Education

a breather

ChinaMoiLotus Finally, a moment to catch my breath! I feel like we really hit the ground running when we got here (only because we did), and I finally have a few hours to sit and think and process some ideas and observations—and pictures. I have to do a couple of loads of laundry today, but that's about all. A couple of quick notes: Facebook people, if you want to comment, please go to the blog to do so; I can't reach Facebook here to participate in any discussions. My internet access is through the university (and a proxy program hilariously called Ruijie Supplicant) and Facebook, YouTube, and parts of Typepad have been blocked by the Great Firewall of China since the Uighur riots earlier in the month. I can only write posts and comments at Typepad, but I can't actually see my own blogs.

In that vein, Carol asked me over on Facebook (which I saw through my email, which is unaffected) whether I was loving it, and what surprised me the most. Yes, I'm loving it. I love the people here, I love the unfamiliarity, I love trying the new foods (god the fish is good!), I love the experience of being some place that is both completely unlike home and yet so like it in many ways. What surprised me? I'm not sure I was really surprised by anything, not because I know anything about China, or because I'm world-weary and jaded but just because I think I try to keep myself open to every new experience without judging or trying to "translate" it. Comparisons with home are inevitable, but I tell my students at home that the things every human being wants and needs are the same: food, clothing, shelter, safety, peace, dignity, love, and respect. Everything else is window dressing, so the fact that no one has a dryer here, though everyone seems to have washers, is an interesting choice, but not necessarily surprising. I'm not sure that I can explain why I'm not surprised. Perhaps because it's all new and all delightful. Even, in a weird way, the smell of sewage and waste. Hell, Paris smelled like that too, and so did the Longwood subway station back home for a long time. As the book says, everybody poops.

And Scott asked me what I said to my student's question about America supporting Tibet's independence. I didn't go into it then because I was a piece of black, burnt toast, not because I was skirting the issue. She said she was shocked to read that Americans supported Tibet's secession bid, and I can understand why. I told her that I thought we supported it for a couple of different reasons, one of which was that we had done the same thing ourselves to form the nation we live in now. The U.S. broke away from its own empire and since then has liked to see itself as a supporter of the right to self-determination. I said that there were always two sides to every issue and that it was always difficult for one nation to acknowledge that a part of it does not feel like it belongs to the whole. I talked about Quebec and the Texan's brief and recent bid for freedom (to which I say, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out), and I should have talked about our own Civil War, but didn't. I also said that there were a number of famous people in the US who practiced Tibetan Buddhism and who were friendly with the Dalai Lama and this kept the issue in the press in the US, as well as giving some celebrities some face time and free publicity for themselves (cynical? Moi?). I talked about the value most Americans place on individual independence and freedom and democracy and that it was our official policy to support that wherever possible. It was the excuse we used in Iraq, though it really had little do do with that, but that we also recognized China's right to define its own borders. The US also has a policy of welcoming and supporting refugees and exiles (the "huddled masses" argument). I also acknowledged that there's no good answer to that question, only politics, history, and national philosophies. I love that they ask hard questions.

I finally feel like I'm getting a geographical picture of the city, or at least the campus, in my head, too. Enough so that I may do a bit of exploring this afternoon. I'm pretty firmly on a Harbin schedule now, and woke up at 7 (ugh), but it was nice to laze in bed a bit and not have to get up immediately. I have a million thoughts I want to get down but they're completely disorganized, so stuff is just going to come out as it occurs to me. And I have lots of pictures, too, so get yourself over to my Flickr set on China. I'm trying to add new stuff every day.

First, the weather report: it's been very pleasant, if rainy, all week. Not a constant rain, either, but we get at least one shower a day, sometimes very hard, some of the streets flood quickly. Next time, I'm bringing Wellies (and it won't rain at all, of course). The temperature is perfect and it's only a little humid, a lot like the weather I loathed leaving in New York. Yesterday it turned positively sunny in the afternoon and I got a bit sunburned. Many of my students were carrying sunbrellas (lacy and very pretty, even the boys) and were a little mystified by why I didn't want one. Chinese girls like to stay pale. I should have put on some sunblock though. I look a little like Rudolf now.

One or all of the faculty have taken us out to dinner or on field trips during the week, so there's not much time for exploring between socializing and work. Next weekend, I think we might be going to one of the coastal cities for a couple of days, sleeping on the train. I anticipate exhaustion, but it'll be worth it to see more of China.

Yesterday, the undergraduates (about 90 of them) organized a field trip for us to Sun Island, also known as the Tai Yang Dao Scenic Spot (at least on my map of Harbin). This was a great icebreaker and I got to know many more of the students and have some great conversations. They're curious about everything: work, salaries, our families, how we care for our parents (a big issue for the Chinese; Shanghai has begun encouraging families to have two children to take some of the burden off the state for the care of the elderly), what we do for fun, what games children and teenagers play, how we feel about Obama and Bush, how we like the food, what we think of China, what's the best university to study X at, is your GPA or your extracurricular activity more important, what kind of families do we have, how many friends we have, what is New York like? Infinite questions.  The nice things is that as I answer their questions, they tell me about their lives too: where they're from, what their home town is like, if they have pets, how often they go home and how far they travel (one student told me it takes him two days and a night to get home on the train—51 hours!). Many of them are fresh out of high school and don't yet have a sense of what their major involves, or what they want to do with it yet. I find this interesting as most American freshman, though they may not have a good grasp of what their major involves, certainly know what they would like to do, and have at least some ambitions of what they'd like to leave behind. If I can generalize from these extremely bright students (the top 2.5 percent of all of China), they seem to want to just hunker down and get a job that pays them well. There's none of the American bravado ("I want to be famous for . . ." or "I want to be the best at . . ." or even "I want to be able to use my skills to do X this reason.") I'm not sure where this comes from, except that perhaps it has something to do with that aphorism (which I know is from Japan but it seems to apply here too) that the nail that sticks up gets pounded down. HIT tends to promote from within its own student body, so I have a feeling at least some of these students will end up being faculty members. I am, of course, making sweeping generalizations from limited observations, so bear that in mind.

Phoenix The park itself is beautiful: huge (9,390 acres; by comparison, Central Park is 843 acres, or 6% of Manhattan), immaculately kept, and with a number of features that American parks probably wouldn't have. There are several "wildlife" features (squirrel enclosure, a swan pond, an enclosure where you can pet and feed the sika deer) including food to offer the koi in the lake; an amusement park with rides (the first double-decker carousel I've ever seen; a little roller-coaster and a tilt-a-whirl) and game booths; a big lake with paddle boats; and several themed spots: flowers, topiary, forest, an artificial falls, an artificial mountain, marshland with boardwalks, replicas of the ice sculptures. The topiary was just boggling: huge and elaborate and incredibly detailed.

