieces. Are we thinking big enough? Are we generous of spirit? What does our society look like, next to the greatest things a human being ever uttered?”
They would have heard Vartan Gregorian, then head of the New York Public Library, talk about how “in a big library, suddenly you feel humble. The whole of humanity is in front of you. It gives you a sense of cosmic relation, but at the same time a sense of isolation. You feel both pride and insignificance. Here it is, the human endeavor, human aspiration, human agony, human ecstasy, human bravura, human failures—all before you. And you look around and say, ‘Oh, my God! I am not going to be able to know it all.’”
They would have heard the philosopher Martha Nussbaum confess that in one sense there is no message or moral in the ancient Greek dramatists—“simply the revelation of life as seen through the sufferer.” But there is a value, she went on, in seeing “the complexity that’s there, and seeing it honestly, without flinching, and without reducing it to some excessively simple theory.” You begin then, she said, to realize that trying to wrest a good life from the world may lead to tragedy, but you still must try.
They would have heard the filmmaker David Puttnam tell how as a boy he sat through dozens of screenings of A Man for All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More’s fatal defiance of Henry VIII: “It allowed me the enormous conceit of walking out of the cinema thinking, ‘Yeah, I think I might have had my head cut off for the sake of a principle.’ I know absolutely I wouldn’t, and I probably never met anyone who would, but the cinema allowed me that conceit. It allowed me for one moment to feel that everything decent in me had come together.”
And they would have heard Mike Rose talk about what it’s like teaching disadvantaged older college students in California. He had recounted to me his battle with a street-wise grownup who was flogging her way through Macbeth. “What does Shakespeare have to do with me?” she would ask. But when she finally got through the play she said to Mike Rose: “You know, people always hold this stuff over you. They make you feel stupid. But now, I’ve read it. I can say, ‘I, Olga, have read Shakespeare.’ I won’t tell you I like it, because I don’t know if I do, or I don’t. But I like knowing what it’s about.” And Mike Rose said: “The point is not that reading Shakespeare gave her overnight some new discriminating vision of good and evil. What she got was something more precious: a sense that she was not powerless and she was not dumb.”
Some members of Congress got it. They realized that we were talking not only about how to improve our lives as individuals but how to nurture a flourishing democracy. Wouldn’t we have been likely to deal more effectively and quickly with pollution if we had thought about where we fit in the long sweep of the Earth’s story? Could we better tackle our spending priorities as a society if we were prepared to acknowledge and confront the pain of conflicting choices, which the ancient poets knew to be the incubus of agony and the crucible of wisdom? Might we better decide how to use our wealth and power if we have measured and tested ourselves against the greatest things a human being ever uttered? Are we not likely to be more wisely led by officials who have learned from history and literature that great nations die of too many lies?
Furthermore, if we nurtured the higher affections of our intuition—what has been called our “inner tutor”—might we be more resolute in sparing our children from the appalling accretion of violent entertainment that permeates American life—what Newsweek described as “the flood of mass-produced and mass-consumed violence that pours upon us, masquerading as amusement and threatening to erode the psychological and moral boundary between real life and make-believe?”
We know who the enemies of democracy are. In his Jefferson Lecture the late Cleanth Brooks of Yale identified them as the “bastard muses” propaganda, which pleads, sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause or issue at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. To counter the “bastard muses,” Brooks proposed cultivating the “true muses” of the moral imagination. Not only do these arm us to resist the little lies and fantasies of advertising, the official lies of power, and the ghoulish products of nightmarish minds, they open us to the lived experience of others—to the affirmations of a heightened consciousness—to empathy. So it is that when Lear cried out to Gloucester on the heath: “You see how this world goes.....” Gloucester, who was blind, answered: “I see it feelingly.”
Many years ago we produced a series called “Six Great Ideas” with the didactic, irascible but compelling philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler—one hour each on liberty, equality and justice, truth, beauty, and goodness. From the deluge of mail I kept two letters that summed up the response. One came from Utah.
“Dear Dr. Adler, I am writing in behalf of a group of construction workers (mostly, believe it or not, plumbers!) who have finally found a teacher worth listening to. While we cannot all agree whether or not we would hire you as an apprentice, we can all agree that we would love to listen to you during our lunch breaks. I am sure that it is just due to our well-known ignorance as tradesmen that not a single one of us had ever heard of you until one Sunday afternoon we were watching public television and Bill Moyers came on with Six Great Ideas. We listened intensely and soon became addicted and have been ever since. We never knew a world of ideas existed. The study of ideas has completely turned around our impression of education…We have grown to love the ideas behind our country’s composition, and since reading and discussing numerous of your books we have all become devout Constitutionalists. We thank you and we applaud you. We are certain that the praise of a few plumbers could hardly compare with the notoriety that you deserve from distinguished colleagues, but we salute you just the same. We may be plumbers during the day, but at lunch time and at night and on weekend, we are Philosophers at Large. God bless you.”
