Contra Mozilla

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Western Civilization and the University

So my boss sent me the proposed changes to the general requirements curriculum. This is largely because eh wants me to go to the hearing/planning meeting tomorrow and fight for keeping the 8 hours of science as being 4 hours each in two separate categories, to prevent students from just taking 8 hours of biology and skipping chemistry, physics, earth science, and physical sciences (all of which are in our department) altogether. FWIW, I think we should require 12 hours, with a sequence of 8 and then one more out of that sequence, but that's just me (and many other universities), but the next best option is to have two separate 4 hour sequences.

The biology department seems to have a desire to outright require a two-hour sequence.  This would virtually eliminate the chemistry/physics cashcows of physical science (and to a lesser extent, earth sciences) since neither class currently exists as a two-semester sequence, and most students would prefer the relatively easy intro biology courses to the relatively more difficult chemistry, physics, or even physical science counterparts. Such is inter-departmental politics.

Moving on, I noticed that among proposed changes was this gem: "3. Removal of Western Civilization as a history option in the required slot for General Studies Program; move Western Civilization to the elective area." As I understand it, this makes Western Civ an optional history class as opposed to a required one, albeit one which does still fill a requirement There is, after all, the requirement of "Any 1000-2000 level courses from the following Social Science disciplines: Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Leadership, Interdisciplinary Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Sociology or other Social Science areas: 9 hours" with  6 of those 9 hours being either a six-hour sequence in literature or a 6-hour sequence in history. US or World history is its own 3 hour category.

Under different circumstances, I would consider protesting this change. I think that the single most important course in history for a student to take is that of Western Civ, which is not generally covered in much depth once one enters post-secondary school. American History, or the History of the US, and World History are probably next, but the former at least has been covered (in theory) by the high schools. To banish Western Civ. to the lost realm of "electives,' even "elective which fulfill a requirement," is to deprive a great many students of their cultural heritage.

With that said, I know a number of the newer history profs and lecturers: one specialized in race relations in the south, and another in Middle Eastern History*. The former currently teaches Western Civ and frequently remarks that she is having to learn it all over again, having not really studied it much in the course of gaining a doctorate in history focusing on the history of the United States. Such is not an uncommon occurrence in history or really any field. Based on her conversations with me, she is doing a reasonably good job of trying to teach the material objectively, but then again she has mostly covered Egypt, Greece, and (pre-Constantine) Rome to this point. I can only hope that the attempts at a fair presentation continue through the medieval period. The Middle Eastern History specialist remarked to me that he did not even bother to apply to any school whose mascot was "the crusaders" or "the knights" or "the templars" or (gasp) "the saints," because they would obviously have a wrongheaded approach to teaching history in general and Middle Eastern, Islamic history in particular. This latter man is actually Jewish, but decidedly un-Western, perhaps even anti-Western** (though I suppose that any course he teaches about world history outside of the west is probably a thing of beauty, as he does put lots of effort into the preparation).

Being as I am at a state (read: secular) university, and being as these are the kinds of professors who largely work here, we may be doing the poor students a favor by sparing them a cynically taught version of Western Civ. Utter ignorance of one's cultural heritage is probably preferable to complete disdain of that heritage, especially if it is manufactured disdain.

*A third one is actually a convert to Catholicism, and wrote his dissertation on anti-Catholicism in the US, particularly during the mid 19th century ("Know Nothings" featured prominently). He would probably do a nice job of teaching Western Civ.

**But still a colleague and perhaps a friend no less.

Monday, September 29, 2014

One Real Cause of Rape Culture

First, it's worth stating that "rape culture" is a bit overblown in the numbers. I'm fairly confident that the number of women who experience an actual rape in college does not approach 20% (1 in 5). But, with that prefatory caveat aside, even 2% or 0.2% is still not a good thing. I should note that while I find date rape to be vile and frankly intolerable, I do not equate it with rape*.