Park-deck  The park feels more organized than Central Park in that people keep to the trails and boardwalks rather than running riot on the grass the way we do. Someone asked me about that, in fact, and I explained that we plant very hardy grass that can take a lot of abuse, and that the Parks Department is always reseeding it, too. When we had lunch, we picnicked not on the grass, but on a wooden deck, which was hard on my old bones and my arse, even though the students very thoughtfully brought cushions for us. That's really pathetic on my part. We also played games there, one of which hilarious involved a student and I attempting to bust a balloon between our butts, and another of which involved passing water from cups held in our mouths. Afterwards, a bunch of people played monkey in the middle with a soccer ball and some amazing footwork.

Bridge My two favorite spots were the Harbin-Niigata Friendship Garden and the lake, which Hu Jing and Zhou Yang took me out on in a paddle boat, something I haven't done in years, and the lotus flower pond behind one of the bridges there. I hadn't realized the flowers and pads were so big. The buds are the size of my fist and bigger than my hand when they open, and a beautiful deep pink color. The pads are the size of serving plates or chargers. The flowers stand up quite tall and straight from the water, unlike the small white waterlilies I'm used to seeing in Cedar Lake, which lie on the surface. The Friendship Garden had another beautiful arched bridge and small pond after the Japanese style.

I took 84 pictures, many of which were of me or my students or me and my students. They weren't as adamant about hijacking my camera as the faculty were, but we all took pictures of each other everywhere, which was kinda fun.

We spent about 6 hours at the park and then went out to dinner with the faculty who are enrolled in the summer camps. Phew! They took us to a hotel banquet room and really laid it on, on English faculty member to a table of about 6. Mine had, among others, Mr. Miao, who is a riot, and likes his beer. I got roped into (very willingly) going around and toasting the other tables, which is what one does after one has eaten well. And did we eat well. Another whole fish, which is sturgeon, I think; slices of sausage in the Russian style (including blood sausage, I think); deep fried pork and shrimp in a sweet, gingery sauce (I'm eating the pork left overs right now, thanks to my hosts, who sent the rest home with me); cubed pumpkin coated in sesame seeds, a delicious beef stew with squash and chunks of corn on the cob; a delicious chicken and mushroom stew; sauteed snow pea pods; a vinegary salad of shredded potato and carrots; egg-drop soup with seaweed, and more which I can't remember. The breading on the pork and shrimp is not wheat or rice but potato starch, and thus delicious. Never met a breading I didn't like. Oh, and dumplings, which I was too full to try. We were all stuffed. Can you say food coma? So afterwards we took the 20 oz bottles of Harbin Beer around with our little 3 oz glasses and toasted the other tables. And the custom is to empty your glass after each toast. The beer is 3.2 so it wasn't much of a hardship, but I mostly stuck to water or coke. I don't think I would have had a hard time keeping up though. I did teach my table the word "chugging" too. Ah, cultural exchange. I was enthusiastic enough that Mr. Miao declared I was very Chinese. LOL. There was much shouting, picture-taking, a little singing, lots of laughter, and I told the folks at my table that their faculty meetings were a lot more fun than ours, which is the truth.

It's a little discombobulating to be 12 hours ahead of you all back home. I'm a half day older now and the news doesn't keep up with me.  As it's midday, I'm off to one of the big shopping centers in a little while to see if I can find a mattress pad for my rock-like bed. I just went to the "Meijers" for a bowl, two gallons of water, some footies, a couple bottles of beer, a sponge and some spray cleaner, all of which cost me 73 rmb or a whopping $12.00. Tomorrow, we're off for karaoke (shudder) and dinner, but I want to do a little exploring in the morning before we go. Laundry tonight.


as yet uncharted territory

AstronautMoiI have to keep reminding myself that this isn't a vacation, it's actually work, and that I'll be here for a month. I was hoping to get away and wander around on my own a bit, but then I realized that I really need to figure out what I'm going to be doing with 60 students tomorrow morning from 8:30 to 11:30. The instructors rotate through three sections of about 30 students (it would have been 4 sections of fewer students, but we lost one teacher to a broken ankle the week before we were flying over; she must be devastated), so our schedule looks a bit odd, but it's only 8 classes in total with prep ever couple of days and it looks like we get Fridays off to romp around the city with faculty, and, of course, the weekends. In the afternoons we rotate through another three hours of playing games, showing a movie, field trips and our choice of activities, which will probably be writing or speaking workshops.

I'm very used to teaching writing workshops, so it's taking me a bit of work to turn my thinking around to teaching not just about writing, but about the language itself: expanding vocabulary, working on pronunciation and enunciation, helping them understand the grammar, exploring jargon and idioms, all of these in the context of science communication. I'm usually all about the content, now I need to be all about the media.

Today was the first day of class and I think it went okay, but it's hard to be sure when you're working in another language. The visual cues are similar but even when things aren't working, students here try hard to please their professors. I've gotten some useful feedback from some students but it's usually after class. They're all so polite, and a little shy. More thinking about how to teach them the language . . . We spent a good part of the class talking about the innovations in Star Trek, what geeks are, why Star Trek is so important to American culture and how it meshes with science, and they seemed to like that. I got there from Jennifer's latest article at the Washington Post, which is a fun read too, even though I don't agree with the conclusion about science fiction that she sites.

In the afternoon, I had an interesting discussion with three of the faculty, about life in the US and the details of my life: where I lived, what pets I had, who my family are, what kind of house I had, and more interesting political discussions too, about our relationship with China and Japan and with one professor about building materials and where to find textbooks about them in English. Who knew my stint at AKRF would come in so handy?

Out to dinner with the gang to a dumpling restaurant at the HIT hotel (and how come they're not putting us up there?), where Marcy's awesome language prowess was on display. Walking through the streets was again fascinating. People seem to use their balconies here not as sun rooms but as laundry rooms or storage rooms. I guess when you're in a small space, there's no wasting any of it. Street was full of more vendors selling what looked like fabulous fruit, and a derelict Japanese guy shouting at everybody in general. It's been raining off and on all day and as we came out, one of the streets we walked down was flooded, though it hadn't rained that hard. Elliott made the observation that it was interesting to see an obviously developing economy cheek by jowl with stuff that reminds you it's still developing: like the lack of infrastructure. No one can drink the water here unless it's bottled; the storm drains smell of sewage; and the drainage itself is pretty spotty. People just wade through it. Not being able to drink the tap water is interesting, to say the least. On the floor beneath ours, you can get boiled water from a spigot, and wash in the water just fine. I've been showering and brushing my teeth with it, but rinsing my mouth with bottled water. The construction of even the new buildings is what any US developer would call shoddy: exposed hot water pipes, half of the wiring just strung along the walls, thresholds not sunken into the floor. That said, the rooms were in are perfectly nice, with AC and decent, if cheap, furniture. They're a little smaller than my NYC apartment.

Again, there's so much more I want to write, but I'm just . . . toast. Blackened, burnt, toast. Later for you.


biology is stll destiny :^P

WeCanDoIt I'm frantic busy right now with rehearsals and tech stuff for the Bronx Voices performance coming up on June 26th (It's FREE!), and with preparations for teaching in China in the middle of July (OMG CHINA!), but I wanted to grumble here about something I read today in the Times, on the Motherlode blog.

