Friday, October 29, 2004

Refrigeration is relative

Some good news: a clay pot "refrigerator". It uses the old faithful evaporative cooling in clay pots to keep the food cool. The novelty is the nesting of the pots.

Riots in Monrovia

From Reuters: link ephemeral
Curfew in Liberia after riots, four dead

By Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA, Oct 29 (Reuters) - At least four people died in riots on Friday in Liberia's capital, where U.N. peacekeepers fired in the air to bring rampaging, stick-wielding youths under control and a daylight curfew was in force.

U.N. troops loaded three bodies into a truck in the debris-strewn main street of the Paynesville suburb where the violence erupted, while residents peered out from behind doors and a helicopter hovered overhead.

A petrol station was still ablaze and smoke rose from a torched building. White U.N. pickup trucks and armoured personnel carriers cruised the normally bustling street, almost empty but for sticks, rocks and five burned out vehicles.

Liberia is struggling to emerge from nearly 14 years of war and the poor West African country is home to 15,000 United Nations troops, the biggest peacekeeping force in the world.

More than 80,000 fighters have been disarmed but with a crippled economy, massive unemployment and few opportunities, youths, many of them ex-combatants, vent their anger and frustration by rioting.

"(The United Nations mission) has been asked to use maximum force to bring this situation under control," Jacques Klein, U.N. special envoy to Liberia, told local U.N. radio. "And I mean to shoot on sight."

Liberia's Information Minister William Allen said the curfew, announced on state radio by interim leader Gyude Bryant, would remain in force until further notice.

Witnesses said a dispute between Muslim and Christian residents near Paynesville late on Thursday had mushroomed into a full-scale riot on Friday morning which then spread to the hilly centre of the coastal city.


Earlier on Friday, young men clutching sticks and machetes roamed streets near Paynesville while U.N. peacekeepers blocked a main road and tried to chase rioters back.

In the centre of Monrovia angry former fighters charged round with canisters of petrol on their heads looking for things to burn. Thick smoke rose from a building in the town centre.

Residents brought the body of a young man to Klein's office, saying he had been shot by peacekeepers nearby. There was no independent confirmation of how the student had died.

U.N. armoured personnel carriers and blue-helmeted soldiers lined a street in the Mamba Point district which is home to most of the U.N. agencies and the U.S. embassy.

Allen accused members of exiled former President Charles Taylor's political party (NPP) of planning to whip up violence in an attempt to disrupt the disarmament programme.

While Liberia has been wracked by war for nearly 14 years, battle lines have usually been drawn down lose ethnic or regional groupings, rather than on religious lines.

About 20 percent of Liberia's population is Muslim, 40 percent Christian and 40 percent follows animist beliefs.

"We were provoked by a Christian yesterday when one of them beat our Muslim sister. When we went to find out, they tried to beat us. So we called for reinforcements. They have burned down our gas stations," said Amara Konneh, near Paynesville.

The leadership and many of the LURD rebel fighters who ousted Taylor last year are from an ethnic group which is mostly Muslim, though their fight was not a religious one.

"The Muslims were the ones who set three of our churches on fire. We have been living here on good terms but they have not reciprocated it. We want to see religious tolerance in this country," said Fred, a member of the Pentacostal church.

This is very bad. I'm not sure I believe the claim that this was NPP: I'd be surprised if Taylor's Wahabbi connections were more than purely financial, but I know nothing about the lower echelon folks. I suppose it is possible, but I still suspect some other group is involved.

You don't need to "whip up violence" to stymie the disarmament program; it's much easier than that.

FWIW, the religious ratios are very different from what I remember. They're the latest CIA Worldbook numbers, though.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

War: obsolete index


Everybody else already put their oars in, so I guess it is my turn.
Updated 12-November-2004
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!

Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.

Sorry about the repostings. Blogger isn't picking up changes to the original index posts, so I have to repost my index posts from time to time.
Women's Ministries in the Episcopal Church of the USA

Noted in Christianity Today (referenced by Amy Welborn): In their search for "Women's liturgies" they include examples of women's worship resources which include A Women's Eucharist (a worship service for Astarte) and A Liturgy for Divorce. The divorce ceremony is weird enough: the un-couple is supposed to repent of "your brokenness that kept you in a destructive relationship" and then have their divorce blessed. But the "Eucharistic" service that celebrates the "Mother God", "Queen of Heaven" with raisin cakes ("baked ... in your honor in defiance of their brothers and husbands who could not see your feminine face") is defiantly pagan.

