SCRAPS
FROM THE EDITOR'S WASTEBASKET

These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector an informal, unofficial, and unheralded publication I edited during my years teaching at Lock Haven University. In response to overwhelming demand (a couple of people at least) these are being archived here for those strange people who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia. Some of the references to then-current events may be puzzling, but feel free to skip them, or relate them to more recent events of similar nature (which can always be found). References to internal politics at Lock Haven University may be easily transfered to situations at other academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in square brackets.

    —Donald E. Simanek

1986

THE LATEST VECTOR

This is undoubtedly the "latest" VECTOR yet. The previous issue was dated May 1983. Your editor has no valid excuse for this. One invalid excuse is the fact that he spent a couple of years finishing his Physics Ph.D. at Penn State.

Worse yet, this "Born Again" issue will go out at the end of Spring semester. Off campus readers will receive it sometime this summer. If so, consider it a special "Fourth of July Issue."

Long-time readers will recall one year when we put out three issues. Now we'll try to return to our intended average of two per year! Lately people have bugged us with "Where's the VECTOR?" inquiries. We even heard rumors that "the administration" had "killed" THE VECTOR. Nonsense! Some members of the administration are our most loyal fans and boosters.

OLD NEWS

During the time since the last issue the world has been zipping along its arrow of time, and mankind has been muddling along as usual. This generated a lot of news which we would normally have commented upon here. Just for fun, let's catch up on some of the highlights of the past few years.

IT'S A MIRACLE!

A couple of years ago Pope John visited Korea. TV News reports invariably mentioned and showed pictures of a "ring around the sun" which was seen as he arrived, and which "many interpreted as a miracle, or a heavenly sign." The reports we saw did not go on to explain this phenomenon. (One newscaster incorrectly called it a "rainbow.") The pictures clearly showed the ring to be a well-known atmospheric phenomena of the type called "parhelia." These are caused by light refraction and reflection within ice crystals in high, thin clouds.

This is another example of how news media slant reporting to favor belief in the miraculous, even in cases where the phenomena have a purely scientific basis. Parhelia are so well known that one can easily find books in most libraries, with nice color pictures of their various configurations and complete explanations of the rather simple physics which explains them.

Though many people have never seen them, parhelia are sufficiently common that anyone who casts an observant eye skyward frequently should see several in each year. (Similar, but less colorful, rings can be seen around the moon.) These phenomena even occur at times when no particularly note-worthy religious event is occurring!

There are several lessons here. What does this tell us about the scientific literacy of our journalists? Why doesn't a TV journalist bother to check with a local physicist or meteorologist for an explanation, instead of implying that the event is "miraculous?"

Also, why do journalists treat the Pope, and other "mainstream" religious leaders as if they were worthy of special respect? If you or I or any ordinary citizen stood up in public and spoke inane, puerile platitudes, we'd be ignored by the press. The Pope, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson can say trite or idiotic things and get TV coverage, police protection, and (in the case of the Pope) elaborate speaker's platforms built at public expense. [I do note with approval that the Pope was given a somewhat more appropriate public reception when he visited Holland.]

Just once I'd like to see the members of the press treat religious spokesmen to the tough questions they aim at a President of the U. S. [I'd like to see them get the same treatment given to a politician who may be suspected of some personal scandal.]

I am reminded of the movie "Being There" of a few years ago. It told the story of a gardener with the mentality of a child, who, by an unlikely chain of circumstances, is treated as a person of great political insight, whose simple utterances are taken as words of wisdom, and who, toward the end of the movie, is even being considered as a presidential candidate. This was a bit hard to believe, but had he been considered as a candidate for Pope it would have been fully believable. Do not think, dear reader, that my intent here is to insult the Pope (or Catholics in particular). He probably does the best he can, within his limitations and those of his position. He is merely a prominent example of the misplaced respect and reverence people have toward certain religious and secular leaders. Without such blind support, these leaders would fade into a well-deserved oblivion.

Some say we get the leaders we deserve. That's an indictment of the collective "all of us."

Remember another religious leader, Jim Jones? Notice how little is said about him these days? (In case you've forgotton, he was the originator of the "Kool Aid" test of religious faith.) It seems "we" would rather forget this unpleasant affair. At the time of his death, in the mass suicide of his followers, we heard a lot of analysis about "Rev. Jones."

