The evolution of living languages (guest post at According To Hoyt)

[SUMMARY:] My guest post at Sarah Hoyt’s blog on how living languages evolve and words undergo shifts in meaning — especially when imported from other languages. This is even more rampant in English than in other major European languages, owing to English language standards being descriptive [linguistic “field workers” describing how people actually speak and write] rather than prescriptive [a language academy laying down rules for how people should be speaking and writing it].

False dichotomies and art education

In Hyrum, Utah, an art teacher at an elementary school has been fired for showing two artworks featuring female nudity to fifth- and sixth-graders. The artworks in question (images somewhat unsafe in some workplaces) are “Odalisque” by François Boucher (a partial nude) and “Female Nude” (a.k.a. Iris Tree) by Amedeo Modigliani (which features full frontal nudity).

I am torn here. On the one hand, I do not consider artistic, tasteful classical nude paintings to be offensive at all and have even written a long blog post about Renoir’s models. On the other hand, know your audience: it would not occur to me to display this type of painting to elementary schoolers in a very religious community, be it LDS or Orthodox Jewish—and the teacher ought to have displayed better judgment. On the third hand, the school’s reaction — firing the teacher where a friendly admonition would have done the job just fine been quite adequate — is a classic example of “shooting mosquitos with a cannon”. Especially since the material came from the school’s own library collection.

derp to full potato

There are those who try to present the treatment of sexual matters as a false dichotomy: either Old Order Amish or Teen Vogue’s “teenage girl’s guide to [back door breaking and entering” (barf). Those of us who seek a sensible middle ground will be called libertines by one side and prudes by the other. Be it as it may: false dichotomies are a beloved cheap trick of propagandists everywhere.

If you believe (as I do) that sex is something beautiful to be shared and enjoyed between people who love each other; that pleasuring your partner is a skill worth acquiring for your partner’s sake as well as your own; but that sexuality is not something to be “hung out in public”  in and out of season; then you will run afoul of jaded hedonist “sophisticates” and neo-Puritans alike. As the Iron Lady put it: being in the middle of the road means you will get hit by the traffic from both sides.

This polarization extends to fiction, by the way. “Contemporary romances” increasingly are either very explicit for the sake of being explicit (if those same books were marketed as erotica, this would at least be “truth in advertising”) or (for certain religious markets) squeaky-clean at a level where even a kiss on the mouth is considered too racy. I personally do not mind even very graphic scenes if they move the story forward or deepen the characters, but in most situations, I do believe that it is best to leave something to the imagination, that usually “less is more”, and that usually off-camera, or at most soft-focus are as effective as technicolor, or indeed more so. As for how “spicy” to paint an amorous relationship in fiction: I would go by what feels authentic for the characters and their environment. A romance in which two students at a Northeastern liberal arts college spend four years hand-holding and kissing each other on the cheek until their wedding day would generally be very implausible unless you came up with a very convincing backstory. At the same time, in some very religious milieus, a couple getting physical on their first meeting would be equally preposterous. “Don’t throw the reader out of the story” applies to these matters as well.


Abstraction layers and learning

The other day I heard an interview (in French) with electronic music megastar Jean-Michel Jarre (who is, incidentally, the estranged son of film composer Maurice Jarre and the ex-husband of actress Charlotte Rampling).

Paraphrasing one segment of the interview from memory: “Some people tell me that electronic music is abstract. On the contrary! Especially with analog instruments, it’s visceral, hands-on. I twist this knob or push that pedal, and I immediately hear the sound change in response. It’s classical music that is more abstract! They play off a score, which is an abstract representation of the music.”

Bingo. To borrow a term from information technology, the score is one “abstraction layer” above the music. A jazz music “lead sheet” would be one more abstraction layer above: it specifies the lead melody, the chord progression, and the meter — and the details on how to translate the progression into notes are left to the performer!
The next higher abstraction level is sometimes seen when experienced musicians are jamming together, and all the lead player needs to say is “slow 12/8 blues in G minor”: everybody else knows what to do and fills in the details on the fly, according to their best musical judgment. (Fixed chord progressions like “the blues” as improvisational frameworks are not a recent invention: suffice to mention “La Folia” in Renaissance and Baroque contexts.) An Indian raga is, likewise, a meta-structure for improvisation.