Words fail me: I want to look away and not think about this. That there are apostates and hypocrites in any faith is no surprise. That they should rank so high and lead the rest is sickening.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

W and anti-W

On State Street last Friday the fellow with the cart of Kerry anti-Bush buttons was jingling his cart down the sidewalk and handing out buttons with a slash through a W. Unfortunately for the impact of his emblem, it was the day before homecoming, and the street was full of students and alums wearing sweaters emblazoned with a huge red W.

Hitchhiker's Guide

My middle daughter and her friends made T-shirts reading 9 x 6 = 42. I asked if it was unlucky to use base-13.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Jimmy Carter

Chris Matthews interviewed Carter on 18-Oct. Naturally I didn't watch it (who has time?), but I heard about it, and found the transcript. FWIW, the transcript also includes an "interview" with George Carlin, in which Matthews does essentially all the talking. But let's look at Carter a while.

By now everybody has heard this Q and A:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the question about--this is going to cause some trouble with people--but as an historian now and studying the Revolutionary War as it was fought out in the South in those last years of the War, insurgency against a powerful British force, do you see any parallels between the fighting that we did on our side and the fighting that is going on in Iraq today?

CARTER: Well, one parallel is that the Revolutionary War, more than any other war up until recently, has been the most bloody war we've fought. I think another parallel is that in some ways the Revolutionary War could have been avoided. It was an unnecessary war.

Had the British Parliament been a little more sensitive to the colonial's really legitimate complaints and requests the war could have been avoided completely, and of course now we would have been a free country now as is Canada and India and Australia, having gotten our independence in a nonviolent way.

I think in many ways the British were very misled in going to war against America and in trying to enforce their will on people who were quite different from them at the time.

Unless by "recently" Carter means the Civil War, that's a rather startling bit of carelessness. And of course without the American example to influence attitudes and events, it is impossible to honestly assert that Canada et al would have "gotten their independence in a non-violent way." Carter is supposed to be a historian?

The next question: "Do you think as an historian you would have foreseen, had you been president, the nationalistic fight of those people in Iraq once we got in there?" Carter answers with "Well, I think almost any reasonable person who knew history would say that you can't go into an alien environment and force by rule of arms by forcing the people to adopt a strange concept." Aside from being disingenuous (Iraq is a bit more familiar with this "strange concept" than most Arabic countries), his claim is wrong. As a counterexample I offer the history of early Muslim expansion.

Matthews' next question asserts something I've not heard anyone actually say "that we can go into countries like Iraq and that we can use our force of arms and our economic might to transform them into democracies? It's the new conservative philosophy." Carter's answer is rather clumsy and muddy ("turning their premises of the Iraqis over to them politically and to the international community" ??).

Matthews next question has to do with the history of the Revolutionary War, and Carter's answer seems accurate.

Then Matthews indulges in an amazing bit of fantasy: "was it possible that if the president . . . could have reached Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein could have explained to the president no matter what we think of him and his tyranny over there that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction ..." Who on earth in full possession of his senses would have taken Saddam's word for anything? Carter of course claims that the UN hadn't exhausted its efforts yet, and that the premises for war were all wrong. This seems to be received wisdom in some quarters, for reasons that elude me. The UN inspectors could have kept working forever: Saddam was not cooperating. And that intelligence report that everybody keeps cherry-picking from did say that Saddam was keeping everything in readiness for removal of sanctions.

The next question is more of the same.

Matthews asks about Christmas in Plains and the hostage crisis in the next series of questions. Carter said his goals were to protect the country and make sure the hostages came home safe and free. I'll give him credit for trying, even though the expedition failed. And the deal Reagan seems to have made was hardly a credit to him or a benefit to the country. On the other hand, Carter seems not to understand in the slightest that the hostage crisis was not "a serious mistake which brought catastrophe on their country, and Iran has never recovered its international prestige and its influence that they lost during that ill-advised experience." On the contrary, their prestige rose among Muslims around the world, and they've been influential ever since.

The questions about Iran continue, with Carter stating that not going to war with Iran was probably the right decision (I'm not sure, myself. In retrospect it might have been a good idea, but . . .), and patting himself on the back for resisting the temptation to become popular by going to war.

