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 transferred to situations at other academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in square brackets.

    —Donald E. Simanek

Number 19, 1989

A TEST

How many readers recognized the source of the opening paragraph of this column in the last issue?

Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would write an autobiography they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand, and herewith tender this issue.
    — Mark Twain, from A Burlesque Autobiography.
We plagiarize from the best sources!

JARGON

In the last Vector we reported yet another piece of jargon which sneaked into the language when our backs were turned, and is now firmly entrenched. It is equity group. You'd be surprised how many readers thought we made that up! When I first heard it I was sure that it was the name of an investment firm. [Note added Feb. 2007. It seems that the term is now dropping out of use!]

One thing which adds dreariness to our academic lives is having to read the "official" documents which fall, from time to time, onto our desks with a hollow thud. One recent example was the Lock Haven University Interim Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Plan, 1988-1989. Appendix A contained a "Glossary of affirmative action terms." Had I found it sooner, the preceding 37 pages might have made more sense. I don't know the source from which this 10 page glossary was lifted, but I don't blame our own administrators for it. It clearly originated elsewhere.

There I find a definition of equity groups:

The protected classes addressed by the Prospectus: Racial/ethnic minorities, women, and other special groups such as Vietnam era veterans and the disabled.
Don't bother to look up equity group in your dictionary. It won't be there for a while.

In the same document I find a definition of sexist:

A person, generally a male, who believes, either formally by conscious subscription to an ideological or philosophical posture on the subject, or implicitly by patterns of behavior and discourse, that males are inherently superior to females, or that the "natural" roles of men and women place the former rightfully in positions of social, economic, and political leadership and the latter in roles of primary parental responsibility and home management. In employment practice law, the imputation of sexism to an employment decision would suggest intentional discrimination on grounds of sex.
Maybe it's just because I happen to be a male, but I detect just a hint of sexism in this definition! Surely the writer(!) of this rambling definition could have gotten the point across with gender-neutral language. This seems to say that sexism is "generally" an offense perpetrated by males against females, but could that be interpreted as a sexist bias against males by the writer?

In the same document sexual harassment is defined. Here the writers do manage to keep the language sex-neutral, a remarkable accomplishment!

Documents such as this seem to be written by persons totally deaf to the subtlety and beauty of which language is capable. These are people who would use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. They produce documents such as this which don't clarify issues, or help us to find reasonable solutions, they merely intimidate, confuse and perplex us all.

[It was about this time that I heard a speaker propose that the college add a gender-studies major to its curriculum. I expressed puzzlment at the name, for I'd always been taught by my English teachers that "Words have gender; people have sex."]

MNEMONICS

Many of these "scraps" are written at odd moments throughout the year. The rest are written at even moments. When enough accumulate they are swept into a pile and end up here. Obviously I'm not concerned about whether they are timely. I firmly believe that relevance is timeless, and irrelevance is even more so.

This is being written just as we've survived another transition from daylight saving time. The acronym DST could also stand for "Daffy Stupid Time." Back in Iowa I remember farmers joking that there's no way to train cows to adjust their milk production schedule to a time change twice a year.

I have a memory like a sieve, and can never remember which way to turn the clocks. The newspapers helpfully remind us with a phrase, "Spring back, fall forward." (Or maybe it is the other way around; I can never remember.)

"Forward" and "back" are too confusing. How about moving clocks "ahead" or "behind"? No, that doesn't help. I wouldn't know whether "ahead" means to move the hands from 2 AM to 3 AM (to a time one hour later) or whether it is used in the sense of a person arriving for an appointment "ahead of time" (too early). Besides, at that time of the morning I'm not awake enough to find the clocks.

The trouble with memory aids, as with all mnemonics, is that I can never remember them either. There's no logic to them. One can fall forward as well as back, and can spring either way, too, if one is athletically inclined.

Even if I had written down on paper that in the fall one moves the clock "back", which way is back? Should it be "counter clockwise", opposite to the usual direction a clock moves, or should it be "back" in the sense one moves an event or appointment back, which is to a later time? Maybe it means: Move the clocks "back" to where they ought to have been all year, which means, I think, to subtract one hour from whatever the clock reads and reset the clock to that value of time. Not a real, hour, you understand, but that relativistic hour which miraculously appears or disappears in the time it takes for you to find and execute the instructions for resetting your digital watch.

The simplest solution is to turn on the TV and check the information channel, after the change has occurred, and hope they got it right. This spring I heard one newscaster instruct people to move clocks two hours ahead. Even they are confused.

If I finally get the clocks reset, all I have to cope with is daylight time jet lag. It takes me two or three weeks to adjust my biological clock to the new time, during which period I experience a disorienting uneasy feeling that nothing is happening when it ought to.

Another thing I've never understood is why they call it daylight saving time. The amount of daylight is the same however you set the clocks, so where have we saved any daylight? We really haven't gained an hour in each day. It's too bad we can't alter such things. I have long been of the opinion that the world would be a better place if mornings started later in the day.

I've never figured out the alleged benefits of inflicting this legislated time warp on us. Oh, I've heard all the arguments for it, but none of them are the slightest bit persuasive. I say we put an end to this confusion. It's about time.

SATANIC SILLINESS

It sometimes seems as if the world is a huge insane asylum with the inmates in charge. The Ayatollah Khomeni reminded us of that last year with his death decree on author Salman Rushde for the unforgivable offense of Rushde's latest book, which few would have noticed or read had not this attention been drawn to it.

Soon after this, someone posted a sign on a LHU bulletin board proclaiming "The Ayatollah's mother wears combat boots." To avenge this blasphemy, an Iranian hit squad was dispatched to hijack Lock Haven University and to capture and hold all of its faculty, students and administrators hostage for 4 million dollars. It would have happened already, except that the Iranians have, as yet, been unable to find Lock Haven.

In response to this threat, LHU canceled all plans to establish an international student/faculty exchange program with Teheran University. This will surely bring the Iranians to their knees.

Of course the Islamic fundamentalists are no laughing matter. They ought to serve as a lesson to us all: a demonstration of what can happen when fanatical religious obsession dominates a culture, and dogmatic and intolerant religion assumes political power. "It couldn't happen here," I hear you saying. I hope not. In this country the same warped mindset results in different kinds of outrages: bombing of abortion clinics, abuse of children in the name of religion, vandalism of synagogues, banning of books in school libraries, and attempts to inject religiously motivated material into school curricula.

BEFORE AND AFTER THOUGHTS

Sometimes people comment on material in The Vector, even before it appears. Others have something relevant to say even when they haven't read it. So we are pleased to grant them the first word, so to speak.

On the value of international travel, particularly by administrators:

If an ass goes traveling, he will not come home a horse.
    — Thomas Fuller
Our preamble to "A New Religion" noted that the world shows no evidence of having been the product of an all-knowing, perfect creator. Here's an alternate view on this:

Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it? It is certainly perfectly conceivable that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods to operate. In the same way many human institutions are turned over to grossly inferior men. This is true, for example, of most universities, and of all great newspapers.
    — H. L. Mencken, Minority Report, No. 298.
Mencken wrote this long before equity groups were advocating gender-neutral language. Today we should probably refer to God as "he, she or it, whichever."

Finally, responding to another issue entirely, Prof. John Swinton of The Pennsylvania State University recently observed that "...God is limited indeed if you and I are the best He is capable of." [MUG Newsletter, Nov 1989, p. 3.] He was suggesting that evolution isn't finished yet, and the highest form of life may evolve later, to replace us.


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