A paradigmatic example of abstraction layers in information technology — one that many readers will be familiar with — are network addresses. Individual network cards have a permanent, unique “MAC address” or “hardware address”, six bytes in hexadecimal notation: something like 4c:33:73:9d:40:42 We do not use such addresses directly to send Email or access web servers though, since everytime a server or even network card would go on the fritz, you’d have to update directories.
So one abstraction layer above that, we have the numerical addresses of the form These can be defined manually on a device, or (this is what happens in most home WiFi networks) assigned using a DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) service. You replace a server or swap out a network card? Update the DHCP configuration table, and you’re good to go.
But if you moved to another provider, you’d still have to change addresses. Or you may have so much traffic that you need to deploy multiple servers, and load-balance traffic between them. Which is why we have yet another abstraction layer above that: the more conventional, human-readable addresses like or A domain name server (DNS) keeps track of which name corresponds to which number (or knows which other DNS to ask if it can’t resolve the query from cache), and hence you only need to deal with the “link”: you can leave the concrete details on how to translate this into an actual connection to the “abstraction layers” below.

The above puts me in mind of the laments of a friend of mine (a college lecturer in a humanities subject) about the atrocious writing of his students. Effectively, he says, the students have only learned the English language by imitation: they parrot words and phrases, rely on their spelling checker to fix spellings (sometimes coming up with unintentionally hilarious malapropisms as they do so), and often display a disregard for grammar and syntax that has non-native speakers like myself flabbergasted. The thing is, grammar and syntax are abstraction levels above the words: they can be learned by immersion — but that would have to be by “neural network training” from a very large corpus of high-quality written text. (I frankly didn’t know most of the grammatical rules in English consciously — but could apply them just fine on autopilot, as I’d been a voracious reader from a young age. Only when I found myself needing to explain edits to scientific papers — and of course learned that “it sounds wrong otherwise” is not an acceptable answer to thinking people — did I end up hitting the grammar and usage books.)
Prose style and essay structure are, of course, yet further abstraction levels above. But the problem is much broader than language: at one research institution where I was a guest faculty member, I saw distressing levels of learning by imitation in the lab — newer grad students basically being shown “this is how it goes” by the older ones. Now if this is just a matter of “kickstarting” then this is fine — the real problem was that only a few had any desire to actually understand what they were doing. (This became painfully clear when they attempted to write a paper — which in practice usually boiled down to compiling tables and graphs as required, and the professor or his amanuensis writing the actual paper—or rewriting the sorry excuse for a manuscript so thoroughly as to qualify as writing from scratch.)

Pretty much everybody who lives near a Jewish community has heard of Chabad (a.k.a. the Lubavitch movement): Chabad (חב׳׳ד) is, however, originally the Hebrew acronym for a much broader concept: the three levels of understanding. This is how I see them outside a religious context.
D (ד) stands for the lowest layer: da’at ([factual] “knowledge”)
B (ב) stands for the layer above: bina (“insight”) or, if you like, analytical understanding. That which is required for the higher “abstraction layers” of learning.
Ch (ח) stands for the highest layer: chochma (“wisdom”), or, if you like, synthetic understanding, creativity. The levels of “meta-insight” that allow you to apply the structural principles of that which exists, for creating something new.

Our current educational system effectively sacrifices insight on the altar of creativity (or, worse, the students’ self-esteem) — while at the same time, perversely, ensuring that students only have quite shallow knowlegde by declaring a kind-of war on memorization at exactly the ages children most easily learn by rote. The end products are students that have never progressed beyond some nuts-and-bolts knowledge picked up by imitation—and even that is not to be taken for granted.