It's not a blog I usually read, but recently there was a young college student on it asking for help in sorting out her situation: 22, pregnant, about to start a tough graduate program, no help from the father, parents far away, living in a new city with few friends and no support network. She asked Lisa Belkin, the blogger, to ask her readers for their thoughts and input to help her make her decision on what to do. I can't imagine being in this situation myself—or rather I can, all too easily, but I have no idea what decision I would have made, either, at that age. It would have had even more ramifications for me, since I didn't at the time believe in abortion. I won't go so far as to call myself a pro-lifer as I supported other women's right to make that decision for themselves, but I thought I would probably not choose that myself. Some of my friends have made that choice and I don't blame them. It was, I agree, the smart thing to do at the time.

But one of the things that was making this such a difficult choice for this particular young woman was not just the complete lack of support from her academic program for her situation, but the outright hostility for pregnant women her fellow students described.

A lot of your readers asked if I could take time off from the graduate program. They do not allow for any time off. There’s no deferral, classes are only offered once in the two years, and there aren’t any incompletes. I have been talking to students who are already there, who have had children, who are married and are quite a bit older, and who said it is really hard. I’m looking at 20 hours in class and 20 hours of papers and field research out of the classroom. Students with part-time jobs found it nearly impossible to keep up with the work, and a baby is not a part-time job. They also warned me that professors aren’t just tough, they can be especially harsh to the pregnant women in the program. [emphasis mine] By the time the baby would be due, there would be papers, projects, research. I can’t miss a single class without risking the whole program, that’s just the way it’s designed.

This nearly made me shriek with frustration. Tough is one thing, hostility is another. And why doesn't that fall under discriminatory behavior? Why is it okay to to be harsher to someone who is experiencing a normal biological function? I don't know what program this is, but from the sound of it, it is some sort of social services or governmental aid program focusing on humanitarian aid, which makes this kind of treatment doubly absurd. As does the fact that this program is designed to be prohibitively difficult. I suspect this was a program that was intended to "separate the men from the boys" when it was designed, a form of masculine hazing, as though college were fucking boot camp. With the preponderance of women in colleges these days, you'd think this kind of shit would stop, or at least be toned down.

This kind of program design is one of major reasons that women often fail to reach their full potential. Men with children who attend graduate school almost inevitably have built-in childcare in the form of wives. Women? Not so much. Childrearing is still women's work, whether they're married or not. (If you think I'm exaggerating, read this whiny-ass and self-centered piece by Geoff Williams; it might be satire, but I'm not so sure.) Not supporting families with children who would like to continue their educations, and actively discouraging single women with children, is discriminatory behavior and only illustrates how much of the world is still based on the way men's lives work.

I see this in the policies of the school I teach at, where most of my students have children. Whenever they cannot find a babysitter, they miss class. When students at my friend Rob's school can't find a baby sitter, he tells them to bring their kids to class. That's better, certainly, but why isn't there a safe place for students to leave their kids on campus? That would make life so much easier for so many struggling single mothers. It's a small investment to make with huge rewards.


lost my shit

TeacherMoi Wow, what a day. For the first half hour of class there was me . . . and six students (of 25). I cannot get it through people's heads that they need to be on time for class, or within a couple of minutes of on time. Not fifteen. Not twenty. Not a half hour. I have a couple who wander in as much as an hour and a half late in a two-hour class on a regular basis. I'm not sure whether they don't care or if it's that no one has ever taught them how to be a student. In some cases, I realize it's life getting in the way; they have families and many of them also have jobs. Juggling work, school, and kids is not easy. There are parent-teacher conferences, court dates, job schedule changes, overtime, rush hour traffic, parking meters, and picking the kids up from school to contend with. But with a number of them, I suspect it is a lack of knowledge about what being a student means and what its responsibilities entail.

That's particularly true of one student who's been a hijacker of my class since she first arrived. She's habitually late. She missed the first two days of class entirely (we meet once a week), then gave me a song and dance about not being able to download the syllabus from her computer (it's just as easily available from the computer lab here). She shouts over anybody with whom she does not agree (which is almost everyone). Today, she had a hissy fit about the two papers that are due at the end of the semester. One is 5-10 pages, the other is 10-15 pages. She seems to think this is an inordinate and unfair amount of work. Considering the only thing she has turned in is the midterm in 9 weeks of classes where there is an assignment every week, this makes me laugh.

Well, not really. Her response to "discovering" she had two large papers due at the end of the semester (we're now halfway through it) was the aforementioned hissy fit saying this was way too much work (there are two two-page papers due sometime during the semester for the class that requires the 5-10 page final paper. That's it.). The best part was that she threatened to go talk to the administration about the amount of work I was assigning. That in itself was pretty funny, but she was so obnoxious about it that it disrupted the last 20 minutes of the last class.

And I totally lost my shit in front of the class. Briefly, but still, I lost my shit, and lost control of the class. That has NEVER happened to me before. I'm really embarrassed at how unprofessional it was. At the same time, I'm proud that I reined myself in much more quickly than I would have at another time in my life. Apologies will be forthcoming, and so will a statement of rights and responsibilities.

The bright side was that the rest of the class rallied around me. One student pointed out how easy they were getting off (and they are) compared to other colleges. A number of them came up after class and agreed with me, as they had when the disruption was going on. A couple have emailed me to show support. Several stayed after to do the same. The ones who did recognize that there's a "type" of student at JOC (probably not at the main campus of CNR) who have not yet figured out what this education gig is all about. They're still mentally in the high school mentality, and some of them are still in what one student called the "ghetto-fabulous" mindset that she said she herself had been growing out of gradually since coming to school. Most of my students realize that education should and does change you: it changes your thought patterns, your speech, your skills, your style of communication.

It's funny, but we'd been discussing Octavia Butler's story "Speech Sounds," in which most humans lose the ability to communicate with each other, and the few who retain the ability to speak or write are in danger because of the frustrated rage of those who can't. Civilization has fallen apart as a consequence of the lack of communication in this story; and that's just what happened in my classroom too: lots of shouting, no real communication. Hmm, there's a teachable moment.

And here's the draft of Kottner's Classroom Rights and Responsibilities:

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my students, fall '08

TeacherMoi I've been talking about them for a while now, so I thought I'd give you a little glimpse of my fabulous students from our last class last night, where they turned in their papers, wrote up evaluations (which I don't see until after grading), and made a list for me of books I should read and movies I should see. They also said some of the nicest things to me, and not just brown-nosing. I had some of the best discussion about literature I've ever had in a class I was teaching with these people. It was so much fun showing them how to unfold a story and then watch them do it for themselves in ways I hadn't thought of. It's an old cliche, but I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me. It's one of the best classes I've ever taught. Here they are (or some of them, anyway):

Modes2008 (L-R rear)Shani, Karen, Tyrell, April (in stripes, Berecia, William, (L-R front)
Paulette (peeking out), Maria, Spechell, Sheryl, and Mary (in pink hat). A couple more were off in the computer lab finishing up their papers while the rest of us ate pizza and fried chicken and salad and had a party. There was the usual number of last-minute catastrophes (dead computers, files that wouldn't open, lack of printers, stuck in traffic or at work), but pretty much everyone got their stuff in and most of the ones who didn't, I was happy to give incompletes to. Why waste all that effort? I'm also proud to say that all but four of my class of 27 passed their crucial essay test. They all worked really hard, and they were challenging, too, which I love. Hope my next class lives up to this one. It's a hard act to follow.