The second letter came from Marion, Ohio—from the federal prison there. The writer said he had been a faithful viewer of the series, and he described it as “a truly joyous opportunity… for an institutionalized intellectual. After several months in a cell, with nothing but a TV, it was salvation.”Salvation. Deliverance. Redemption.
I had to think about this a while before I realized what he meant. He was, after all, a lifer. How is it a man condemned to an institution for the remainder of his years finds salvation in a television program? And then one day I came across something Leo Strauss had written. The Greek word for vulgarity, Strauss said, is apeirokalia, the lack of experience in things beautiful. Wherever you are and however it arrives, a liberal education can liberate you from the coarseness and crudity of circumstances beyond your control.
As I watch and listen to our public discourse today, it seems to me we are all “institutionalized” in one form or another, locked away in our separate realities, our parochial loyalties, our fixed ways of seeing ourselves and others. For democracy to prosper it requires us to escape those bonds and join what John Dewey called “a life of free and enriching communion”—to become “We, the People.” The late James W. Carey, one of our noted scholars of communication, wrote that the very concept of “public” could once be defined as “a group of strangers who gather to discuss the news.” In early America the printing press generated a body of popular knowledge. Towns were small, and taverns, inns, coffeehouses, street corners, and the public greens—the commons—were places where people gathered to discuss what they were reading. These places of public communication “provided the underlying social fabric of the town and, when the Revolution began, made it possible to quickly gather militia companies, to form effective committees of correspondence and of inspection, and to organize and to manage mass town meetings.”
The public was no fiction, Carey said. The public had no life, no social relationships, without news. The news was what activated conversation between strangers, and strangers were assumed to be capable of conversing about the news. In fact, the whole point of the press was not so much to disseminate fact as to assemble people. The press furnished materials for argument—“information,” in the narrow sense—“but the value of the press was predicated on the existence of the public, not the reverse.” The media’s role was humble but serious, and that role was to take the public seriously.
It would be hard to argue that we do so today, except in isolated examples. Our public conversation is mediated by politicians who have mastered “sound bites” sculpted from polling data, by “pundits” whose credibility increases with the frequency of exposure despite being consistently wrong, and “experts” whose authority depends not on reason, evidence or logic but on ideology and affiliation. The public, J.R. Priestly observed, “has been transformed into a vast crowd, a permanent audience, waiting to be amused.”What kind of “public intellectual” survives in such an environment? Turn on the television and you’re likely to see them talking about the war in Iraq, for which they were cheerleaders, or the upcoming presidential race—still a year away. Notice where they sit—in a Times Square studio or a media stage in Washington, their messages beamed across the public airwaves courtesy of huge media conglomerates whose intent is not the informing of citizens but the maximizing of profit through the delivery to advertisers of mass audiences addicted to consumerism.
How forlorn a figure Socrates of Athens would be in this environment. Arguably the first public intellectual, proclaimed by the oracle of Delphi as the wisest of men, Socrates went about Athens on a divine mandate of self-reflection, some celestial spark glowing in his breast, some voice whispering in his head that only he could hear. Led by this voice he went to the wise men and great poets and master technicians of the city to cross-examine them, casting doubt on their knowledge by exposing their received opinions and unexamined assumptions, the deep-seated corruption of thought which leads to grave moral danger; or sometimes simply pointing to the common failing of so many experts: that of mistaking their expertise in one subject or practice for universal wisdom about the human condition.
Exposing the ignorance of the leaders was Socrates’ way of helping the “cause of God,” as he explained when he was put on trial. He reasoned thus from his interviews with them that the wisest of men—as the oracle, remember, described Socrates to be—is the one who is most conscious of his own ignorance, most aware of the limits of knowledge which are introduced by our limited methods of obtaining knowledge. Meletus, the main accuser featured in Socrates’ Apology (as told by Plato), was a young religious fanatic who charged Socrates with believing in deities of his own invention rather than the gods recognized by the state. Scholars now believe that Meletus was simply a “front man” for political interests, put forward to stir the public against the philosopher—a forerunner of modern punditry, or maybe something quite like today’s political fundamentalism.