The system stunts students while claiming to empower them, and it boosts a brittle, hollow self-esteem that shatters on the first contact with reality. It “creates a desert, and calls it peace.” Or self-esteem, “or something”

0bama’s intellectual shallowness


DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY: Obama: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.”

Apparently, when Obama taught Constitutional Law he never got around to teaching the Texas White (Democratic) Primary cases. Or talking about which side was which in the Civil War . . . .

Updated to make clear to people who don’t click the link that it was the Texas Democrats who excluded black voters (and Mexican-Americans) from their primaries (and then dodged further with the Jaybird Democratic Association when the courts struck down the White Primaries). This is a major set of cases under state action, and I’m surprised that Obama is unfamiliar with this history. I wonder what he covered in his Constitutional Law classes?

Remember, guys, this clown was sold to us as an “intellectual” unlike the “stupid” Bush. His followers even claimed he was a constitutional law professor at U. of Chicago, when in fact he was a mere adjunct lecturer and never had regular faculty status. (This is not surprising in light of an essentially nonexistent scholarly publication list.) The blogprof has more on 0bama’s academic (non)career, and Doug Ross claims to have gotten off-the-record comments from a senior law prof at U. of Chicago that put 0bama’s time there in an unflattering light to say the least.

But I leave the last word to Powerline:

Barack Obama is a creature of the modern university and therefore an amazingly shallow man. I have written about his historical howlers in the New York Post column “Anti-terror oops,” in the Weekly Standard column “The Kennedy-Khrushchev conference for dummies,” and in the Power Line post “Obama veers into the Daily Ditch.”

Obama’s historical ignorance could be a full time beat for somebody who does this work for a living, and it tells us something truly important about Barack Obama. His ignorance is as broad as it is deep. Not that you couldn’t deduce that on your own from his performance on the job.

Yesterday he was at it again, in his peevish interview with the feisty local broadcast reporter from Texas. Why are you so unpopular in Texas? the reporter asked. Obama being Obama, he was unable to laugh off the question and say he’d do better next time around. Obama responded: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.”

Has the guy ever heard of LBJ? You know, the fellow who first brought us socialized medicine? Has he ever read a single volume of Robert Caro’s monumental biography of LBJ? It’s hard to miss the extent to which the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics for the duration of LBJ’s (long) political career.

Obama majored in political science at Columbia. Did he miss the fact that Texas was part of the solidly Democratic South — the slaveholding, segregated, Jim Crow South — more or less from statehood in 1845 until Nixon’s 1972 landslide?

Did Obama skip class the day he might have learned that in the the postbellum South, including Texas, the Republican Party was virtually nonexistent? Apparently so. Or maybe he was just deploying his skills as a bs artist to deflect a question that could not be reconciled with his self-worship.

JOHN adds: I’ve concluded that Obama isn’t a smart person. He just plays one on television.


On being a closeted conservative in academia

Insty linked to two great posts by Megan McArdle on liberal bias in academia. The first, which she got lots of vigorous reactions (and hate mail) too, points out the laughably lopsided distribution of liberals vs. conservatives in academia (we’re talking 200/1 ratios in some disciplines). The second gives a rundown of all the lame excuses proffered by apologists, which she facetiously compares to “oh, women are happier in the kitchen and blacks don’t want responsibility” rationalizations for gender and racial discrimination.

Academia is probably the quintessential New Class career path, and in my day job I get to deal with a great many academics, mostly in the hard sciences. I can testify that even in the hard sciences — where politics is rarely an issue in tenure decisions — there is very strong peer pressure. Let me quote an Email I got:

I was at [a major university in the Midwest] at the time of 0bama’s candidacy and quickly learned to keep my political opinions to myself. I was prepared to like 0bama (potentially the first black president and all) but quickly realized he was going to be at best a crooked hack politician in the Chicago mold, and at worst a radical the likes of which the USA hadn’t seen. Typically I was the only person in the room who did not think 0bama was the second coming of JC [well, he does resemble Jimmy Carter, no? — Ed.], and I lost count how many times I heard remarks to the effect that any opposition to his candidacy could only be motivated by racism. I ended up moving to a red state where at least I could open my mouth with impunity — and even here I am one of only two conservatives in my department and generally avoid the subject of politics. Note my field is [a basic science], not English literature or sociology.