Plagiarism

RarmoiOne of my students, one I actually like, has plagiarized most of her most recent paper from the Internet. She's a C writer, at best, and why she thought I wouldn't notice the sudden change in the acuteness of her observations, her ability to quote the relevant passages, and her suddenly complete and perfect sentence structure is beyond me. It took all of about 90 seconds to find the relevant paper on the Internet, a one-shot Googling of a simple phrase, and there it was. 90 seconds. If that.

And whose fault is this? First and foremost, my student's. It's not that I haven't explained in painstaking detail what plagiarism is. It's not that I haven't threatened hellfire and damnation for doing it. She's behind several papers and like many of my students has kids and a full-time job and I suspect it's desperation. And this is why I blame, in very small part, the culture of adjuncting. If colleges would break down and hire more full-time faculty with real office hours, I'd be available to my students when they got in trouble. I sound like a hardass in the classroom, but it's always tempered with the caveat that I want my students to talk to me if they're getting into trouble. My rules are actually pretty flexible because I know how hard it is to go to school and work at the same time, let alone have kids to take care of. Sheesh. And I've had those semesters myself where everything just goes to hell in a handbasket and you need extensions to get your work done. Make a sincere effort, that's all I ask. And talk to me.

To be fair, I'm available by email and phone and other students have taken advantage of that (not in a bad way), so this student could have too, which is why I blame her primarily. But a department or school full of adjuncts is not doing students any service. I, for one, have too many other things on my plate, while I try to make a living in addition to the meager wages I'm paid by the school, to really serve my students well. And I hate doing a half-assed job of it.

Now I'm remembering why I didn't adjunct for long.

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If you can't be famous, be notorious

ConfusedmoiOkay, this is getting very weird. There I am lecturing away in class about Realism, Naturalism, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Experimental fiction, New Journalism and all those other isms when another faculty member knocks on my door and asks if she can come in for a second and advertise some new classes being offered. No problem. She introduces herself, I introduce myself. I barely get the first syllable of my last name out when she says, "Oh, Professor Kottner! I've heard about you!" and obviously in a good way, not that, "I've heard about you, missy! And you're in deep shit!" way.

Can I just say how utterly bewildered I am by this? I mean besides being called "Professor Kottner"? (At least it's not Fraulein Doktor Professor Kottner.) It's starting to freak me out, because every time I speak to one of the regular faculty I get the same response: "Oh, I've heard about you," or "I've heard good things about you." Not that I'm complaining. It's infinitely better than having the more or less complete strangers who are my colleagues come up to me in the hall and go, "I've heard you suck!" But still, it's a little weird that everyone I meet at school, including the students, says the same thing.

Continue reading "If you can't be famous, be notorious" »


Blog Action Day on Poverty: Teach a Man to Fish

Radicalmoi"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  —Chinese Proverb

Blocactionday2008_2 Today is a Blog Action Day and the topic is poverty. I haven't participated in one of these before, but this is something I feel strongly about. Teaching at the College of New Rochelle's extension campus in the South Bronx has only made me more aware of how dire the problem is. Understandably, the current financial crisis has too,though I have little to lose in it personally. The longer I teach students like the ones I have now, who are coming back to school later in life either because they didn't understand how important it was at first, couldn't afford it, or had other obstacles to overcome, the more clearly I see how education is one of the most important tools for fighting poverty. Sure, living wages and a redistribution of wealth would help too, but there's truth to the idea that you can't ever take away someone's education or skills from them.

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Isn't Education Compulsory?

Hungovermoi

Not to Mention Spidey-Sense

Woman #1: So, how are you holding up?
Woman #2: You know, doing the best I can, using the five senses.
Woman #1: There's six senses.
Woman #2: No there's five: walking, talking, breathing, reading and writing.
Woman #1: What about seeing?
Woman #2: Well yeah, there's also fire, wood, air, and water; but I don't know why they don't count those.

--B68 Bus

Jayzus on toast.

Overheard in New York [hat tip to deadcat vagrant over on LJ]

Sorry, this is all I'm capable of right now. I've got a cold and have been snuffling around all day after not sleeping last night. I'll be a better blogger soon, I promise.


And While We're At It

AdjunctsbigFound this over on the Northland Poster Collective, while I was looking for that Sarah Palin button. It's a little hard to see, but I've put a smaller version in my sidebar and wanted to explain it here. It's a poster of adjunct faculty, like me; the one on the left is holding a sign that says "will teach 4 food" and the guy in the middle is holding one that says "Adjunct Faculty--Please Help." The third one is selling pencils for a nickel.

What's this about? It's about the fact that in the corporate model of education, many introductory level courses are taught by non-tenured faculty with no benefits, who are paid approximately $20-$40 and hour for each hour of class they teach. That works out to around $2,000, per course, if you're lucky. This completely discounts any hours they spend preparing for class, grading papers, or holding whatever minimal office hours they may hold. Most don't hold office hours at all because, well, they don't have an office, not even a shared one. Most don't have health insurance and most only have a job from semester to semester, often at two or three different places. It's a little like being an itinerant farm worker, only the labor is not literally backbreaking and nobody sprays us with pesticides (at least not yet).

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The Lost Female Apostle

LibrariangI just finished reading a couple of books I put in the sidebar a week or so ago about the female apostle Junia. That's right, female apostle. Didn't know there was one? Neither did I. I ran across references to her while looking up something else and was intrigued. One of my biggest problems with the religion I grew up in was that we were supposedly all "ministers," meaning we all could teach outside the church, but only the men could teach inside the church. That's based on the scripture in 1 Cor. 14:34-36, which, it turns out, just may be a non-Pauline interpolation, though it appears in all the texts, though in different places, it turns out. In light of these verses, it seems obvious that there couldn't possibly be a woman apostle, so magically, there wasn't.

But let me back up a minute. The two books are Rena Pederson's The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia and Eldon Jay Epp's Junia: The First Woman Apostle. The first is a general reader's version of the same kind of curious search I'm engaging in. Pederson is a seasoned reporter, not a scholar, but does a good job of outlining the issues and the controversies, as well as describing how other women mentioned as deacons or servants of the church were slowly erased and pushed from view, including Junia. Epp's book is extremely scholarly, and it helps to have a background in both grammar and textual criticism. You can squeak by without knowing Latin and Greek, but that wouldn't hurt either. In 81 very closely reasoned pages, he demolishes the support for the arbitrary and sudden metamorphosis of Junia's feminine name in Romans 16:7 into the masculine and highly improbable Junias. The reasons, it turn out, are almost entirely cultural bias and late 19th and early 20th century cultural bias at that, not those pesky misogynist medieval monks, even. Epp connects the arguments about the possibly interpolated text in 1 Cor. 14:34-36, with Junia's "sex change" quite convincingly, connecting them as part of a gradual move to erase the vital parts in the early church hierarchy that women played, and thus keep them out of positions of similar service in the contemporary church, whether it was the contemporary medieval or modern church. After reading both of these books, the ordination of women seems the only logical step that could possibly be taken.

