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Blog Log

Friday, February 27, 2004  

In the "The Problem with Dead White Males" by Arnold King (Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the results of a recent poll of University presidents are analyzed. The question: Which books should every undergraduate university student be required to read and study to best prepare for the 21st century. The top ten works were:

1) The Bible
2) The Odyssey
3) The Republic
4) Democracy in America
5) The Iliad
6) Hamlet
7) The Koran
8) The Wealth of Nations
9) The Prince
10) The Federalist Papers

The key part of the question was the 21st century part, and the results, as analyzed by King, seem to reflect the oft-parodied detachment of the intelligentsia, in my opinion.

King points out that "the most recent of these books, Democracy in America, is from the first half of the nineteenth century. Even though the question specifically tilted the academics to look toward the future, they chose to bury themselves deeply in the past." King further observes that "most university presidents would have their students face the 21st century with no knowledge of experimental science, the theory of evolution, or technological change."

King's own list of five books is:

The Blank Slate, by Stephen Pinker
The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil
The Transparent Society, by David Brin
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
Eastward to Tartary, by Robert Kaplan

He offers a concise explanation as to why he chose each and also provides a supplemental list.

King says that he has no problem in having students reading the ancients. There is plenty of room in academia for classic works as well as "the works of Kant, Locke, and other great scholars who did not make the university presidents' list." He then provides the following disturbing anecdote:

In some respects, the caution shown by focusing on classics may be justified. When professors at the University of Maryland have selected modern works for courses for my oldest daughter, these have included the films of Michael Moore, the play "The Vagina Monologues," and postmodern sociological history. She showed me a quiz in which "Gender is socially constructed" was given as a true-false choice. No room to explain, argue, or analyze. Just True or False! And the correct answer was supposed to be "True"! If this is the professors' idea of contemporary thinking, I would rather that they stick to Plato.

He has essentially offered the basics for a more modern, practical curriculum. However, as he insightfully points out, the predominant curriculum found in today's universities are entrenched and the system does not lend itself to embracing change. For example, King points out that an Ivy League undergraduate has no incentive to attend a new, innovative school (what he calls a "start-up college") "unless a large number do so simultaneously." The reason? "In many industries in our economy, a fresh new player with a bright idea can make inroads into the market. The academy is highly insulated from that sort of competition." Tenured faculty often resist such change.

He mentions that the true nature of the academic revolutions of the 1960s viewed from the present. "In the 1960's, radical students launched a concerted attack on the "irrelevance" of the college curriculum. What they demanded, however, was not more study of science and technology, but instead a new focus on gender and ethnicity. These leftists are now ensconced in positions of power in universities."

He concludes with:

"Looking at the poll results, particularly when broken down into the most-cited authors, it would appear that the battle to unseat the 'dead white males' from their commanding position in the academy has been a failure. My concern is that while there is a lot of handwringing over the dominance of 'white males,' the real travesty is that the writers recommended by academic leaders are so long dead. The ancients have no familiarity with the opportunities and challenges posed by widespread affluence, scientific medicine, electric power, high-speed communication, and computers. If students today wish to protest to demand more 'relevance' in their education, then I believe that they have a case. How can they face the twenty-first century if their academic leaders are oblivious to the nineteenth and twentieth?"

posted by Marc | Friday, February 27, 2004

Thursday, February 26, 2004  

Sidney Goldberg at Tech Central Station has written an article entitled "It's a Disgrace This Book Had to Be Written" about the book, 'In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage' (Encounter Books, San Francisco) by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. Some extracts of Goldbergs piece:

Haynes and Klehr make the point that Germany underwent denazification after World War II, a lustration that went down to the lowest party levels, making it virtually impossible for a Nazi party member to hold office in the new Germany, so that the relatively unblemished mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, became Chancellor.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, on the other hand, did not result in a decommunisation. There was no equivalent of the Nuremberg trials, and indeed most high offices to this day are occupied by Communists or former Communists, tens of thousands of them with blood on their hands. The supreme insult is that the president of this vast political enterprise is Vladimir Putin, a former high-ranking Communist in the Soviet Secret Police. The equivalent of this would have been the inheritance of the government of Nazi Germany after World War II by the Nazi gauleiter of Poland.