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t give a rat’s backside what anybody thinks of him. Even so, it got to me at times and was a factor in deciding where to live next. I can only imagine how this would affect a person more sensitive to peer pressure — probably “adapt or leave”.

Earlier, Insty reproduced an Email he got from a “conservative in the closet” in academia, with some reminiscences of his own added. (Thankfully, Insty works in an unusually supportive environment. He does point, whimsically, to his usefulness to the university administration as a “token” libertarian — and I am not 100% sure he is joking.) An excerpt from the Email:

I have used this comparison [with being in the closet about one’s sexual orientation] myself, it is apt, and it doesn’t just apply to students. You hide yourself in plain sight. You make comments that are carefully crafted to allow you to make small talk, and which will allow your colleagues to think you’re in agreement with them, but which nevertheless satisfy your own sense of integrity. You never lie. You just make comments and allow them to draw their own conclusions. A classic example is the way I’ll make comments about politics, saying things like “I don’t trust politicians, period.” My liberal colleagues will nod and agree. We’re all in agreement, they believe. It gets easy after a while. You make comments about Marxist ideology that are really rather neutral, such as how you see similarities between Marx’s views, and something else. You leave it unstated that in fact you think this is appalling, while they nod and smile at the continuing relevance of Marxism in today’s society. Everyone is happy. I don’t feel quite so happy when someone says something about “stupid fucking conservatives” (I’m quoting exact words here), but I just nod, and say “ugh-huh”.

I’ve just been watching the first series of Mad Men, and I’m struck by the gay guy Salvatore Romano, and how similar his behavior is to me, only I’m hiding my politics, not my sexuality. There are also the classic moments, whereby fellow believers in academia carefully try to work out if you are one of “us”. I remember one guy who heard me comment on how some architecture reminded me of something I read in The Fountainhead, which was enough to alert him. Later we went out for a drink. I remember the nervous moment (for both of us) where he finally came out and asked me, “so what are your political / economic beliefs?” I chickened out, tempered, and said, “well, perhaps more to the center than most academics” and countered, “what are yours?” Reassured, he was willing to admit to conservative leanings. Then I was willing to admit it too. Then at last we could talk about our true feelings, with it clearly and openly stated that (of course) none of this was ever, ever, ever, to go beyond our own private conversations. (I also learned to never ever, in future, mention Rand within hearing of any academics, in case I accidently revealed myself again.) In another case, the vital clue was our shared interest in science fiction, and over the weeks there followed careful probing concerning which authors we liked, until we eventually discretely revealed ourselves. Now he lends me books saying “don’t let any of your colleagues see you with this.”

When (if) I get tenure, I toy with the idea of coming out of the closet. I don’t think I will though. Perhaps my job will be more secure, but I have to live and work with these people for years to come. I prefer to work in a friendly environment. I don’t want to be the token conservative, and I don’t want to be the one who speaks at meetings while everyone else rolls their eyes and exchanges meaningful glances.

Needless to say, don’t under any circumstances use my real name if you choose to refer to my email. Thanks!

Aside from the “closet” metaphor (make sure to check out this blog, BTW), this behavior reminds me of the submarine warfare tactic known as “silent running“. Make no unnecessary sound, and run the electric engines of the sub at an RPM rate calculated to be minimally detectible by passive sonar.

Megan makes the case that a combination of discrimination, peer pressure, and self-selection is at work. I can second the latter: my guess is that most conservatives would consider “studies” fields to be wastes of time for all considered, and Erin O’Connor of Critical Mass is an example of a tenured literature professor who eventually left academia in disgust. But this should be much less of an issue in hard sciences fields (except, obviously, for environmental science and climate studies).