After the commercial break Carter answers that he "was very careful to separate completely any religious commitment of mine:" I get what he means anyway. Then he deprecates the "melding . . . of the Republican Party and the Christian right-wing fervent believers." I'm not sure what exactly he deprecates here: that believers are fervent, that they are "right-wing" (by which he means, if my observations of said believers are accurate, not social-leftists), or that the Democratic Party isn't very welcoming of social-conservatives or social-centrists. That the Democratic Party's Christian base is mostly from "mainline" churches seems to be OK for him; its those pesky evangelicals becoming Republican that grinds his gears. I suppose that's not a surprising attitude: he has to be really annoyed that his own home team (Baptists) has been rooting for the other side.

Matthews' question about the "odd coalition" isn't so much a question as a request for complaint. Carter skips that, and then brags about his work to bring "peace to the Israelis and peace and justice, as well, to their immediate neighbors. I devoted a large portion of my administration to that and formed a treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has ever been violated." Then he says he doesn't get enough credit for the Camp David accords. Given that the instigator of the accords was Sadat, the one took the biggest risks was Sadat, and the one who died a martyr to his belief that the accords would help his country was Sadat, I think Carter is spectacularly arrogant here.

Carter goes on to say that every president from Eisenhower on made "every effort to bring peace to Israel and justice and peace to their neighbors... until the last 3.5 years. And now everybody knows that looks at it objectively that this effort has been totally abandoned. There is no effort now being made to negotiate or to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians." Well, yes. And good for us. There is no point whatever in trying to negotiate when one side refuses to negotiate in good faith. Every promise Arafat has made he has broken, and until the palestinians are willing to accept another representative to negotiate on their behalf, there is no reason to bother talking anymore. Every now and then you have to tell the truth in international relations, and the truth is that Arafat is a thug with whom you cannot deal.

Now they get into religion.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen anything like a religious effort by religious leaders--I'm talking about my own religion, too, Roman Catholicism--the bishops are out there basically saying vote pro- life? They're making it very clear they're pushing a particular candidate in this election, although they don't use the name.

I don't remember it--and I don't know is this is going on in Protestant churches or not--but it seems to me this is the strongest influence I've ever seen on an election in terms of religion.

CARTER: Well, it is. And of course, what these misguided religious leaders do, in my opinion, is to take two or three individual elements that are not the foundation of Christianity and elevate them to the detriment of others.

But I worship, and many Christians worship, the Prince of Peace, not war.


CARTER: People worship a savior who dedicated his commitment, his life and his words to the alleviation of the plight of the poor and the deprived and the scorned and the forgotten people, instead of elevating the rich to a position of preeminence. And I feel, as a steward of God's world, that I should take care of the environment.

So there are many elements of Christianity--peace and justice and humility and service and compassion and love--that have been forgotten, with the elevation of a few other items.

Where should I start? The whole point of life-and-death issues is that they are life and death issues. Why does mentioning this make the religious leaders misguided? And how exactly does being anti-abortion "elevate the rich to a position of preeminence?" OK, maybe he's changing the subject again. But I did notice (maybe Carter didn't read his Bible carefully) that Jesus came for everybody, and didn't focus on just the poor. Or just the rich, or just the fishermen, or just the tax collectors. He came implying that he was more important than any situation. Of course Carter can't resist a little dig that Jesus was the "Prince of Peace, not war:" by implication no Christian can support any war.

He ends by saying that while he doesn't support gay marriage, he does support "if they form an alliance or partnership under secular law, which is our law of this country, ought to be treated fairly and equitably." Which of course begs the question of whether such partnerships ought to be the law of the land.

Carter has been the patron saint of relativism in politics for many years. I think I understand where this comes from: before God we're all wrecks, with none righteous. But you have to make distinctions in a government. Maybe the murderer and his victim are both unrighteous sinners before God. But Caesar had better figure out how to distinguish between them. No country is perfect, but some are obviously better places to be than others, and some are downright dangerous to their neighbors. Your ethic of government had better reflect that, and apparently Carter's doesn't.

It isn't germane to this interview, but Carter seems also to be among those who worship elections. As long as you don't see any procedural problems with an election, you must have a democracy and all is good. You'd think that the various embarrassments of the past few decades would have made him a bit more wary...

Friday, October 15, 2004


Madison is pretty hard left politically, and Library Mall has students handing out fliers and showing tracts for the usual 'US out of North America' causes. But I notice a striking similarity between them and some of their bitterest enemies: a rather touching faith in the omnipotence of the United States. The dittoheads I've heard believe the US can solve all the world's problems, while most of the leftist ranters believe the US caused all the world's problems. Omnipotent either way . . .