With those caveats aside, I can believe that both are much higher than they should be, and I can even believe that both are on the rise as compared with decades past. There is a compelling article posted on the Aletiea website explaining one of the root causes of why this might be so:
The issue of “rape culture” on college campuses swept into public consciousness through the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which states that nearly 20% of college women in its survey experienced rape or attempted rape.   
Whether that high a percentage of young women are being victimized is much debated. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, using a standard rule of thumb for reported versus actual cases (12%), ran the numbers for Ohio State.  He came up with the far lower percentage of 2.9%. 
Still, a serious problem exists.... 
Every examination of this issue has noted the close relationship of “hookup culture” with violent sexual assaults. Over the last four decades, dating and romance have gradually vanished from college social life, replaced by parties where college men and women meet, drink heavily, and then, in Lady Gaga’s words (from “Do What U Want”), “get naughty.”   
Universities countenance, and—in their non-judgmental way—even affirm the desirability of casual sex. A women’s counselor at Dartmouth, for example, explains that what’s important about a hookup is that “each person gets something out of it. If it's to get off, then that's great. . . . If it's to work some issue out—like sexual assault—then that's great. It's basically to get pleasure and enjoyment out of it . . . the hookup culture is good for experimentation, and what someone does for experimentation is up to them." The counselor does admit, however, that she never got much out of her own hookups.
Feminists in particular are quick to look for an institutional cause of the "rape culture" which can be blamed and then "fixed." It's always about what they can make other people do (a strange irony when looking for a means of fighting against a "rape" culture), and especially what that can force men to do in the name of fighting rape. To be fair, the guys are about half of the problem here. But all the "rape awareness campaigns" and marches and so on are just technical attempts at alleviating a very obvious moral problem--while at the same time institutionalizing one of the very causes of that problem.

* On the other hand, there are different levels of "date rape," some of which might be arguable worse than violent/"forcible" rape. Violence is very bad, but treachery can be worse.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Newton's Third Law and Causes Prior to Effects

Newton's Third Law is often paraphrased that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A more thorough stating of this law is that if object 1 applies a force on object 2, then this will simultaneously cause object 2 to apply a force of equal magnitude but on the opposite direction back on object 1. Thus, if I push on my desk with my hand, it might be said (and rightly) that I am causing there to be a force exerted from my hand onto the desk, and that this pushing also causes a second force to be exerted from the desk back on my hand.

However, the two forces spring into existence simultaneously, and then begin once I begin to push on the desk. Therefore, a cause does not necessarily precede an effect in time. It is therefore to be concluded that logical priority does not imply temporal priority.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tolerance and Judgment

I've already linked Prof. J. Budziszewski once this week, but he also participated in the Intercollegiate Review's featured interview, IR Office Hours, the first question of which was about tolerance and diversity. Here is the Question and the answer, to get us started:
Tolerance and diversity are words usually used by the Left in academia to squash freedom of speech, especially among conservatives. How would you define the true role of tolerance?Luciana E. Milano, Harvard University 
J. Budziszewski: The liberal rationale for toleration grounds it on an incoherency: supposedly we put up with some bad and false things because we suspend moral judgment about the good and true. But if we really suspended judgment, it would be hard to see why anything should be tolerated—or why anything shouldn’t be tolerated, or, if we are going to be tolerant, which things should be tolerated and which things shouldn’t be. Actually, the nonjudgmentalist wants only his opponents to suspend judgment. He rams through his own moral judgments by pretending that they aren’t moral judgments. 
By contrast, the classical rationale for toleration grounds it on a paradox: we put up with some bad and false things because the nature of the good and true demands it. For example, we don’t coerce faith, because as St. Hilary of Poitiers said, God does not desire unwilling obedience; we don’t repress the expression of false opinions, because debate helps us find our way to the truth. Notice, then, what true toleration requires: not suspending judgment but judging more adequately.