If I’d gotten a dollar for every time I heard somebody refer to academics as “the most self-centered people on the planet” I’d be rich now. And there is indeed a rub, if not necessarily the rub. Like any highly competitive creative field, it self-selects for egomaniacs — and perhaps to the benefit of all concerned. (To give an example outside academia: where would Apple or Microsoft be today if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were modest, self-effacing people?) Now whenever you put a lot of people of (real or perceived) high talent together, one gets not only the backbiting everybody in academia knows (I’ve seen academic knife-fights to the death over completely apolitical scholarly disputes in physics or chemistry), but also a kind of “esprit de corps”, a feeling of group superiority over other mere mortals. At best, this gets sublimated into an admirable sense of “noblesse oblige”. At worst, one gets what Robert Nozick incisively described as (via Clive):

Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution “to each according to his merit or value.” Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is. Unsuccessful businessmen and workers do not have the same animus against the capitalist system as do the wordsmith intellectuals. Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus.

It is my hypothesis that, more generally, the vast majority of academia subconsciously identifies as members of the New Class (by whatever name they may call “our kind of people”) before everything else, and will naturally tend to favor policies that reflect New Class sensitivities and interests. Big-government philosophies, and especially redistributive “social justice” programs run by bureaucratic elites, have a natural appeal to them.

And academics can rent-seek with the best of them. I have seen liberal academics be apologetic about receiving defense-related funding, but applying for and accepting it nevertheless. Or people who receive research funding for the liberal pet cause du jour while, out of earshot and with a couple in them, admitting to be skeptical about it. I have heard more than one academic tell me flat out that (s)he thinks Al Gore is a huckster, but if his AGW doom talk can scare people into weaning themselves off fossil fuels before they run out then it will have served a useful purpose. And of course, easy availability of funding for research in… is a useful benefit. (With all due respect, but “pia fraus” and “taqqiya” belong in religions, not science.)

Ideally, an academic should seek the truth wherever it can be found, without fear or favor. In the real world, academics are humans and no human foibles are alien to them. One of the most sobering things  I learned in my 4.5 decades on this mortal coil is that in some “real world” matters, farmers and small businessmen without any formal education can exercise more sound judgment than most professors.

ADDENDUM: I should have pointed out the degree to which already existing tendencies are exacerbated by the whole “postmodern” fad. To state that personal perspective may create observer bias, or that it may be worthwhile to look at historical or political events through different eyes, is one thing. To deny the very existence of objective truth (even as a platonic ideal) is another: if there is only the “struggle between competing narratives” (how people who believe in this radically subjectivist notion can take pride in being “reality-based” is a miracle of psychology), then the search for truth (by however imperfect means) degenerates into a sophistry contest. Which is how many conservatives increasingly look upon humanities and “soft subjects” academia (actually, various unprintable versions of “mutual gratification society” are more commonly heard) — and which, in turn, increases the mutual aversion. There is a definite “feedback loop” going on here…

Third Culture Kids

On the plane between “home base” and “forward base”, I spent some time reading the book “Third culture kids” (TCK), which was recommended to us by a friend.

This being a revised edition of the book, there are a fair number of references to 0bama as the first “third culture president” that grow tiresome after a while. The writing is also not as penetrating or engaging (two different things) as I would have liked, but still the concept helped me make sense of some things in my own family (and others like us).

Even today, in the Internet and Web 2.0 age, most children spend their formative years in one culture and one culture only: their “home culture” or “passport culture” as the authors alternatingly refer to it. They may be more exposed to superficial elements of other cultures than ever (thanks to modern means of communication), but their “deep culture” is firmly rooted in one place.

Some children grow up “cross-culturally”. For example, they may be born and partly raised in one country, and then their parents may immigrate to another for economic reasons or as refugees from war or persecution. Or their parents may be from different backgrounds and they end up living in the culture of one parent. Such children deal with both a “passport culture” and a “host culture”, and different ways of (not) coping with the duality may ensue: some children may fully identify with the host culture, others fully and ostentatiously with the passport culture, yet others may try to harmoniously blend aspects of both.

(A more complex variation on this theme occurs when both parents hail from different “passport cultures” while the family lives in a third “host culture”: say, a Chinese/African mixed couple living as immigrants in the USA.)