Render unto Caesar the Police Power

...and pray that Caesar knows what to do with it.

On 10/13, Rantburgers opined vociferously and ferociously about Ossetians in Beslan arming themselves to exact vengeance on the neighboring Muslims for their roles, both active and passive, in the murders at the school. Some comments were reasonable, some went beyond viciousness; reading the hateful ones was a glimpse into the pit of hell.

Somebody asked what the Christian response would be, as the Ossetians are (officially) Christian. The fact that an ethnic group identifies its culture with that of a given church does not necessarily make it Christian. Northern Ireland and Serbia prove this point tragically. To find out what Jesus would do, read The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7 (this was like a stump speech; Jesus preached it many times, which is why it appears a little differently in the Gospel of Luke). Personal vengeance is unacceptable to the Christian: "Vengeance," says the Lord, "is mine, I Will repay." Elsewhere in the Bible, scripture makes it clear that police power and justice belong to the state:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors (even the crooked Roman ones in Peter's time) as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. I Peter 2:13-14

Kings and Judges in the Old Testament were given strict instructions about waging war in order to establish the kingdom of Israel and to protect the Israelites from the horrific practices, such as ritual orgies and child sacrifice, of the Canaanite tribes they supplanted. Both going beyond one's mandate and failing to perform the task as given come under God's censure and judgment. Atrocities mentioned in the Bible, such as the civil war against the Benjamites at the end of the book of Judges, show the failure of the Israelites to obey God, and resulting disaster.

When the state itself condones personal vengeance, or cannot control it, that country is doomed.

The Liberian War of 1990 gives an excellent illustration of the failure of personal vengeance. Personal vengeance practiced on a tribal scale has led to a failed state and complete devastation (Haiti is more of the same). These countries need a stronger power to impose order and spend 20 or 40 or 100 years teaching people how to live together as decent neighbors. One can only hope and pray that the UN, or some power, will be effective in these areas.

The Americo-Liberians, descendants of the freed American slaves, ran Liberia as any other less than competent colonial power did during the 19th and 20th centuries. They did accomplish one useful thing: they squelched intertribal wars. Liberia has 31 tribes speaking 17 languages in an area less than the size of Wisconsin; and most of the tribes have hated each other's guts since the dawn of time. By the end of the Tubman presidency for life, in 1971, tribal people were demanding greater opportunities. President Tolbert, who genuinely tried to help tribal people, didn't go fast enough to meet the demand. Soldiers of the Krahn tribe, led by Samuel K. Doe, killed Tolbert and some of the ossified old guard Americo-Liberians. Doe spent the next 11 years putting down 29 coup attempts, mostly launched by the Krahn's tribal rivals, the Mano and Gio. The Krahn were most of the army--they had the guns, they killed Mano and Gio. The Mano and Gio supported Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson duing 1989 and 1990, retaliating against Krahn villagers as well as the army.

One Krahn man in Monrovia heard that Mano had raided his home village and killed his family. So when the Krahn government officials declared open season on Mano and Gio, this man took a gun and shot his neighbor and his neighbor's 9 month old son. Gee, that didn't make him feel much better. So he joined the army and help massacre more Mano and Gio. Now he really felt horrid. He gave up his gun and walked to Cote d'Ivoire. In the refugee camp, he found himself across the road and face to face daily with the widow of the neighbor he'd killed. He saw that she went to a tent church in the camp. He went to church himself. He went before the congregation, confessed his murders, and asked the widow for forgiveness. She forgave him.

Individuals who forgive and help heal are a nation's hope. Governments that effectively serve the people and maintain order have hope. People determined to play by hell's rules bring hell on earth.

But to the wicked God says, "What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth?" Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit....Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Psalm 50:16-22

Posted by Mrs. James

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Diversity: What? Why?

We just had our annual diversity day here at University of Wisconsin. Luckily attendance isn't mandatory. But perhaps I should take the opportunity to ask just what in the world we're talking about.

The canonical definition of a diverse humanities faculty is hiring a white male poststructuralist, a black female poststructuralist, a Chinese lesbian poststructuralist, a plains Indian tribe poststructuralist, and so on.

Listening for laughter. Oh well. I guess `the sad kills the funny.'