Shocking, I know. Even more shocking when I realized that the Bible I had used my whole life had been based on this biased text. Junia was a man in the Bible I had always thought of as a very good translation, one that restored the 7,000-some-odd occurrences of God's name that had been replaced with his job title.

In most ways, it is a good translation, careful yet colloquial and easy to understand, unlike the more poetic but problematic King James Version. But one of the things Epp's book did was give me a clearer understanding of just how that Bible translation was produced. I'd always known that the translators of my version had gone back to the original manuscripts and started from scratch, but I didn't understand what "going back to the original manuscripts" actually meant.

There are around 500 manuscripts and papyri (manuscripts made of papyrus reed rather than cotton rag paper or vellum, both of which are far more durable) copied by various scribes throughout history, from the first century through the Middle Ages. There are scribal quirks and variations in the texts, sometimes really significant ones, and it is ultimately impossible to state without a doubt which versions are the definitive ones. Translators and scholars have been able to make a pretty good stab at deciding which are closest, but there's no THIS IS IT! manuscript. Transcription and compilation proceeds by textual analysis, paleography, chemical studies, carbon dating, comparison with archaeological evidence, etc.

The sources used by the translation committee that produced the Bible I grew up with were themselves first collated, transcribed, and printed by other committees of scholars, following in the footsteps of previous scholars of various ability and merit. The real problem arises because languages change over time, and you're talking about 2,000 years of history here, from the time the manuscripts were first handwritten in Greek, Aramaic, Syriac and Coptic. For the first 700 years after Jesus, for instance, Greek was unaccented, which is one of the ways the gender of nouns was determined. Manuscripts were also written in all capitals ("majuscules") or all lowercase ("minuscules"), often with the words pretty jammed together, so YOURTEXTMIGHTLOOKSOMETHINGLIKETHIS, or somethinglikethis. Good luck with that. No wonder scribes often went blind. So turning these manuscripts into easily usable modern transcriptions (never mind the translation bit yet) is tricky.

Plus, unlike English, names in Greek and Latin have cases as well as gender, so their endings vary. This was one of the things I struggled with mightily when I was learning and translating Old English, which is actually way more like, say, German, than modern English. You're constantly asking yourself if something is masculine or feminine and what ending it gets. In this case, the names in Romans (duh!) were originally Latin being translated into Greek forms, and then often back to Latin (like for the Vulgate version).

This is where the problem with Junia's name arose. I won't go into the technicalities of it; you can read the books for that. But suffice to say her name was accepted as female by the earliest of the church fathers, for about the first thousand years. Then her name slowly transformed into the masculine Junias, and then back again to Junia here and there, though in the printed transcriptions used by the committee that translated the version I'm familiar with, it was arbitrarily, against any textual evidence (e.g., that the male name Junias exists nowhere else, though Junia as a woman's name appears at least 250 times) decided that Junia was a man. Why? Well, because it's obvious there couldn't be a female apostle. Just that.

Epp's argument, short as it is, seems definitive to me, not as a woman, but as someone who's done both textual criticism and translation (though not of Greek, and only a little tiny bit of Latin). It must have seemed definitive to the latest revisers of the manuscripts at fault, because they've changed it back to Junia, acknowledging her as a female apostle. The problem is that the original sex change existed in the printed transcriptions (as opposed to the original manuscripts) for the last 70 years or so, and crept into just about every Bible translated from them, including mine, just when the issue of ordaining women was becoming or about to become very hot. Considering how long people hang on to their Bibles, it's liable to remain incorrect for another 70 years, giving the erroneous impression that women were silent and powerless in the early church, when that was not the case.

What saddens me is that I would never have known any of this had I not defied conventions in my church and gone to college where I was introduced to both textual criticism and the shallow edge of Biblical scholarship. Though we were always encouraged to study our Bible deeply and there were plenty of supplementary materials put out by the church to do so, none of them mentioned the wider world of Biblical scholarship except briefly in passing, when it suited them. Certainly, little of that filtered down to the congregations. To be fair, I think most Biblical scholarship happens in fairly rarefied air in the academy; it's complex and requires years of study in dead foreign languages. But I think for years I was under the impression that our supplementary materials were "original" research. I wonder now how much of it was selectively cadged from other scholars. This isn't to say there aren't some smart and learned people in the upper echelons of my former faith. But I'm pretty sure none of them participate in the scholarly exchange of ideas and arguments, and I'm not even sure where some of them were trained, i.e., where or if they went to college or hold degrees.

Now that society is changing enough to accept women in so many other positions of power (albeit still reluctantly), it's a shame that this impression remains in the church. It has robbed itself of the unique viewpoint and skills of half the population. No wonder so many people like me are abandoning ship. Whose truth have we been fed?


A Little Learning . . .

RadicalmoiI cannot remember a time when it wasn't assumed that I'd go to college. Two of my older cousins on my mom's side had gone (both became teachers) but only a younger cousin on my Dad's side wound up going. The Kottners were not much on schoolin', especially for girls, though my Dad was a huge history buff and managed to teach a colleague of mine a few things about Civil War battles. It took him a while to come around to the idea that his daughter might become a "pointy headed intellectual" and he continued to razz me about writing free verse until nearly the day he died. (I finally told him I wouldn't tell him how to fix jet engines if he'd stop telling me how to write poems.)

The upshot of always being encouraged to study and to learn is that I grew to love it. I came home every day and shared something new I'd learned with my mom, whether it was about the process of eutrophication we could see happening in the lake across the street as septic systems leaked phosphate laundry detergents into it, or just some new word. I found the life of the mind entertaining and fulfilling. My favorite question became "why?" And one thing I will say for the church I grew up in, they taught me like no school could how to study, and how to do textual criticism. There is no field of literary studies so contentious or difficult as Biblical exegesis. But it's fascinating stuff. There are still days I'm sorry I didn't go into theology.

When I first got to college as an undergrad, I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store. Unlimited books! Classes in everything! Psychology! Medieval history! Invertebrate biology! Writing! I hardly knew where to start. Registration was torture each semester, not because I couldn't get the classes I wanted (that rarely happened with a student population of 600) but because I couldn't make up my mind. The most frustrating thing about being a biology major was that I could take so few of the other tantalizing classes that beckoned me. I wanted to know everything about everything, and this was my big chance. Woohoo!