Meanwhile, Marcel LeJeune has a good post up for the Aggie Catholics blog about judging--that was the subject of the readings this last Sunday, after all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Few Good Links (vol. 15)

I have a few tabs to clear.
  1. An old point which bears repeating: there never was nor will be on this side of heaven a true "golden age," that is, an age in which men are all virtuous and wise and happy.
  2. Michael Flynn writes a fanciful tale about the separation of Church and State, and about the supposed improvement of men's intellectual condition since the medieval times. "Ho Ho. We have learned our history at the hands of Monty Python. They are confusing the Spanish Inquisition with the secret police and SWAT teams of the modern scientific state."
  3. Speaking of anti-intellectualism, I've mostly been following the whole Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote manufacturing thing with mild at most interest, but the longer it drags on the worse he and his followers are beginning to look. He is not nearly as vitriolic as, say, Richard Dawkins, though he seems to have embraced the same philosophical philistinism as Dawkins--or Lawrence Krauss, for that matter. My respect for him tanked considerably after he did the whole Cosmos reboot, which at times felt like it was more about bashing religion (by which is always meant Christianity and especially Catholicism). That said, the part where he manufactured a quote might have been forgivable, but the fact that he repeats and has been utterly unapologetic for repeating not one but many quotes and anecdotes which he fabricated is getting a bit ridiculous, as is his frankly philistine scientism.
  4. Speaking of scientism, Matt Briggs has done a nice job of debunking a scientistic argument against the existence of a Creator God. This one starts with the philosophical equivalent of the Drake equation, then attempts to use statistics and probabilities to justify it.
  5. "Sex positive" is a phrase which I have seen popping up here and there around the internet. It's usually meant as a way of denigrating Christians in particular. And, so long as we make only secular arguments for the Traditional Christian sexual morality, we will sound a bit "negative" in our approach. The thing is, the "sex positive" view of the world--secularism bolstering hedonism--is wrong, because it ignores evidence which if admitted is crucial.
As Prof. J. Budziszewski notes, "We don’t often stop believing in God, then start looking for new sins to commit. We become attached to sins we don’t want to give up, then start looking for reasons not to believe in God."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lithium and Technical Solutions

David Warren's excellent anti-blog has a post of sorts about the question of finding a good technical solution to the age-old moral problem of happiness--well, self-satisfaction, at least:
Today, after the discovery of how useful lithium can be in helping to settle “bipolar” and similar psychiatric cases, the proposal to add it methodically to the water supply, along with fluoride, is coming into vogue. It may soon be a “progressive” cause, such that no one will be asked to vote on it. What better way to deal with a general population which, thanks to the success of other progressive causes, is now going insane?... 
There is, of course, a little problem with lithium as a catch-all cure for ambient mental illness, for while the “don’t worry be happy” response to increased lithium doses is a commonplace of current psychiatric medicine, it does not have the same effect on all customers. Some, reasonably tame before, flip right out upon receiving it. Others are inspired to feel better about themselves while committing major crimes. Yet the prevailing statistical utilitarianism continues to insist on “the greatest good for the greatest number,” and it is the presumption of modern technology that exceptional cases may be overlooked.
And therein lies a limit of sorts to the usefulness of science as a solution to all the world's problems.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Casual Fridays?

Nah. Give three-piece a chance:

Actually, three-pieces are kind of overkill too. I like wearing them--and they do suit me nicely--when the weather turns cool, but there's something to be said for the semi-casual, semi-dressy ensemble of slacks, a (bow) tie, short-sleeve button-down, and vest. Or for that matter the nice hole-free jeans and button-down with a blazer or sports jacket. It would make me plenty happy to see men dressing in that general style for class, for work, and especially for Mass.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Equality Implies Difference

My friend and somewhat intellectual mentor, Prof. J. Budziszewski, has a short post on his blog quoting Michael Novak. Since it is a quoted excerpt, I will reproduce it here in its entirety:
"For it was Christian faith that first taught the male warrior a code of courtesy, compassion, and charity, whose first expression was Christian chivalry, whose later expression was the ideal of the Christian gentleman, and whose underlying ideal has been the equality of women and men in baptism, in faith, and in the promises of God.  The Christian ideal of equality before God not only did not erase sexual differentiation, but, on the contrary, rested upon that reality as its foundation."
This is getting at something which I have been mulling myself for some time: namely, that equality not only  doesn't precludes differences, but actually presupposes them.