Research Diversity

This is a research university. Faculty, staff, and students participate in studying various research topics. In a department you might find 2 professors and 2 graduate students studying nuclear oscillations; 1 professor studying the atomic theory of thin platinum films; 6 professors, 8 scientists and post-docs and 7 graduate students studying plasma confinement; and so on. Some of these research projects are large both in number of participants and in research money, while others are quite small: perhaps only 1/4 time of some professor.

Each department has to strike a balance between nurturing a variety of research fields and maintaining strong research groups. Simple fact of life: one researcher does not constitute a strong research group. Even a genius needs somebody to bounce ideas off, and true genius is pretty scarce. We ordinary folk need each other even more. If you want to attract people to an exciting research program, you have to supply enough man hours to welcome, guide, and challenge them. That means more than one person. If the research requires a lot of apparatus, you need a lot of people to run the experiments.

On the other hand, no single program can exhaust all the possibilities in a research field, and who knows which approach will be the most fruitful five years from now? Dual theory and Regge trajectories were useful in their time (and sometimes still are), but other theories rule the roost today. Projects have life spans, and eventually each will dry up and die. Keeping a variety of interests around keeps the department as a whole alive. And sometimes you get a synergy between different approaches (and even different departments).

Of course, striking that balance between strong groups and diverse research interests seems to generate nasty political battles, but that's a risk you run when trying to do anything important.

Diversity in Teaching Styles

Students come with different learning styles; visual, aural, reading/writing,and kinesthetic. (I saw it, I heard it, I read/wrote it, I touched it). Some learn a concept best by seeing it illustrated, others by hearing a lecture about it, others by reading or writing about it, and others by doing something tangible with it. On the surface the University caters only to the aural learners sitting in lecture hall listening to long talks. But demonstrations, labs, discussion sessions, and even office hours can ensure that all learning styles get a chance. What else can you call a lab but `hands-on study;' just right for the kinesthetic student? For those who need to talk something through, there are discussion sessions with TA's or one on one chats with the professor during office hours.

Some departments are better at fostering this kind of learning diversity than others. In the sciences and especially in engineering you almost always have to get your hands dirty, which is great for the often overlooked kinesthetic learners. On the other hand, mathematicians have a love for elegance which doesn't always translate into simple examples for the visual learners. Some other departments are quite poor at reaching out to non-aural non-reading/writing learners. (I invite you to imagine a person who learns best by seeing examples who tries to earn a degree in English Literature. I'd advise a career change...)

Can we do better at working with all learning styles? The `Rah Rah' answer is always yes, but the real answer is maybe. Each department should look at what it wants to teach, and how well these can be taught in other ways. Some disciplines just aren't well suited to certain learning styles.

Diversity in Debate

In some disciplines great questions are unanswered, and some problems are best understood by rediscovery through debate. We know that some problems are hard for one man to wrap his mind around, and on such issues collegial debate and new points of view are essential. ("What is freedom?") In other words, some diversity of points of view helps. We must bear in mind several points if we want to help find truth through diversity.

  • Merely having had different life experiences from somebody else doesn't automatically give you a different point of view on deep questions. It may. Raising children will certainly give you insights on the nature of freedom that a childless man won't automatically acquire--but he can learn these insights by watching his neighbors. Growing up in a different culture with different values may give you new insights--but these may already be quite familiar to your colleagues, who are generally able to read. Obviously skin color has no direct relevance to new points of view, though it can correlate with culture, which does.

  • I assume that real debate and real communication are possible. I am aware that many otherwise intelligent people disagree with me, claiming instead that personal narratives are unique and incommunicable. Let me merely point out that if they attempt to argue with me they concede my point.

  • There seem to be limits to the diversity we need. Diversity of viewpoint is a means to an end--discovering the truth. We do not invite flat-earth society members to astronomy seminars. We can safely say that some things have been proven wrong. Similarly a solipsistic philosopher has nothing to contribute to a debate. Pi is not equal to 3, and the Marxist prescription for governing proved to be the greatest catastrophe of the last century.

    On the other hand, we do not know for sure if the speed of light has been constant throughout the Universe's lifetime. We expect that it has, but if you think you're on the path to figuring out how to test it, we'd like to hear from you. We welcome that kind of diversity. It has not been decisively proven that the oppressor/victim model is the only useful model of human interaction--but unfortunately a number of the humanities departments still maintain a mono-culture of partisans of that model.