Further on, Goldberg elaborates that:

What Haynes and Klehr relentlessly expose is the unwavering dedication of American Communists to a regime that slaughtered more innocent civilians than Hitler did, counting up the Jews, Poles, Gypies, and the other poor souls that fell victim to Hitler's dementia. Robert Conquest, the historian who chronicled what took place in the Soviet abattoir, says that 20 million were slaughtered.

But "In Denial" is mostly about the American Communists' reaction to these events. The book is exhaustively researched, so that there are virtually no crumbs of doubt left for die-hard Stalinist defenders to nibble on -- except in academia, where so many professors refuse to believe the facts, even now when they can be etched in stone. The professoriat, in so many universities, still believe that McCarthyism was a greater evil than Soviet communism.

He concludes with:

But Haynes and Klehr don't let them get away with anything, from the lingering lunatic refusal to accept the guilt of Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, to the seemingly small deceptions, such as the Communist claim that the U.S. Army tagged veterans of the Lincoln Brigade, after the Spanish Civil War, as "premature anti-Fascists" and stamped "PA" on their army documents so that they, in effect, could be watched and harassed throughout their army careers. Exhaustive research by the two authors proves, well beyond any reasonable doubt, the army never did this and knew nothing about it, and that this label was concocted entirely by the Communists. (It was cooked up during the confusing times of the Nazi-Soviet pact, during which the Communists had to stop opposing Hitler -- and Franco -- and fall in line with the new parade, opposing FDR and Churchill.)

There are very few books on Americans who long for Hitler, mainly because there never was a significant segment of Nazis in America, but unfortunately there is a significant number of Americans who still think that Joe Stalin was an idealistic reformer, and some of these Americans are in control of history departments of important universities -- and virtually no books are available that document and explain this peculiar situation. "In Denial" fills this gap.

This is a provocative topic and I'm interested to see other reviews of this work.

posted by Marc | Thursday, February 26, 2004

HSO's selected February Book Reviews are now up.

posted by Marc | Thursday, February 26, 2004

Saturday, February 21, 2004  

I realize many will disregard this because of it's source, but Glen Reynolds (of the Instapundit blog) has a column up about how "The Academy Encounters the Real World". In essence, he offers the following observations:

1. Cleverness isn't everything: In the academic world, originality is prized, and cleverness is almost as good as originality. But cleverness is overrated.

2. Being contrary isn't the same as being insightful: As I said, academics want to look original. Actually being original, however, is hard work. The second-raters, therefore, tend to look for ways of seeming original without doing the heavy lifting required to actually come up with something new. One way of doing this is to set yourself against whatever the popular view is in the hopes that others will mistake this for incisiveness.

3. Professors aren't aristocrats

4. Professors aren't saints, either: Academic work is, in my opinion, a noble calling, at least when it is done well. But engaging in a noble calling doesn't necessarily make you noble.

There's more. Check it out if you're curious.

posted by Marc | Saturday, February 21, 2004

Friday, February 20, 2004  

Professor Michael Berube was one who responded to Edward Feser's piece, referrenced below. (Professor Berube's own commentary can be found here). The heart of the Feser's argument is really contained in the following:

"the vast majority of university professors do not spend much, if any, class time agitating for left-wing political causes (e.g. by ranting against Bush); therefore the curriculum is not biased in a left-wing direction. The premise is, I readily grant, true. But the conclusion doesn't follow. To see why not, compare an argument the fallaciousness of which Bérubé cannot fail to acknowledge: the vast majority of preachers do not spend much, if any, time in their sermons arguing for the existence of God; therefore their sermons are not biased in a theistic direction. The problem with the second argument is obvious. The fact that preachers don't argue for God's existence is irrelevant to whether their sermons are biased toward theism, because the subjects they choose to preach on, and the texts they will typically appeal to in the course of their sermons, will themselves be biased toward theism insofar as they will presuppose and/or insinuate the truth of theism, with the opposite point of view discussed, if at all, only in a pejorative way.