This is something which we can see logically, as for example in a math (or physics) class. As a simple example, we can consider the force of friction working on an object (say a block) which is sliding down an inclined plane:

The force of friction is in general determined by the coefficient of friction multiplied by the normal force:
(1) Ff = ck FN
On the other hand, the sum of the forces must be equal to zero if the block is sliding down the incline with a constant velocity, as per Newton's First Law:
(2) Fg + Ff + FN = 0
--> (3) Fgx - Ff = 0 and (4) FN - Fgy = 0; NB bolded quantities are vectors, plain type are scalars.
Thus, we can states that the coefficient of friction ck is in this case equal to the ratio of the magnitude of force of the x-component of gravity to the magnitude of the normal force; of in other words that it is equal to the tangent of the angle A subtending the incline and the ground:
(5) ck = Fgx/FN = tan A

But we should not in so stating forget or even imply that there is no difference between a coefficient of friction and the tangent of an angle. Indeed, the equality between the two is actually conditional, in this, conditional on choosing the exact angel at which the block slides down the ramp at constant velocity. It would be an erroneous statement to identify the coefficient of friction with the tangent of any arbitrary angle, or even with any angle A subtending an inclined plane.

For that matter, it would be an error to identify friction as "the force which is equal to the opposite of the x-component of gravity"-- a restatement of equation (3). There can, after all, exist a nonzero force of friction on a surface which is not inclined, though in this case the x-component of gravity is typically zero. For that matter, there could be some force of friction, and indeed a significant force of friction, in a region in which there is little (virtually none) gravity. Yet, this is an assertion which follows in this case from the premise that equality is the same thing as identity or interchangeability.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why So Scarce?

In case you are wondering why my posting has become so scare, there are actually several reasons:

  1. Life adjustments: I just went through a major move across several states. Further, I did this in two stages, once alone and then again with the rest of my family. I've been busy steeling after that.
  2. Life adjustments pt. 2: I had assumed that I would be less busy in my new job than at my old one. I am now a professor at a small college, and though I will eventually (as in, later this year) have to get back into doing research, there is a bit of a lul on that front so that I can focus on teaching classes. This semester, I am only teaching two different classes (a lecture and a lab), though with several sections of each. It is taking a lot of my time to prepare for these each week. Since next semester I will actually have more of these classes, I am also scrambling to work out all the other little things that I think I should do over the course of the year--these I am trying to do now while my course load is relatively light.
  3. Life adjustments part 3: I spend less time at work now than before, but a lot more focused time, and then lots of time with little tasks. I therefore get home by 7 each evening (plus or minus one hour), but I am usually very tired when that happens. My wife is similarly tired at that point, and wants me to watch our daughter (to give the wife a break, and also to let her make dinner un-interrupted).
  4. No internet access at home. This will soon be remedied, but most of my down time is at home, away from the internet.
  5. I am still contributing occasional posts elsewhere, but this is maybe one post per week on average, if that.
  6. Internet access from my laptop is spotty even while I am at work (and on break, of course). I think our network doesn't like my laptop for some reason. I can apparently receive emails but not send them from my email client, for example.

That covers most of it. My hope is to at least get back to one solid post here a week, and maybe get to where I can post stuff elsewhere over the weekends. We'll see--my wife has definitely filled a lot of weekend space with planned (read: compulsory) activities such as a garage sale to get rid of some of our unused and frankly unwanted stuff (most of which is perfectly good stuff, just not useful to us).