One major problem militating against diversity in debate is the aforementioned desire for strong research groups. Big groups often take to empire-building and new hires are directed toward the dominant team. This becomes even more noxious if the group in question pretends to have perfect knowledge in debatable matters—it sometimes demonizes and drives out all opposition. I wish I could say the UW doesn't have this problem, but I've heard otherwise. Frequently.

Diversity in the Body

I find an intangible benefit to the experience of getting to know people of different perspectives and cultures that has nothing to do with debate or formal learning. I'm not talking about changing minds or attitudes, but of sensing more of what people can be like. ConnaƮtre vs savoir, if you like.

Debates are inevitably more abstract than daily life. You can see a difference between the nature of the knowledge of a woman who knows about a value and that of a woman who has internalized it and lives it out. Life is complex, and you can more easily see the limits of application of a philosophy when someone is living it. Most of these insights come as you grow friends with her. Her philosophy may be dead wrong, of course, and her life crippled accordingly--not all philosophies are equally valid. But you will understand even the errors in new ways as you get to know her, and learn how to distinguish character from beliefs.

We've always held that traveling broadened the mind: this is the same effect. To travel to a land with a different culture or to study the history of peoples with different values shows us how different values are actually lived, not just how they appear in the abstract. It is not necessary to live in every culture in the world to achieve this broadening of mind; just one or two new ones seems enough to benefit.

Don't forget our goal: finding truth (and building a noble character). The claim that all societies are equally good is unsupported, but it seems that just about every culture cultivates some virtue not as well respected in my own culture. And we in turn encourage virtues other cultures don't cultivate.

We can't test for this 'broadening of mind' and 'understanding of how ideas are lived.' It is by nature extremely personal. If we pretend to measure it by checking answers against a list of expected attitudes, we take the student's focus away from his friends and put it on a checklist of approved attitudes. It is counterproductive and stupid to try to measure things so intangible. Set up an environment that encourages interaction between students of different cultures, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately some cultures disparage education. Current examples include 'ghetto culture' which rejects what it can of the dominant culture and Wahabi culture which values only Koranic study. History is unpleasantly full of other examples of barbarians who despise anything associated with their civilized enemies (and 'ghetto cultures' are common too). Unless a youth from one of these cultures is eager to buck his society and value learning, he will not benefit from his time here, and his peers will not benefit from his presence. If he wants to come, we should assume he's eager.

Diversity in the Student Body

This is rather complicated.

  • A state university should in theory find within it proportions of different cultures and races in its student body like those of the state it serves. Unfortunately, some cultures (ghetto culture, Wahabi, etc.) disparage education, and so you will find fewer students from those cultures. When such a culture correlates well with race, you wind up with an inevitable racial disproportion in the student body. The usual tools for dealing with this are aggressive recruiting and lowering admission standards—both missing the point. The real problems have to be addressed elsewhere; in the inferior elementary schools and in the subculture. To skew proportions still farther, if you have a good university and people from around the world want to attend, the student body looks even less like the state.
  • Part of the university experience is supposed to involve making friends, some of whom will have challenging ideas and approaches to life and to knowledge. Such friends can stretch you in ways no professor can inspire. The school can ensure that you make acquaintances, but not that you make friends.

    If a man wants to major in wine and women there isn't much the university can do about it so long as he pays his fees and does his ordinary course work. A couple of hundred years ago a college might throw such a student out for violating moral standards. Modern universities don't do that any more; but they are trying to revive the principle, just applying it to political correctness instead.

This seems to argue a counsel of despair: you can't honestly get the racial proportions that the bean counters want, and even if you did there's no guarantee that the students would benefit. Just watch how students cluster in their familiar groups. And of course the desirable diversity is cultural and not racial.

But the US has major cultural divisions, some running along racial lines, and students sometimes arrive with quite significant prejudices about other races or religions. (I've seen them; you probably have too.) I agree that we need to be proactive in admonishing incoming students (and faculty?) that all seekers of wisdom are to be welcomed. Currently our orientation program is profoundly defective: it assumes that only whites are prejudiced and that cultural and religious conservatives are manifestly wrong. Can you say `bigotry?' (I refer to 2002 and 2003—I haven't looked at this year's orientations.)

Men and Women

Perhaps the most famous example of differences in 'culture' is that men and women approach life slightly differently. There's a common misconception that gender is socially constructed. This is, of course, an error. The expression of gender is heavily socially constructed, but there remain irreducible differences. In all cultures I'm familiar with the social expressions of masculinity and femininity differ from each other, as though there were some automatic polarization at work regardless of the culture. Anyone who watches young children closely can observe similar polarization arising without any outside pressure.