Similarly, it might be true -- indeed, I have claimed that it is true -- that even though liberal professors do not typically explicitly agitate in favor of Leftism in the classroom, their choice of topics, the way they approach them, and the texts they assign nevertheless presuppose and/or insinuate the truth of left-wing attitudes in matters of politics, morality, culture, and religion. If, for example, a course in political philosophy is offered in which the readings comprise selections from the likes of the liberal philosopher John Rawls, the libertarian Robert Nozick, and various feminist and left-of-center communitarian critics of Rawls, with no conservative writers assigned at all and with Nozick treated as an easily-refuted eccentric whose views are not shared by any other contemporary philosopher worth reading, then students will -- obviously -- get the impression that the left-of-center views are the only realistic options. And this sort of thing is, I submit, extremely common in the contemporary university.

Now with a preacher, you expect this sort of thing to happen: anyone who attends a church service does so with full knowledge that he is going to hear a message that assumes the truth of theism. Similarly, someone who goes to a religiously-affiliated university knows at the outset that the curriculum is going to be influenced to some extent by a certain theological outlook. By the same token, if an institution called itself 'Liberal University,' or 'Marx and Engels University,' or 'University of the Democratic Party,' no one could reasonably complain if he found, upon enrolling, that the curriculum tilted Left. He should have expected that. But the problem with the contemporary secular university is this: unlike churches, religious institutions, and the 'little Red schoolhouse' of Red Diaper Baby fame, it pretends to be neutral between competing worldviews, and it just isn't."

As a result of his feedback from Academics, Feser concludes:

"It seems to me that when one carefully reads the objections of the likes of Professor Brian Leiter and Berube to this thesis, one will find that their problem isn't really with its [the column written by Feser] description of the condition of the modern university, but rather with the fact that there are those who disapprove of that condition. All reasonable people, in their view, should be pleased that the answer to the questions above is in the affirmative. Indeed, one blogger submits, without any trace of irony, that it is only 'unreasonable' conservatives who are underrepresented on campus. Reasonable conservatives -- our blogger never defines them, but they are apparently those whose 'conservatism' consists of a preference for John Edwards over Howard Dean -- are as plentiful on campus as frat parties. This saves the thesis that the university is indeed politically balanced after all, but only at the cost of vacuity."

Finally, Feser makes this observation which should be of particular interest to those pursuing an education in the Humanities (especially History, as that is the focus of this blog after all!):

"Other readers have suggested that my thesis is refuted by the fact that university business and economics departments are not dominated by professors hostile to capitalism. Apparently these readers were too busy writing frantic emails or vulgar blog posts in response to what I wrote actually to read what I wrote. For I explicitly acknowledged that socialism as an economic theory is dead even in the academy, and that economists are more likely than other academics to see the flaws in egalitarian policy proposals. Indeed, economics and business departments, precisely because they must be able to attract students who intend to put their education into practice in the real world of everyday business life, could not long survive if their curricula were dominated by crackpot ideas. A humanities or social science department, by contrast, usually attracts students who are seeking only personal edification, who want to go on to teach someday themselves, or who intend to go into the world of politics and policy -- where what matters is, not what is true, but rather what will keep you in public office or firmly ensconced somewhere in the bureaucracy. There is accordingly far less chance for bad ideas in these fields to have an adverse effect on the people who believe them (though of course, this does not keep them from having an adverse effect on other people, e.g. those affected by bad public policy). And thus, there is far less pressure on such departments to weed out bad ideas than there is on economics and business departments."