But analysis should have focused on those who joined his movement, who gave up their minds to him, and followed him, "even unto death," unquestioningly. As long as there are sufficient gullible sheep of this sort, there will be charismatic leaders to take advantage of them.

HE CAN ACT

I was amused by the press and public reaction to Pres. Reagan's surgery a while back. Some people were even worried about his survival, and whether his duties would be carried out while he was hospitalized. No one needed to be concerned; many other actors could have carried out Reagan's duties just as well. In fact, it seems to me that Pres. Reagan has taught this country a valuable lesson. The qualities we need in a president, and which most ensure his public approval, are those of an actor. He need not understand any of the issues, or have any insight into the complexities of international relations (so long as his advisors do). Think back to the movies you have seen with actors playing presidents. Didn't some of them seem more "presidential" than the typical real president? Perhaps those seeking the presidency ought to take acting lessons, or major in drama in college.

PRESIDENT REAGAN ON SCHOLARSHIP

President Reagan has spoken often about education, demonstrating his deep concern for upgrading standards and improving the quality of education without spending more money.

In TIME (July 11, 1983) Terrence P. O'Brien reminds us of Reagan's special qualifications to speak on this subject:

Reagan once bragged on national television that he never tried to make grades higher than Cs, since Cs were the minimum necessary to play sports.
Such dedication to academics could serve as inspiration to us all. Let's hope it doesn't.

SPORTS AGAIN

Here's an item from the past, with relevance for today.

In 1873 a group of students at Cornell University requested permission to play a football game in Cleveland. Cornell's president Andrew D. White replied, "I refuse to let forty boys travel four hundred miles merely to agitate a bag of wind."

Where are university presidents with such courage today?

Cornell's free-for-all brand of football was so violent at that time that in 1876 both Harvard and Yale refused to play Cornell. Football was strictly intramural at Cornell until 1886, when Cornell's new president, Charles K. Adams, gave his official blessing to a "cleaned up" version of the game. Since Adams lacked the courage of his predecessor in this matter, the Cornell faculty passed a series of resolutions against football, starting in 1894.

It was a losing battle. Today sports have polluted the entire educational system in this country from bottom to top. It has reached such a sorry state that some college administrators claim we must have sports to stimulate alumni interest in the school which, in turn, generates alumni financial support.

If this is true, it is a damning indictment of alumni, implying that their interest in the academic programs is so slight that they wouldn't give money to support academics, were it not for the presence of sports at the school. If that's the sort of alumni a school turns out, maybe that school doesn't deserve support.

WE WOULDN'T DARE COMMENT ON THIS ONE

Penn State U. has a new president, Dr. Bryce Jordan. In PSU's publication Intercom, July 14, 1983 we read this item:

The University's new president also said that, at his request, there would be no formal inauguration. "The dollars involved could better be spent in other ways... I don't want to spend the energies that need to be consumed by such an event."

[Lock Haven University's new president had recently been welcomed with an innagural ball, the first in the school's history.]

CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

Every so often, on those rare occasions when your editor indulges in criticism of some person or institution, you can count on some yahoo rising up in indignation to say, "You shouldn't criticize unless you have a constructive alternative to offer."

That response has always seemed to us a bit silly. A critic is performing a public service just by pointing out error, stupidity, and incompetence. Must he also be expected to provide details for the remedy? When we point out that some person or institution is doing a job badly does that obligate us to do that job ourselves?

We are reminded of what H. L. Mencken had to say (in The American Mercury) about criticism.

Of a piece with the absurd pedagogical demand for so-called constructive criticism is the doctrine that an iconoclast is a hollow and evil fellow unless he can prove his case. Why, indeed, should he prove it? Is he judge, jury, prosecuting officer, hangman? He proves enough, indeed, when he proves by his blasphemy that this or that idol is defectively convincing—that at least one visitor to the shrine is left full of doubts. The fact is enormously significant; it indicates that instinct has somehow risen superior to the shallowness of logic, the refuge of fools. The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians—and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe—that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
Mencken understood that to expose error was in itself a valuable endeavor: "Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually nothing to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed." (Prejudices, first series, 1919.)

LET'S AID THE HOMELESS

Have you noticed how many once-powerful leaders had trouble finding a place to live? Ferdinand Marcos, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and even the Bagwahn Rajjneesh are persona non grata wherever they try to settle down. I think we should find some place, perhaps a desert island, to serve as a special homeland for such people. They might benefit from each others' company. Perhaps we could even encourage other leaders of the same ilk to go there too. I'd nominate Muiamar Khadafi.