Unfortunately I don't find the arguments either for or against co-ed classrooms compelling. I want the arguments for co-ed classes to be compelling: it seems valuable to have both masculine and feminine points of view in some of the liberal arts. (Of course such differences in point of view are irrelevant in math or the physical sciences.) Unfortunately we also find a kind of "courtship dance" in class, which distracts and which skews participation. I can't confidently conclude that co-ed classes are better or worse than single-sex classrooms. Determining that answer is a job for experiment, and since the culture changes the experiment needs to be repeated every few decades. If I must guess, I guess that the penalty for failing to focus will weed out the overly hormonal, and so co-ed is fine; and that for some of the liberal arts it provides helpful variation in points of view.

That the University environment is better with both men and women seems clear enough—that's who the real world is made of.


Diversity is not a goal, but a means to an end. Our goal is to discover and teach the truth; and traditionally also to help develop character, both by exposure to wisdom and by broadening the mind with exposure to other cultures and values.

  • In research we have to balance diversity with concentration (strength).
  • We need to make sure our teaching methods are varied enough to accommodate our student's diverse learning style--as much as is practical.
  • We need to understand which questions are debatable, and welcome varieties of approach.
  • We need to keep in mind what we want to achieve with diversity, and not merely try to measure our diversity by the number of shades of skin color in a picture.
Edited lightly: 20-Dec-2008

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Great Turtle Recall

Pond turtles grow to the size of a dinner plate and live as long as a mortgage. So you don't want to buy a turtle as a souvenir.

Acording to our vet, some unwise entrepreneur in Wisconsin Dells imported 40,000 red-eared sliders from the Carolinas this past summer. These turtles were undersized (Federal law requires that turtles must be a minimum of 4" long before they can be sold), and the turtles received inadequate housing and vet care. The Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources forced a turtle recall after a large number of children contracted salmonella from the turtles. Not exactly the kind of souvenir you want from your trip to The Dells!

As part of a home school project some years ago, we required our daughters to research and create a habitat for a pet. We discovered that a legal sized turtle cost \$40 and the proper setup for a turtle could cost \$150, which we didn't have; so we started an aquarium instead (The aquarium fish came to grief when #3 daughter, then a preschooler with zero impulse control, decided she wanted to pet the fish).

Turtles are messy, and their water requires a heavy duty filter. Without a filter, their water turns the color of week-old coffee, and it reeks of swamp gas. With a filter, you still have to wash out the tank regularly, and make sure that the turtle has rocks to climb on, so he can get out of the water and dry off. So an inexpensive souvenir turtle suddenly costs a lot more than you expect!

For the last two years, we've had a red-eared slider named Leon, whom we adopted when his original owner found that, oops, a souvenir turtle from Myrtle Beach was a bit more than she bargained for. From her description, Leon was also undersized and therefore illegal when she got him. He may have been confined with a rubber band, or so we deduce from an anomaly on his shell. Our friend had him in a one gallon bowl, from which he escaped easily. In our care he graduated first to a ten gallon aquarium and more recently to a small horse trough, mounted on concrete blocks, next to our laundry room.

Leon is now as large as my husband's hand. Leon is grumpy and unfriendly. God did not originally intend for turtles to be domesticated, and so He did not equip turtles with winning personalities and anything resembling intelligence. But Leon's beady eyes and perpetual frown make him good comic relief; and he is a remarkably well designed creature. If turtles weren't wild caught, I'd be glad to recommend them as pets. Given the scale of the pet turtle industry, however--such as the 40,000 to that bonehead in the Dells--I cannot recommend that a turtle be taken out of his native habitat for any reason. Get a corn snake. An albino "snow corn" and a semi-albino "Ghost corn" have to be captive bred; they'd never survive in the wild. And a knowledgable pet shop will not sell reptiles to anyone under 18, and they'll make sure you know what you're doing before you buy. The shop we do business with works on that plan, and we're grateful for it.

