SCRAPS FROM THE
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
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.
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
Some say we get the leaders we deserve.
That's an indictment of the collective "all of
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.]
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 convincingthat 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 logiciansand 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 safethat 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
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
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
[Note, this was written in March 1986. It's so difficult
to write satire these days, for reality often makes it obsolete,
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.
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:
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?
- What happened to the $30,000 the administration promised for
- 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?
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 hardto 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.
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
This makes one wonder. Is there any school which actually offers courses in scatology? I
wouldn't be at all surprised if there were.
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.
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