But if Khadafi goes, we'll have to send Ronald Reagan too. Ronnie has been itching to have it out with Khadafi for some time, and this would give those two a chance to settle their grievances one-on-one. [Note, this was written in March 1986. It's so difficult to write satire these days, for reality often makes it obsolete, and unfunny.]

Some American Nazi leaders and leaders of the Ku Klux Klan could go into this melting pot, too. While we are at it, lets send some of those folks who are always trying to improve everyone else, people like Jerry Falwell. Jerry is always telling us that religion can improve people. Let him prove it by seeing if he can bring harmony to just one little island. Of course, one man's religion is another man's heresy, so we'd better be fair and send the Ayatollah Khomeni. We've already sent the Bagwahn Rajneesh to our imaginary utopia, and he will certainly try to make these folks mellow.

Oh, I almost forgot. There are some folks at Maharishi University who claim that if only 0.1% of the people of a country engage in coherent transcendental meditation, the entire country will become more peaceful, the crime rate will go down, and all sorts of other good will flow to everyone. They've had a hard time demonstrating that to everyone's satisfaction, since most countries have too many wild variables running around to confuse their statistics. Here, with a small population on one small island, they could do a controlled experiment.

I suspect the island's population would rapidly decrease with such individuals on it.

ADMINISTRATIVE RELATIONS

We've never quite understood why some people think that we are unkind to the LHU administration. Look through back issues and see if you can find anything which anywhere near to a hard-hitting attack on the administration. In fact, we have neglected the administration. It deserves far more than we have given it.

Had we wanted to be provocative, we could have pressed for answers to questions such as these:

  • What happened to the $30,000 the administration promised for science equipment?
  • Why has no one ever been able to get a full accounting of money spent on the International Education Program?
  • Why was Ulmer Hall (the science building) the last classroom building on campus to get a photocopying machine? And why was that machine a small one, inadequate to the needs and heavy use of the faculty and staff in that building?
  • Why was $60,000 spent for a fancy new scoreboard for the remodeled Phys. Ed. building, when it already had a scoreboard?
  • Why are science budgets so lean that when physics labs needed electrical meters, they had to be obtained by begging money from alumni?
There's probably a need for some hard-hitting investigative journalism on campus to probe into these and other matters. But we are not equipped to do it. The Eagle Eye [student newspaper] isn't doing it. Who else might?

Besides, as administrators keep reminding us, things are just fine at Lock Haven, and are getting better. Positive thinking is now in fashion. Everyone is working hard—to polish the school's image. We only wish as much concern and effort were put into a serious effort to upgrade the academic quality of our programs. If this were done, we'd not need to worry so much about "image."

NOTES FROM ROCK RAVEN

[In an earlier issue we ran a parody of those slick brochures which advertise a college, much as you'd advertise a luxury resort. These are usually produced by people who have no connection with the University, and know only what the administration tells them about it, embellished with some creative inventions of their own. We lifted some of the florid passages (with only slight change of wording) from Lock Haven's newly minted color brochure, but disquised them by naming the school "Rock Raven University. Perhaps someday when I have nothing useful to do I'll turn it into an html document and link it here.]

We've neglected reporting news from our sister institution, Rock Raven State College, so we'll bring our readers up to date.

Rock Raven has also achieved university status, and, coincidentally, has just inaugurated a new President, Dr. Willis Overland. His inauguration was delayed nearly a whole academic year from the time he arrived to begin his duties. But he accommodated to the situation by refraining from any noteworthy executive actions during that year.

Herewith some highlights from his inauguration speech, which many considered inspiring. Indeed many were observed to be inspired to fits of uncontrollable apathy during the speech.

  • ...We shall resolutely march into the future with our feet firmly planted in the traditions of the past.
  • We favor motherhood and apple pie, but do not intend to neglect support of fatherhood and cherry pie.
  • We shall continue to provide students with an education of the quality their modest means can afford.

SCATOLOGY

The Public Broadcasting System puts out a catalog of videotapes for use in schools. In the 1986 PBS Video catalog, p. 70, we noiced this item:

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE WATER CLOSET

Man and his plumbing are the subjects of this clever, witty and ingenious study of man's continuing efforts to dispose of his waste...

Recommended use: sociology, history, bacteriology, scatology courses.

This makes one wonder. Is there any school which actually offers courses in scatology? I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were.


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