I am sorry to report that, when Leon's filter conked out, we delayed too long in getting a replacement while we counted costs. Our older daughters had gotten too busy to care for their reptiles, so they had started paying their younger siblings to tackle the nasty job of cleaning out the coffee-colored bilge from Leon's tank. #3 daughter became quite adept at cleaning algae and grunge off Leon's shell with an old toothbrush. On this occasion she suddenly called out, "Mom! Leon's bleeding!" Turns out it wasn't blood, but reddish algae in ulcers on his plastron (chest shell). James looked up "diseases red-eared sliders" on the web, and per the info he downloaded we replaced Leon in a clean tank with no water and called the vet.

The vet used a razor to scrape samples from Leon's shell and showed me the results under the microscope: fungus and bacteria both. She also had to inspect Leon thoroughly to rule out any other ulcers. When she checked his mouth, I held the turtle while she gently pulled Leon's head out of his shell. Leon panicked and fought but we held on. He would NOT open his mouth for anything! OK, time for plan B. The vet reached for a light with her free hand, held it in position, and let go of his head. He jerked it into his shell and HISSED! long enough for her to get a good view of his mouth. Prescription: betadyne and an antibiotic and GET A NEW FILTER!

Vet bill:\$80. New habitat: \$80 for the horse trough, \$80 for the filter, \$11 for the water treatment chemicals; fortunately we got to the pet shop on a special occasion, 10% off everything. \$5 or so for the concrete blocks. (Ack...)

So now #2 daughter gets to paint Leon with betadyne every night. He sits in the bathroom sink (he's not quite big enough to escape it yet) while the betadyne dries: "Please do not wash your hands over the turtle!" We all crack up when we hear her admonishing him--"Bad Turtle!"--when he doesn't cooperate with his medication regimen.

So Leon has room to crawl, a place to hide, good lighting, clean water, and all the turtle pellets and dried shrimp he could ask for. He still tries to bulldoze his rocks around. They weigh ten times what he does, but he can still shift them a little.

I always wanted one of those cute little fountains, for the sound of rippling water. Leon's trough isn't elegant, but I now have my fountain sound. And a grumpy face that always makes me laugh on a day when I need it.

Mrs. James

Friday, October 08, 2004

TV and Elections and Kerry

One great advantage of leaving the TV off, especially in a swing state like Wisconsin, is that I miss the campaign ads. I can read about them in the paper later if I really want to know about them. I haven't seen the Swift Boat ads--though I have heard about them in detail. And curiously enough, despite the universal assumption that the ads were refuted, I've never seen any actual evidence offered to dispute them. But the Zeitgeist says they were wrong . . .

Not that I care particularly. Kerry picked a safe branch of the service, wound up where he didn't expect, and got his ticket punched as fast as he could. Dunno if he deserved a silver star--I've heard complaints ever since I started paying attention (when the war was still on) that the higher ups were handing out medals like candy. Not my call. I've never been shot at. He was, and had to ride up and down a river exposed to anybody hiding in the bushes. Sounds to me like he did his job at least adequately, and maybe indulged in little customary inflation of the action.

It's what he indulged in when he came back that doesn't sit well. I read his testimony. His statements were very lawyerlike: make statements that are hard to disprove but which hint at huge horrors. Emphasize those huge horrors, but never really back them up--except by testimony of bogus soldiers.

OK, that was a long time ago, and he's since said he now would not say things the same way. Which dodges the question of whether he stands by his insinuations.

I missed most of the first debate: I was running the sound system for the church band. I got back in time to hear Kerry pontificating on North Korea--claiming that the US should engage in bilateral talks with them about the nukes. Eh? Why give up the great diplomatic victory of persuading the Chinese to get involved? The Chinese supply their oil, for crying out loud. And Kerry thinks Bush is ignorant? Hint to Kerry: If you don't know what you're talking about on some subject, don't try to bring the subject up and parade your incompetence.

I missed the second debate also. Busy again. But I've been reading the pronouncements of John the trial lawyer and Kerry about the WMD report. I'm starting to seriously dislike the pair of them. Is Kerry still ignoring the national security briefings, or is he deliberately distorting the issues involved for personal advantage? And calling Allawi a puppet was way over the line. I thought a multilateralist was supposed to respect other heads of state.

Bottom line: I have never trusted Kerry's competence to manage the war. (And I certainly don't trust his Dan Quayle light.) But now I've started to actively dislike the man.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Textbooks and Homework

I found a copy of my old high school geometry text a few years ago, and used it to teach my oldest daughter geometry. My second daughter's high school geometry text is well over twice the size of my old one (and is far less rigorous!). I hefted her backpack yesterday. I think it unconscionable that her teachers assign homework without arranging for a spotter.