I think like most undergrads who are the first in their families to go to college, I was also a bit overawed by all the educated people around me. It took me quite a while, and enrollment in a Ph.D. program myself, to realize that pieces of paper do not make one erudite or even intelligent. As Rob said in an earlier conversation, "It just means I've read a lot of books." That was a definite blow to my rosy view of academe, if not the intelligentsia. On the other hand I learned to find smart, thinking people everywhere, in class and out, possessing official pieces of paper and without. In a lot of ways, I think I learned as much from the round table discussions over beer and burgers at the Peanut Barrel during my graduate school career as I did in class. Tossing around all those ideas and philosophies in that free-for-all atmosphere with some really intelligent colleagues allowed me to begin to formulate some of my own, as well as to come to some rather startling conclusions that I didn't quite trust for a long time.

One of these, which formed while I was teaching science writing and the written work of scientists, was the slow realization that Science (I always want to put that in radioactive Italics, for some reason) actually wasn't terribly objective, as I'd been lead to believe all these years, and that it had infected the humanities with some of the worst of its characteristics. Like what? Logic, for one. Art is often not very logical or rational. It serves no utilitarian purpose, it has no higher goal than itself. Art just is. It may or may not have a message, or you may only think it does or doesn't. Its goal is not to explain the world to you. If it has any purpose, I think, it might be to teach us more about ourselves. I used to think its purpose was to make us better humans, but that's too much of a burden for anything to bear but each of us as individuals. Anyway, it's completely possible to live without it, but it's a mean, brutish sort of existence. Everyone, I dare say, requires some kind of art in their life, whether it's low-brow television or high-brow historical rhetoric.

Because it has no real purpose, looking at Art (or humanities like history) through the lens of logic distorts it. Its purposelessness becomes offensive, wasteful. We see this all the time in school budgets. The millage fails and what goes? Not sports. Art. Music. Theater. Sports builds character, teaches cooperation, hones competitiveness, mirrors the hard knocks of the "real," adult world. Art just looks or sounds pretty. There was even a study some time ago that proved its utter uselessness in raising test scores.

Well, duh.

Art is not about data, and yet it is measured that way all the time, critically, monetarily, philosophically. For a while, theorists of literature whom I shall not name were routinely analyzing literary works by running them through a computer and totting up their word usage frequency and sentence structure. What this said about the literary work in question is anybody's guess. There's no DNA to sequence in literary works, despite what some critics might think. Literature and history are about human activities and interactions, not mindless chemicals.

But I digress. The real revelation to me was that Science was actually not objective or value free. One of the things that graduate school does is introduce you to the world of so-called original thought. It's one of the requirements of getting a Ph.D., actually, that you write a thesis that will add to the body of knowledge about your particular subject. As a result, there's a lot of territorial marking in pursuit of those three letters. Generally, publishing an article in a recognized journal outlining your thoughts, or a portion of them, will do the trick. "Oh, she's working on minstrels in Piers Plowman," one thinks, reading a short paper on the subject in Speculum. It's a way of saying "hands off this area until my book/thesis comes out." Pissing on the boundaries, so to speak.

Now, there's not much riding on that particular subject (I should know; it was mine for a while) except one person's future dissertation, publications, and possible career, but in science the stakes can be much, much higher. Original research in science usually costs millions of dollars. Students often ride the coattails of their professors onto publications in significant journals by lab-monkeying for them, gaining co-authorship and mad lab skillz by doing so. Unlike the humanities, science is very often a team effort and while you may be participating in someone else's research, it can make or break your own career, even if it's not your original idea (ask the folks who decided to go into cold fusion). Plus, you may be able to claim spin-off ideas as your own. What's really riding on scientific research right now is Money (another radioactive noun). Money, plum positions at national or academic labs, multi-million dollar patents (in the case of much biotech research) and fame.

Yup, fame.

Albert Einstein-sized fame, sometimes, and the influence that goes with it. Hard to resist. Not many people in the Humanities get a taste of that (Stanley Fish, maybe), but it's not that uncommon in science. Watson & Crick. Stephen Hawking. Carl Sagan. Richard Feynman. Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier.

If you're wondering about that last pair, they're the guys who discovered the AIDS virus, one at the National Cancer Institute, one at the Pasteur Institute, more or less simultaneously as they had shared samples and research. Robert Gallo, though, gets the press, because he jumped the gun, contrary to agreements between NCI and PI. Three years later, Montagnier says, "It could have happened differently, but everybody has their personality."

And there's the reason that science is not objective.

We talked a lot about the history of science, especially post-WWII in America, at those round table discussions in the Peanut Barrel, but it took a while for me to realize what big grant money had done to both independent labs like Bell Labs, and academic research labs like the University of Chicago's. Scientific research started to shift from knowledge for its own sake to R&D for profit. It's not so much that the amount of money thrown at them corrupted research institutes, but it made science a whole new game, one much more likely to be pursued for the sake of grants and product than just for the sake of knowledge. That gap between pure and applied research widened, with pure research becoming harder and harder to justify in a monetary economy. That was one of the beauties of Victorian science: its independent, dillentante-ish nature. Undisciplined and unsystematic as it often was, subjects were at least studied for sheer love of knowledge.

This is not to say science still doesn't ask all those big questions: how did the universe get here? How did life develop? What can we do to make it longer and better? But the moment money gets involved (pardon my cynicism) people's not-so-best natures come out. And the presence of potential fame, even if it's in a smallish pond, is just as distracting. And it adds an extra layer of motive, one that's not very pure and more likely to influence outcomes than the pure search for knowledge. When the renewal of your grant depends on positive results (even though negative ones are just as illuminating), it's harder to admit your idea might be wrong. That's just human nature.

I hear outraged screams of protest in the background already. Scientists aren't like that! They don't falsify results! Especially not for such base reasons as money and fame or politics. The truth means everything to them!

Yep, I'm sure it does. But so do their individual reputations. And there's no getting away from those outside influences like politics. Pity the poor scientists at the EPA, who've been going round and round with the Bush administration about Global Warming for the last eight years. As an aside, it's interesting that only the conservative Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has pointed out how vicious the fight between EPA scientists and the Administration has been, and made it clear that the repudiation of the most recent report is a political maneuver, not a scientific one:

The EPA document was written to respond to a Supreme Court order: The court instructed the agency to decide whether greenhouse gases are a danger to public health or welfare. Instead, the final document took no position on the court's question -- yet escalated the extraordinary battle between the agency and the White House. The White House rejected an earlier draft that did find a danger to welfare, which would trigger application of the strict rules of the Clean Air Act to regulating greenhouse gases.

Listen, kids, no matter how many times you say I believe in Science, scientists are human too. All those human qualities—greed, fear, ego—figure into it as they do into anything else humans do. That's why fraud (nicely termed "misconduct" in scientific circles) happens. Again, and again, and again.

So where does this leave us if we can't trust Science?