I sadly think of [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell addressing the United Nations in February 2003, with his artist’s renderings of those trailers that were supposed to be mobile biological warfare factories; and I think of all the rest of the cooked intelligence that sold so many of our public intellectuals on invading Iraq. It was too crude to even qualify as false wisdom on the Socratic model, really, but the resulting disaster—as great a blunder as Vietnam to which many of the same mistakes could be assigned—would result from relying on the knowledge of self-interested experts and deluded leaders. When they sentenced Socrates to death, he reminded them that they were proving how groundless knowledge made it impossible to escape from doing wrong. Succumbing to wishful thinking that leads to disastrous self-delusion, he pointed out, is the only real death. “When I leave this court,” he said of his jurors, “I will go away condemned by you to death.” But his accusers, he told them, “will go away convicted by truth herself….”
The Hebrew prophet was another kind of public intellectual, one who was also condemned and persecuted by the political elites he addressed. A century before Socrates, one of those prophets—Jeremiah—came from a small village into Jerusalem to preach repentance to a faithless Israel, with its houses full of treachery, and its rich kings and princes who gave no justice to the poor widow and the fatherless child.And of course, near the end of his life, Jesus of Nazareth also went to Jerusalem, to preach the same message in an even more dangerous public way, confronting the ruling elites before great crowds on the Temple grounds. When he predicted their imminent destruction in his parable about the wicked tenants who hoarded the fruits of creation, his fate was sealed.
Jesus would not be crucified today. The prophets would not be stoned. Socrates would not drink the hemlock. They would instead be banned from the Sunday talk shows and op-ed pages by the sentries of establishment thinking who guard against dissent with the one weapon of mass destruction most cleverly designed to obliterate democracy—the rubber stamp.
A stock broker who makes bad picks doesn’t last too long. A baseball player in an extended slump gets traded. A worker made redundant by cheaper labor abroad or by a new machine—well, she’s done for, too. But four years after the invasion of Iraq—the greatest blunder in foreign policy since Vietnam—the public apologists and advocates of the war flourish in the media, while the costs of their delusions accrue in body counts and lost treasure. A public that detests the war is relegated to the bleachers, fated to watch from afar the playing out by political and media elites of a game that has been rigged.
Yet the salvation of democracy requires a public aroused by the knowledge of what is being done to them in their name. Here is the crisis of the times as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policies, but we don’t talk about what democracy means—what it bestows on us—the revolutionary idea that it isn’t just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency. “I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being.” So spoke Woodrow Wilson, the namesake of your foundation and, I would suggest, still your guiding spirit.
The only PhD ever to reach the White House was a public intellectual and genuine reformer who understood what a major battleground higher education was. He learned what the political struggle was about while a professor and later the president of Princeton, where he lost his share of institutional battles with wealthy alumni who largely controlled the university’s development, and the nation beyond.
In his forgotten political testament The New Freedom (1913), Wilson took up something of the ancient, critical task of the public intellectual, a fact all the more remarkable in that he was president at the time. Louis Brandeis, the people’s lawyer, was his inspiration and the source of this vision, but Wilson stood for it, right there at the center of power. “Don’t deceive yourselves for a moment as to the power of the great interests which now dominate our development.” “No matter that there are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States. They are going to own it if they can.” But “there is no salvation,” he said, “in the pitiful condescensions of industrial masters. Guardians have no place in a land of freemen. Prosperity guaranteed by trustees has no prospect of endurance.” From his stand came progressive income taxation, the federal estate tax, tariff reform, and a resolute spirit “to deal with the new and subtle tyrannies according to their deserts.”
Wilson described his reformism in plain English no one could fail to understand: “The laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak.” That was true in 1800, it was true in 1860, in 1892, in 1912, and 1932; it was true in 1964, and it is true today. We have often been pressed to the limit, the promise of the Declaration and the ideals of the Gettysburg Address ignored or trampled upon and our common interests brought low. But every time there came a great wave of reform, and I believe one is coming again, helped along by the bright young people this foundation is nurturing.
We cannot build a political consensus or a nation across the vast social divides that mark our country today. Consensus arises from bridging that divide and making society whole again, the fruits of freedom and prosperity made available to the least among us. What we have to determine now, as Wilson said in his day, “is whether we are big enough…whether we are free enough, to take possession again of the government which is our own. We haven’t had free access to it, our minds have not touched it by way of guidance, in half a generation, and now we are engaged in nothing less than the recovery of what was made with our own hands, and acts only by our delegated authority.”
As we face that challenge even today, a story about Helen Keller is worth remembering. Toward the end of her career, as she was speaking at a Midwestern college, a student asked: “Miss Keller, is there anything that could have been worse than losing your sight?” Helen Keller replied: “Yes, I could have lost my vision.”

