Friday, June 29, 2007

Ivory Tower Blues - The Book

This book describes the demise of higher education in Canada and the USA. I just got a copy from Amazon. I read the first 70 pages. So far it presents a very accurate description of the problems compounding higher ed. It does tend to drone on a bit but that's to be expected from a pair of academics.

A review from the National Post.

The demise of university?

By Allison Hanes, National Post

Published: Friday, April 27, 2007

There was a time when James Ct would spend hours marking up the margins of the essays his third-year sociology students at the University of Western Ontario would submit - challenging their arguments, critiquing their prose, making thoughtful suggestions and correcting their grammar.
Now, he does not even return the papers once he tabulates the grades.

Sometime over the past decade, Prof. Ct realized he was ending up with a stack of abandoned essays on his desk at the end of every course, and a sense of futility over the effort he put into providing helpful feedback.

"The students never came to pick them up," he said....[more]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Die Fünf Besten Bücher


Die Fünf Besten Bücher

These works excel in their portraits of Germany and the German people.

Saturday, June 23, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

1. "The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples" by Herwig Wolfram (University of California, 1997)....[more]

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stalin's purge? Don't feel guilty, Putin says

Stalin's purge? Don't feel guilty, Putin says

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin said Thursday no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about the Great Purge of 1937, saying it may have been one of the most notorious episodes of the Stalin era but "in other countries even worse things happened."


  • "The introduction, by editor Stéphane Courtois, maintains that "...Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". Using unofficial estimates he cites a death toll which totals 94 million. The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows: 20 million in the Soviet Union,"
Yep, Vladimir these things happen all the time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Didache

The Didache appears to be an authentic early Christian manuscript discovered in 1873. Alan Garrow sees a strong relationship between the Didache and the Gospel of Matthew.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Galatians 4:21-31

Example of Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; [5] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

28 Now you, [6] brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

An exegesis.

Wall Street Journal's take on college eduation

Not a good one...[more]

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Chariot

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the spread of the chariot technology during the bronze and iron age.

Is Hispanic the New Black?

John Derbyshire wrote a web-only article on the immigration bill thought dead by the time this piece was written. An excerpt:
  • Is Hispanic the New Black? Linda’s piece did, though, at least bring the r-word into the discussion. In some offline conversations I’ve been having, and on some websites I’ll leave you to search out by yourself, the opinion has been expressed that some portion of America’s white elites welcome Hispanic immigration as a way of sticking it to American blacks. That portion, it is suggested, would prefer to have its lawns mowed by small, polite, brown people, rather than large, surly black ones, even if the price is the same in both cases.
This is an observation my own mother expressed. She thinks that along with others up the economic ladder that bringing in hard-working Hispanics will set an example to the blacks. Dear mother, the blacks couldn't care less about the example of hard-working Hispanics. The American black problem will remain and endure this current wave of immigration.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Decline of American Higher Ed

A recent Nicholas Kristof NY Times column comments on the decline of American higher education. His thesis is summarized in this paragraph:
  • A third reason is that Chinese believe that those who get the best grades are the hardest workers. In contrast, Americans say in polls that the best students are the ones who are innately the smartest. The upshot is that Chinese kids never have an excuse for mediocrity.
From what I've been able to observe this is true. It's ironic that America the most democratic country with the Protestant "pull yourself by your own bootstraps" work ethic believe that smarts is inherited and cannot be developed. The Chinese attitude can be traced back to Mencius. The American attitude may have been derived from recent genetic sciences, or from our very heterogeneous society as opposed the homogeneous one in China. The problem as I see it now it is that American students don't doubt they haven't the smarts, they're all little Einsteins.

Phi Beta Cons has more on the decline of American higher ed. A professor writes:

I have been a professor in the U.S. and Canada, and I have worked in the Computer Science industry for 35 years. I was appalled by my last teaching job where:

1. Tenured professors had degrees from a different field, did not keep up with advances in the field over the last thirty years and did no research.

2. They gave students assignments which were mostly done and where some of the blanks had to be filled.

3. Students who obtained 6% or 16% on the final could pass because they did (?) their assignments.

4. Students had been pushed through primary and secondary school and did not know the bases of Mathematics or English required to succeed in college.

5. They continued to be pushed through to a college degree to face a very competitive job market with no preparation. Many end up in jobs unrelated to their degree, which is a sham.

6. The administration goes along with it as long as no union rule was violated and they continue to get funding from the state.

The next generation is being trained to get everything handed to them with no effort, no motivation, no expectation and no initiative. If we continue to make a joke out of education, permit anything as long as people are willing to pay for a degree with no content, we are doomed to lose our standing as a world power within one generation.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thatcher's regrets over Hong Kong handover

Sun Jun 10, 11:10 AM ET

LONDON (AFP) - Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher has voiced her regrets about the "impossible" situation Britain faced in the handover of Hong Kong to China, according to The Sunday Telegraph newspaper....[more]

The Ten Antitheses of Political Correctness

From the Gates of Vienna blog:

The Ten Antitheses of Political Correctness

Materialism is not about matter, but about suppressing ideas.
Communism is not about common wealth, but about depriving people of any personal possessions.
Socialism is not about society, but about depriving people of the means of production.
Human rights are not personal rights, but collective obligations.
Tolerance is not about mutual respect, but about the prohibition of opinions.
Multiculturalism is not about cultures, but about the repudiation of nationhood.
Energy policy is not about the distribution of energy, but about cutting off energy supplies.
Health care is not about health, but about control of our consumption.
Family planning is not about families, but about abortions.
Self-loathing is not about repentance, but about depriving others of their moral foundation.