Where it leaves us with everything else: using our own discernment. You don't buy a flat screen TV without checking out the best brand and best buy (and if you do, well, need I say more?). Do the same with science. You don't have to be a scientist to understand the consequences of research. There are plenty of good explainers out there who will be happy to help you sift the wheat from the chaff and boil down the salient points. A little scientific literacy will also help protect you from crackpots and extremists, like the anti-vaccination people who would like to expose us all to the joys of rubella, smallpox, whooping cough and scarlet fever again because they seem to think, despite the lack of scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. Learn what scientists mean by "correlation is not causation," i.e., some things are just coincidence. No, really. Remind yourself that statistics are only useful in describing the behavior of large populations or datapoints, not individuals.

In short, be informed. Think for yourself. Don't let somebody else do it for you. At its core, that's the real goal (or should be) of education.


Guilt by Association

MadbloggermoiBoy, what a headache this blog has turned into. Don't get me wrong: I love writing the blog. It's great to have a personal journal again, a place where I can write merely for the purpose of expressing my thoughts—with the usual writer's eye to mining those posts for use elsewhere, which is why I went to the trouble of putting a clear copyright statement on it. My other blog, Spawn of Blogorrhea, only has a Collective Commons copyright, stating that people are free to use the content, unaltered, for non-commercial purposes. I'm happy to have people subscribe to its feed, link, quote, or use the content for educational purposes. What I almost always protest is people just posting my content to draw traffic to their site, which may or may not have anything to do with book arts. Write your own damn content then. Don't steal from others.

So Dowsing, simply by virtue of its name, has ended up in the aggregate feed for a site called "Life Technology™. They sell pseudo-scientific, New Agey crap like Tesla oscillation fields, alchemical compounds, and Atlantean crystals (!! No, seriously!). So it's rather ironic that they're using my content on their site, since what Dowsing is all about is freedom from bad science and superstition. I've got hardly any hits on Dowsing, which I really don't care about in that sense. People will find it and read it if they're interested. It's as much for me as it is a public endeavor. So when I found Life Technology™'s url in my stats, I was curious, and then I was pissed off.  But I'll let you read the exchange; here's what I wrote to them yesterday:

I notice that the content on your site is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright act. Guess what? So is mine. Please stop lifting content from my blog, Dowsing (http://leekottner.typepad.com/dowsing/), to use on your website as its purpose is antithetical to everything on your site. You have no less than a dozen posts from my blog on your dowsing page (http://www.lifetechnology.org/dowsing.php). Please remove them now or I will be filing a complaint with your ISP and website host.

Sincerely,

Lee Kottner

And here's the nice little note I got in return this morning:

dear lee,
our news headlines at www.lifetechnology.org/dowsing.php are used according to fair use provisions and are intended to direct people to relevant sites.

you can read more about the fair use policy at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

we have not published your articles, only headings with links to your articles at your own blog.

if we were breaking copyright provisions as you claim then most sites on the web would also be breaking the rules but that is not the case.

this law has been tested in court many times and rulings have universally been in the favour of the blogger.

thank you
kirsty

Are you laughing yet? I was. Wikipedia, huh? Here's my reply:

First of all, Kirsty, this is a very flimsy and erroneous argument, and you have picked the wrong person to use it on. I've written a series of posts on copyright for artists on another blog, so I'm fairly well educated about it. Find yourself a better source than Wikipedia. Try the U.S. Government copyright office instead.

As one of the intellectual property lawyers I spoke to said, "fair use only earns you the right to go to court." Fair use is in the eye of the copyright holder, who is much more likely to be favored in a court case than the person in violation; there is no hard and fast rule about proportion or magic number of words that the user may interpret for their own purposes. You are not using just the "headlines" from my posts; you are using much of the introductory paragraph. The feed from yesterday's post (7/02 "It's Just That Simple") uses almost the entire post, since it was a short written introductory paragraph with a video attached. The fact that you have selections from more than half of my posts would probably count against you too. I've become a major source for that particular feed, simply because my blog is called "Dowsing." As of this date, there are only 30 posts on my blog. 13 of those posts appear in some form on your page. That's a high proportion of content.
 
Fair use usually holds up best in court when it is used for educational purposes, in a classroom, or by artists. Your site is clearly primarily a commercial endeavor, not a news and information aggregator, and you are using my content to draw commercial traffic to your commercial site. Either you offer me a fee for the use of my content in this way, since you are clearly using it in a commercial manner, or you are in violation of my copyright, which states that my content cannot be used for commercial purposes unless I agree to it. I have not agreed, so you're in violation.
 
If you'd like a clear run-down on "fair use" you can find it here, at the U.S. Government copyright office site: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html. It clearly states that commercial use has less protection than non-profit or educational uses. It also clearly states that the safest course is always to get permission, which you have not done. Here are some of the uses which have generally been considered "Fair use" in the past.
 
The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use:

quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.
 
None of these fit your case. In your reply, you state: "this law has been tested in court many times and rulings have universally been in the favour of the blogger." Guess what? You're not the blogger here. I am. You are the aggregator. The Associated Press has recently sued a news aggregator over just this issue. You can read about it here: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071010-associated-press-sues-news-aggregator-for-licensing-failure.html
Secondly my site is not a "news" site nor is it relevant to your content; it is not about the paranormal, or dowsing, and is in fact, in part about real science, not the fake kind you're selling to gullible seekers. Now, if you'd like to see a totally scientific debunking about every one of your products appear in that "news" feed from my site, I'll be happy to oblige. It happens to fit my subject matter pretty tidily. I also happen to know a couple of well-respected science writers (and physicists) who'd be happy to pitch in, I'm sure.

Section 1204 sets out a hefty penalty for copyright infringement: 

§ 1204. Criminal offenses and penalties

(a) GENERAL  Any person who violates section 1201 or 1202 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain

(1) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense; and

(2) shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, for any subsequent offense.

I went to the trouble of clearly marking this site as copyrighted because I intend to use some of the posts in a non-fiction book. Your publication of them without my consent and without a fee injures me as an author and I think a court would side with me on this. Do you really want to risk a half-million dollar fine on this? And that's not counting the $100,000 for each infringement, i.e, each separate use of one of my posts. That's well over a million dollars in fines should it reach the maximum. Not to mention jail time.

Care to risk it?

Sincerely,

Lee Kottner

Oddly enough, within an hour of receiving this, the feed from the news pages disappeared from their site. I suspect there is some serious editing of the spider going on.

UPDATE: Then the feed came back, and I began plotting with Jen to do the debunking posts, but this morning, I got a little note from their "legal counsel":

Dear Lee,
Thank you for your bringing your DMCA related concerns to our attention.
 
Life Technology acts as a news aggregator to provide news stories for the purpose of disemmination of news in categories that are relevant to our website. Dowsing is one such area that we are involved in. You will find many bona fide articles about dowsing at our website and blog. Despite what you seem to believe, our news stories are offered for educational purposes.
 
We are not guilty of publishing your work for our commercial gain nor have we acted in bad faith.
 
From a legal perspective, an infringement case would be very weak. There is strong argument for a fair use defense here. The brief exerpts of your work posted by ourselves are not stifling demand for your work. We are actually creating demand, not decreasing demand by providing links to the original work. Further, posting excerpts of the articles and linking to the original facilitates and invites critical discussion of the content, one of the primary reasons for the fair use defense.
 