Feser concludes his piece by mentioning how some attacked him for believing in God and challenged him to prove God's existence, etc. Here, Feser did a fine service to anyone interested in the topic of atheism vs. theism by recommending a work called Atheism and Theism by Professors J.J.C. Smart and J.J. Haldane. Feser wraps up his article speaking of this book:

[the book] "comprises a wide-ranging and high-level debate between an atheist (Smart) and a theist (Haldane). (See, I practice what I preach: both sides are represented.) I endorse almost all of what Haldane says, and he at least touches upon each of the metaphysical topics readers have queried me about; and the excellent "Recommended reading" section at the end will direct those interested in further study. Both of these writers exemplify in their book what academic life should be like, but too seldom is: a serious and fair-minded examination of all sides of an issue, including those that are currently unfashionable, at least among the vast majority of university professors."

posted by Marc | Friday, February 20, 2004

Wednesday, February 18, 2004  

"Why Are Universities Dominated by the Left?" asks Edward Feser at Tech Central Station. It's a two part piece and is comprised of Feser's opinion on the reason why academia is dramatically left-leaning. Posted not necessarily as an endorsement of Feser's argument, but as thought provoking piece that brings up some very interesting points.

Edward Feser has posted a follow-up piece in which he responds to the critics of his earlier article "Why Are Universities Dominated by the Left?"

posted by Marc | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Tuesday, February 10, 2004  

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis believes that there have been only a handful of "grand strategists" among American Presidents. To him, they are John Quincy Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George W. Bush in his forthcoming book Surprise, Security, and the American Experience.

"Gaddis knows the latter name may bring a number of his colleagues up short. Critics charge that President Bush is a lightweight, Gaddis laments, and they do so because the president is a generalist who prefers the big picture to its details. . . Gaddis suggests that academics underrate Bush because they overvalue specialized knowledge. In reality, as his new book asserts, after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush underwent 'one of the most surprising transformations of an underrated national leader since Prince Hal became Henry V.' The Bush doctrine is more serious and sophisticated than its critics acknowledge -- but it is also less novel, Gaddis maintains. Three of its core principles -- preemptive war, unilateralism, and American hegemony -- actually hark back to the early 19th century, to the time of John Quincy Adams."

A debate is sure to ensue.

posted by Marc | Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Tuesday, February 03, 2004  

Historian John Keegan, in today's Telegraph (UK), opines on investigating intelligence breakdowns in Great Britain and says that "Inquiry is pointless, intelligence is always open to interpretation." Here is the column in full:

"The Government is facing demands for yet another investigation of the part played by the intelligence services in leading Britain to join the United States in the Iraq war. Two questions should be asked about such demands. The first is about the usefulness of intelligence in general to the inception and conduct of military operations. The second, more difficult to answer, is what specifically such an investigation might reveal.

The usefulness of military intelligence has a very mixed history. I say that with confidence, having recently published a long study, Intelligence In War, which set out to answer the question: how useful is intelligence? It consists of a number of case studies of intelligence operations from more than 100 years of military history chosen because evidence was available and clear-cut.

The studies yielded very varied conclusions. Among the most striking were that even the possession of perfect intelligence may not avert defeat. In May 1941, the British, having intercepted and deciphered the complete German plan for the airborne invasion of Crete, including date, time, place, strength, methods and aims, were still unable to mount an effective defence and lost the island to a weaker force.

Excellent intelligence may, contrarily, appear to have been the key to victory, but closer inspection reveals that other factors were more important. At Midway in June 1942, the American Navy had again correctly identified the Japanese intentions for the operation and its date, location and timing; but, when action was joined, it was accidental factors that won the battle. In practice, the Japanese were winning the battle until the very last moment.