Sunday, February 11, 2007

How Romantic!

A marriage proposal in a funeral home's embalming room...ah, those desperate housewives...funny as hell.

I STILL don't believe it!

This grabs your attention: A Toyota Tundra accelerating through a closing door and then braking hard before the abyss. I know they say actual demonstration, but I don't believe there is a human in that driver's seat!

Watch the video...

Back to Work

Trying to get an essay review with a grad student polished off, but...

1 Caught last few minutes of Purdue v. MSU women's hoops game, especially to see MSU freshman center Allyssa DeHaan, who is, not a typo, 6'9"! Er, we lost, at home, to complete a 0-4 record when on national TV.

2 Call from daughter who left notes and text at home, and needs them for English test tomorrow. So typed in notes about Cartesian mechanism, vitalism, and so forth into an email.

3 Made and ate dinner.

4 Cat kept pushing open door. So, found out latch didn't work. After putting in a shim, unscrewing and rescrewing, finally figured it out (some banging and cursing later).

OK, now back to essay review.

World's Shortest Article

From the academic journal, Higher Education in Europe:

The Attractiveness of the Academic Workplace in Germany
Author: Romuin Reich

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's a small house, but there are those who love it...

The 28,000 square foot estate of John Edwards, outside Chapel Hill NC

A Slighter Sycamore

Indiana State University is moving to eliminate majors in physics and philosophy. Apparently the faculty will stay, but they will be merged to other programs. I fully agree with this comment on the Inside Higher Ed story:

According to the article, the plan is to eliminate the philosophy and physics majors, not to disband the departments entirely. It is important to note this distinction, as many comments have done. But eliminating the major will have the (presumably unintended) consequence of making it much more difficult to hire qualified faculty to teach the introductory classes that the university (presumably) will want to continue offering. Teaching the same introductory classes over and over again gets real old real quick. If you want to retain good faculty, you need to give them the opportunity to grow and develop as scholars and teachers—and that happens by letting them teach the advanced classes, which you can’t offer if you don’t have majors who are qualified to take them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lust in Space

OK, not original to me, Fox's title to the weird case of Lisa Nowak. Yes, I watch Fox, for Greta Van Susteren's updates on the missing Purdue student Wade Steffey. And I confess a perverse pleasure in listening to Sean Hannity and making me irritated!

Now, back to Nowak. WTF? There is nothing in her background that indicates she would drive from Houston to Orlando to attempt to kidnap and possibly murder her romantic rival. She drove IN A DIAPER so as not to delay her arrival in Orlando! Married 19 years with 3 children, a brilliant engineer and elite, an astronaut. Can anyone offer any thoughts?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Happiness is...

...ordering a Colts Super Bowl T-shirt on QVC. To go with my other Colts T-shirt and Colts mug.

At one point in the game, I thought they should rename themselves the Indianapolis Addais. Did ole Joseph run and catch it like 25 times in a row?

So sodden. But seeing Prince rip that dripping guitar shaped like his glyph or whatever it was he was formerly known the rain...singing Purple Rain. Well, that and Paul McCartney two years ago and Shania Twain flying out on a wire several years ago, they be my fave halftime shows.

Now about those ads. The weirdest one had to be that Robert Goulet ad, especially when he crawled out at the end on the ceiling like Spidey-man. Weird! Some of the other ones were a bit tame. A bit of Brokeback Mountain under the hood with a...candy bar?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Smash Mouth Religion

But let's get back to Dr. Falwell. "My respect for Catholicism and Mormonism goes straight up watching Notre Dame and Brigham Young play," he told me. He hoped that, someday, Notre Dame and Liberty, his evangelical college, would meet for the national championship, thus informing the nation that "the Christians are here, we're not meek and we're not going to fall down in front of you. We're here to stay."

Read more from the Church of Football.