You could not use the argument that we are diminishing the value of your work by disseminating copyrighted work prior to the publication of a book if you are publishing these exerpts into the public domain yourself.
 
Links are the currency of the internet. Instead of harassing bloggers etc., you should be praising them for bringing people to your content. It's a very poor business decision to ask people not to facilitate access to your product.
 
We are aware of the recent filing where Associated Press is suing a news aggregator on the same grounds. We feel that this even marks an unfortunate event in the history of the internet and free speech.
 
We have temporarily removed the offending page dowsing.php pending the outcome of The Associated Press versus Moreover technologies lawsuit and further clarification of DMCA law.
 
Thank you.
Joshua Silverberg, Legal Counsel Life Technology

He's got some interesting interpretations of "public domain," "educational," and "news" and I love the scolding tone that I should be "praising" people for stealing my content and not paying me for it. The upshot, however, is the removal of the offending feed, so that is already some admission of ambiguity, if not guilt. And removing the page is enough for me. Needless to say, I'll be watching my stats.

I'm not normally in favor of bullying people with the DMCA. Big corporations have made a bad habit of using it to intimidate perfectly legal uses of their content, so they can control all the money. I was happy to see The Naked Cowboy win the right to sue M&M Mars for use of his image for that reason. As a teacher, I'm all for fair use. But as a writer, I'm also all for being paid for your work and for having it appear only where you want it to. There's a thin and badly defined line between fair use and exploitation.

In this case, there's also the issue of guilt by association. As a writer, I do not want to be associated with any entity that sells the kind of pseudo-scientific crap this site sells. This is a list of their other "news" feeds, most of which I have a lot of objections to:

Kabbalah Radionics Magick Radiesthesia Homeopathy Alternative Health Mercola Jeff Sutherland PRWEB NLP Hypnosis Orgone Orgonite Rife Psychotronics Psionics Illuminati Alchemy Ormus Free Energy Alternative Science Spirituality Huna Metaphysics Occult Witchcraft Health Spirit Conspiracy Herbal Medicine Dowsing Healing Seduction Rosicrucian Paranormal Philosophy Technology Science Paganism Wicca Time Travel Feng Shui Atlantis UFO Scientology Zappers Cloudbusters Nikola Tesla Grimoires Chemtrails Manifesting Yoga Astrology Psychic Powers Xtrememind Forum

I hate to see yoga, spirituality, metaphysics, health, philosophy, technology, science, and Nikola Tesla lumped in with Atlantis, UFOs, Scientology, Orgone, Alchemy, and the Illuminati. Some of these things are not like the others, not even remotely. I  suspect it was at least as much the threat of debunking as it was the legal talk that led to the sudden demise of the news feed. People have a right to believe whatever they like, but they also have a right not to be forced to associate or have their work associated with causes or ideas they don't condone. And control of your own intellectual work trumps, every time, the notion that information wants to be free.

[Cross posted at Spawn of Blogorrhea]


Anti-intellectualism

Radicalmoi Jen's hubby Sean the Cosmologist has started an interesting discussion over on Cosmic Variance about "why so many academics are hostile to some religions rather than others." For me, this is a very interesting twist on the opposite question, why so many (particularly American) religions are hostile to learning and education. According to a recent study (PDF) by The Institute of Jewish and Community Research, "Faculty feel most unfavorably about Evangelical Christians." Big surprise. Having grown up in a religion that considered going to college about equivalent to choosing to live in a combination brothel and crack house, I find the question of why academics are more hostile to evangelicals not at all puzzling. It's a mutual hostility club caused not just by opposing world views, but opposing value systems.

Some of the things that academics value most are freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech. By contrast, evangelicals value unquestioning faith. Each intellectual challenge to that faith is seen as a test in loyalty and one's ability to bear the burden of ridicule for the sake of one's faith. The dogma of faith is unchanging—except when revealed by God—while, thanks to the spirit of inquiry, secular knowledge, with the exception of basic laws of nature, changes all the time. Even those basic laws are often refined, the way Newtonian physics was refined (or surpassed) by quantum mechanics. Evangelicals often view the effort to understand the wonders of our universe, both macro and micro, as a quest for forbidden knowledge. There are some things that we were just not meant to know, they often assert, usually in stentorian voices with much Bible thumping.

I've never understood that, though I do often despair of the way in which the knowledge we gain is used, e.g. splitting the atom. I think this is one reason science needs the counterbalance of some kind of spirituality. But not one that puts actual restrictions on what we're "supposed" to know. If you believe in some kind of creative deity, why would that deity not just freeze the brain power of its creation instead of giving it the capacity to become more intelligent, and understand more of the universe? Deities can do that, right?

No, that's because it's a test, the faithful say. But it's one the intelligent are going to fail. Intelligent people by nature can't stop questioning without real effort. And making that effort kills a part of them, their essential nature. That's some sacrifice.

What this claim of mystery means usually means, unfortunately, is that you, the little people, are not supposed to know these things. It's okay for the priesthood (literal or political) to know them, but not you. Because knowledge is power. That's one of the reasons that early education should be compulsory and advanced education should be free, for as far as you want to go. Otherwise, you are crippling your populace, and leaving them open to the manipulation of superstitious or just plain power-hungry nutcases. Jim Jones, anyone? Of course, it's far easier to control people who aren't that well-informed. Marking off certain areas as forbidden knowledge is one way to cement that control. The real problem with this, of course, is that if you don't understand your world, you can't make smart decisions about how to live your life. And if only a certain group understand the world, they get to make the decisions. As a rule, academics are in the business of spreading knowledge around to anyone who wants it. That can be a subversive activity in some cases.

It's no wonder academics are hostile right back to people who are hostile to their entire reason for being.

Like so many other prejudices, anti-intellectualism has its origin in fear, mostly of having your entire worldview dismantled, and the more petty but no less real fear of being made to look foolish. I can attest to the fact that it's a little scary to not have any sense of sureness about what the future will bring, either while you're living or dead. It was a relief to know we'd never have an all-out nuclear war because God would never let us totally destroy the earth. On the other hand, it's a little exhilarating, too, a bit like skydiving, I suspect.

But that fear is very real. My mother, not an ignorant or anti-intellectual woman by any means, found the idea of alternate dimensions really frightening. The idea that there might be someone else just like her somewhere else who had made different choices than she had was I think what she found so scary. Somehow, that would invalidate her life in her mind, though it did no such thing. The concept of alternate universes is a little more complex than that, but it does raise interesting "road not taken" possibilities. By contrast, I love the idea that our lives fork and branch at every moment, at ever choice we make, perhaps at every breath, not just for us but for every event. The number of universes is mind-boggling, but that may only attest to our lack of brain capacity to comprehend it. It's not by any means fully accepted in the physics community, but it raises some very interesting questions.

And that's what it's all about, isn't it: the questions.