Usually, however, intelligence does not provide unequivocal answers, but only indications, which require imagination to interpret correctly. Interpretation inevitably leads to disagreements among the intelligence officers concerned. Before Midway, the most important naval battle ever fought, the heads of the naval plans and communication departments in Washington were at open war over interpretation.

An even more striking example of disagreements, bearing directly on the current Iraq controversy, was over intelligence of German secret weapons. A strange leak, the Oslo report, had warned the British in 1940 that Hitler was developing pilotless aircraft and rockets. It was ignored until, in 1943, reports from inside occupied Europe referred to the subject again.

A committee was set up, chaired by Duncan Sandys, Winston Churchill's son-in-law. Its findings were reviewed by another committee, of which Lord Cherwell, Churchill's scientific adviser, was the most important member. Cherwell absolutely denied the possibility of Germany having a rocket, and produced the scientific evidence to prove it. He persisted in his denial throughout 1943 until June 1944, when remains of a crashed V2 were brought to Britain from neutral Sweden. Shortly afterwards, the first operational V2 landed on London. Churchill was furious. "We've been caught napping," he burst out in Cabinet.

Worse than napping. More than 1,500 V2s landed on London, killing thousands, at a time when Hitler was also trying to develop a nuclear warhead. The whole pilotless weapons episode demonstrates that, even under threat of a supreme national crisis, and in the face of copious and convincing warnings, intelligence officers can disagree completely about the facts and some can be 100 per cent wrong.

Little or nothing about the past, even about such a well-known episode as the V-weapons, has influenced those who have so violently denounced the Government over the so-called September dossier. Its critics have taken the view throughout that intelligence can and ought to be perfect, and that the editing of the dossier's contents amounted to systematic falsification. Not only does that attitude reveal the critics' complete ignorance of how intelligence is collected and assessed, it also suggests that they have not bothered to read the dossier, included complete in the Hutton report.

Almost all the material in the dossier is uncontroversial, a well-substantiated survey of Iraq's development and use of chemical and biological weapons and missiles (based, as it happens, on the V2) before 1998. What strikes anyone who has taken the trouble to read other intelligence dossiers, which exist in thousands in the Public Record Office, is what a completely normal document it is. If anything, it is remarkable for the sobriety of its tone and the caution of its conclusions.

Only in Chapter 3 of Part I does it include false information - that Iraq had procured nuclear material from an African country - and claims about Iraqi capabilities, such as the range of some missiles, that are exaggerated. As to the first, that seems simply a mistake, based on what is now known to be a forged document; at least one mistake in a large intelligence assessment might be expected. The exaggerations are regrettable, but assessment is inherently relative. Intelligence officers deal in a balance of probabilities and must sometimes err on the wrong side.

Above all, it must be remembered that British intelligence was attempting to penetrate the mentality of a man and a regime which were not wholly rational. It now seems probable that most of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed in the early 1990s, either by the first UN inspection team (UNSCOM) or as a precautionary measure on Saddam's own orders. Saddam was, however, unwilling to admit to such a loss of power, because of the prestige his possession of WMD brought him in the region. His policy of disposing of his WMD while refusing to admit the disposal was completely illogical.

But then almost nothing in Saddam's megalomaniac world was logical. What logical ruler would deliberately provoke two disastrous wars, either of which might have been avoided by the practice of a little prudence?

Finally, what purpose would be served by a further assessment of the dossier? Any inquiry would shortly resolve into a semantic argument about the nature of text editing: a sentence here, a phrase there.

It is supremely ironic that the BBC is demanding such a semantic argument, when the trouble it has got itself into was caused precisely by its failure to undertake any sort of editing at all of an unscripted text by a reporter with a less than perfect reputation for reliability."

posted by Marc | Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Monday, February 02, 2004  

Darrin M. McMahon writes of how Conspiracy theory was born in the Age of Enlightenment and has metastasized in the Age of the Internet in "Conspiracies so vast" and asks why won't it go away?

posted by Marc | Monday, February 02, 2004

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