Monday, June 04, 2007

EPA Limits Implicated In Eye Infections

Our wise and sage EPA has decided to limit disinfectants in drinking water hence the following story from Chemical and Engineering news. This ranks right up there with the attempt to ban the element chlorine from the planet during the Clinton administration.

Reduced use of drinking water disinfectants may lead to more microbes, contact lens problems, researchers claim

Jyllian Kemsley

A study to be released this week in the American Journal of Ophthalmology links an EPA restriction of drinking water disinfectants and disinfection by-products to a recent rash of microorganism infections in contact lens wearers. Untreated, the infections can cause blindness.....[more]

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Trust, Democracy, Religion, and Asian Values

Trust is the basis for civilization. The promise of rewards from investment must hold true if a society is to become prosperous. If your neighbor or your government stands to steal from you, why invest your money, labor and efforts? Key to Judeo-Christian values is the 10th Commandment. Did this have an effect in the material wealth of the west as opposed to the east? The east seems to be developing materially to the levels of the west. Japan certainly has, what about China?

The Japan Times has an interesting article on this topic.

Religion: prop or antidote to capitalism?


PRINCETON, New Jersey — A provocative book written by a Japanese mathematician has reignited the debate about whether there are specifically "Asian" values....

......In particular, it argues that liberal democracy is a Western invention that does not fit well with the Japanese or Asian character.....

The reasoning is peculiar, and seems to revive a 19th-century critique, usually associated with Nietzsche, that Christianity (and Islam) produces an acquiescent or even subservient mentality, in contrast to the heroic virtues of classical antiquity or of warrior societies, such as the world of the Japanese samurai......

........Some thinkers, most notably Max Weber, floated the idea that capitalism must be sustained by a value system that could not initially be created from within. Almost every modern analyst, however, has come to the conclusion that Weber's attempt to link that capitalist spirit historically to a form of Christianity, namely Protestantism, is fatally flawed.

To begin with, the founders of Protestantism, Martin Luther and John Calvin, were, as Weber recognized, more hostile to the dynamic capitalistic world of the Renaissance than was the Catholic Church. Indeed, pious Catholic Italian city-states were the cradle of early modern capitalism.

But there are two crucial aspects of the debate on religious values that should not be overlooked:

First, the core of Weber's argument was that religious values that emphasize restraint and a sense of duty may support dependability and reliability in business relations, which is especially vital in societies that are just opening up market relations. Where there is a legacy of violence and suspicion, it is hard for people to feel secure enough to enter into long-term contracts. They tend to look for short-term gains at the expense of others, reinforcing a generalized skepticism about the market.............

The last paragraph hits upon the "trust" aspect of society. A society in which there is a large degree of trust tends to look long term. A low trust society develops a much shorter outlook.

It's ironic that high trust America (as I perceive it) is losing the race in the automobile industry to Japan, another high trust society. I think it's the MBA-ing of America. Two iconic American companies known for innovation, 3M, and IBM have been hit hard by this short-term bottomline attitude. Why invest your best efforts when your over paid corporate masters may want your head?

Democracy works well only in a high trust atmosphere, perhaps that's where we are failing in Iraq. Entrusting a democracy to a people tortured by a brutal dictatorship perhaps came too quickly.

Where is China going in the 21st century? It is a relatively low trust society and likely to remain so. It's hard to plan for the long term when government may change on a whim and demand your goods or money or even your life. A good article explaining the situation in China:

The Empire of Lies
Guy Sorman

The twenty-first century will not belong to China.

The Western press is full of stories these days on China’s arrival as a superpower, some even heralding, or warning, that the future may belong to her. Western political and business delegations stream into Beijing, confident of China’s economy, which continues to grow rapidly. Investment pours in. Crowning China’s new status, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage.......[more]

The State of New Jersey

I've lived all over this great country, California, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, and now Idaho. During those years I had the unfortunate experience of living in New Jersey. Just a reminder why I am so happy that I don't live there anymore:

"New Jersey emerged last year as the country’s most fiscally unfit state, overwhelmed by huge budget deficits and stratospheric taxes. New Census Bureau data reveal a key reason why the Garden State is so abusive to taxpayers: the state and its local governments have been on a hiring bender, virtually unmatched across the nation. Since 2000, Jersey’s governments have signed up nearly 63,000 new full-time workers and “full-time equivalents”...[read more]

Assessment of the Value of Higher Education

Universities are quick to publish the SAT/ACT scores of incoming students. They will brag about the number of National Merit Scholars in their classes, but what about the quality of their graduates? American universities want to keep that mysterious, they want to be judged solely upon what they accept as students. What goes out the other end after 6 years of drinking and debauchery for a bachelor's degree is too complex to judge, and assess or so the average university administrator would want us to believe. Just keep sending in the taxpayer money, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. They present brochures of ivy covered buildings as reassurance to the parents, whereas the kids can get the score on the party scene. Comfort to all.

There are several measures of success that universities could apply, e.g.
  • Discipline specific exams such as the MFAT's and others from professional societies Unemployment rate of the graduates 1, 5, and 10 years after graduation
  • Employer satisfaction of the graduates
Because of the rot from K-12 reaching up into higher ed, universities are under heat to prove their worth. Look for universities to use tools such as retention and graduate rates, student evaluations of teaching, and student satisfaction forms to assess themselves. Everything but what their graduates have learned in this race to assess. Why? Because dude, it's way too complex to assess our grads!