The term “third culture kids” was originally coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to refer to a different phenomenon, that unifies children of career military (“army brats”/”navy brats”/”air force brats”), diplomatic personnel, executives in international corporations, international aid workers, transnational NGO personnel, and religious missionaries. Adults in these groups may be, at first sight, radically different from each other in their outlooks on life — for instance, UN types and career military are typically on opposite poles of the liberal-conservative axis — yet they share commonalities in their circumstances that put a shared imprint on their children for life.

The TCK is typically born in one “home culture” but spends much or all of their formative years in one or more “host cultures” where their parents are on assignment. The “third culture” they deal with is the interstitial one created by their parents and others in the same situation, be it military base life, expat enclaves, or the corporate/bureaucratic/diplomatic “expat ghetto”.

What makes TCKs unique? As summarized here on the State Department website:

Because TCKs have developed a unique culture of their own that incorporates elements of varied cultures, they often feel more at home with other TCKs, with no regard for nationality, rather than those of the passport culture (Storti, 1997). Roa (1995) explains that many TCKs experience cultural marginality in which they do not fit perfectly into any specific culture where they have lived, but on the other hand, fit comfortably on the edge or margin of any one of them. In essence, they feel at home anywhere and nowhere at the same time. TCKs who feel at home anywhere may exhibit constructive marginality in which they feel different from others, but are able to use their differences constructively (Schaetti, 1996). Those who experience encapsulated marginality have a feeling of being trapped or encapsulated by their sense of being different. Therefore, they may feel at home nowhere and might have a sense of falling off the edge of the cultural mainstream (Schaetti, 1996).


TCKs who have experienced re-entry [to the USA] state that entering another international posting is easier that re-entering one’s passport country (Schaetti, 1998). They may feel out of place and alienated […]  they tend to cope rather than adjust, becoming “a part of” and “apart from” any situation (Smith, 1991). The TCKs who exhibit encapsulated marginality and fel[t] isolated may have difficulty in maintaining commitments and may avoid solving problems up-front (as they have learned that problems tend to move away).

I have seen this in my own household. One of us (while polyglot) was substantially raised in a single country and “passport culture”, while the other (a military brat) was raised all over the USA (and the rest of the planet) and became a classic TCK in that sense. We lived together for a long time in a country we both have religious ties to (Israel), but while the non-TCK quickly grew roots in the country, the TCK never truly did.

What about people who never left the USA but moved all over it? Sure, they do not (typically) deal with more than one language (except perhaps Spanish, or sometimes French in Louisiana), and large retail and restaurant chains create an “Anytown, USA” experience, but still, once one peers beyond these things, the major geographic regions in the USA (the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, West Coast, Deep South, Southwest,…., and the Republic of Texas) offer a variety in local attitudes to life not unlike, say, that between different countries in Europe. One gets a “TCK experience writ small”.

(to be continued, hopefully)

A ghostwriter of academic papers speaks out

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a confession by a pseudonymous ghostwriter of academic papers that has to be read to be believed.

In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else. […]

I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I’ve worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created. […] Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it. Last summer The New York Times reported that 61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion about custom papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms of plagiarism, or about why students cheat in the first place.

It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I’m planning to retire. I’m tired of helping you make your students look competent.

He adds:

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let’s be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn’t get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven’t mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to “master” English. And those who are hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication in general.

Speaking of which:

It is late in the semester when the business student contacts me, a time when I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a day. I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks before, suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical business practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which goes in my pocket.

A few hours after I had agreed to write the paper, I received the following e-mail: “sending sorces for ur to use thanx.”

I did not reply immediately. One hour later, I received another message:

“did u get the sorce I send

please where you are now?

Desprit to pass spring projict”

Not only was this student going to be a constant thorn in my side, but she also communicated in haiku, each less decipherable than the one before it. I let her know that I was giving her work the utmost attention, that I had received her sources, and that I would be in touch if I had any questions. Then I put it aside.

Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as “but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?”

I’ll admit, I didn’t fully understand that one.

It was followed by some clarification: “where u are can you get my messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to get very worry.”

Her messages had arrived between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

[…] It’s not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It’s just miserable. I don’t need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.

I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.

After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.

[…] My client was thrilled with my work. She told me that she would present the chapter to her mentor and get back to me with our next steps. Two weeks passed, by which time the assignment was but a distant memory, obscured by the several hundred pages I had written since. On a Wednesday evening, I received the following e-mail:”Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:

“‘The hypothesis is interesting but I’d like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.’

“What shoudwe say?”

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can’t remember the name of my client, but it’s her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and trade liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.

So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:

“thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now”.

Read the whole thing. And weep.


The higher education bubble

Glenn Reynolds has been blogging up a storm about the higher education bubble. Here is a link that will conveniently get you all of his posts together:

I, for one, have never understood the wisdom behind spending $50K/year on vapid “studies” programs, nor the bizarre concept that everybody (including those in the two bottom quartiles of the IQ distribution, presumably) should get a college degree. This sort of thinking has already led to a disastrous dumbing down of high-school, and this trend now extends to universities. Nor is it limited to the USA — I have seen similar tendencies in Europe and Israel.

For example, Belgian friends have told me that when they were young, all it took to become a bank teller was a high-school disploma. Subsequent ‘degree inflation’ went as follows. Banks started to first request ‘maturity certificates’ (a college admission requirement), at which point high schools started basically giving them to all graduates. Then the banks started requiring the Belgian equivalent of associate degrees from junior colleges. Currently they require college degrees. And bank tellers are not necessarily more konledgeable or intellectually acute. All the banks really wanted was people with above-average intelligence — and the credentials guaranteeing that kept going up as programs were dumbed-down in fallacious pursuit of higher credentialing rates.

This type of ‘degree inflation’ took place in the natural sciences as well, to the extent that employers in, say, the chemical industry there there that used to require a ‘licentiate’ (a.k.a. ‘Diplom’, the primary Euro college degree, kind-of in between a BSc and MSc) started requiring a doctorate, and now might even expect some postdoctoral experience.

Educational institutions (and Education ministries wrongly looking at credentialing percentages as a measurement of success) appear to be engaged in the intellectual equivalent of ‘printing more money’. At some point, something will have to give, or the academic ‘currency’ will lose all market value and alternative ‘currencies’ will emerge, akin to the use of scarce commodities as barter currencies in countries stricken by hyperinflation.

Zombie: Proposals for an Educational Renaissance

Zombie, as the final chapter of a 5-part series on US Education, has some proposals for an Educational Renaissance.

They basically boil down to:

(a) back to basics. Focus on children actually learning something (language, math, and sciences first and foremost, but also useful day-to-day skills), and eliminate ideological claptrap from left and right alike

(b) the more competition between schools, the better. Encourage this by school vouchers or tax credits, encouraging homeschooling,… I would personally add: do away with school catchment areas. One reason (as John Stossel discovered) why state-run and state-subsidized schools in, e.g., Belgium deliver better quality for less money per pupil is that parents can send their children to any public or state-subsidized school of their choice, regardless of where they live. This creates internal competition on quality between schools in the same system.

There is a lively discussion in the comments. Get thee there and read it.

/Now back to the salt mine…

Zombie: Ideological war spells doom for America’s schoolkids

Still totally overwhelmed with relocation and work in realspace, so sorry for the light blogging.

My blog-ancestor has a 5-part series of essays on the culture wars in the US elementary and secondary school systems. Thus far, three four parts are up:

Go and read them all. You may not agree with everything you read (I have some qualms about the bits on Texas), but I agree with his/her basic premise, which is expressed in the title.

<a href=" Expendable youth (embedding disabled).

The strange case of UIUC adjunct Kenneth Howell

Fox News has an article on the controversy involved in the “not firing firing” of UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) adjunct professor Kenneth Howell for private Emails expressing what some read as approval of Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships. The case is less black and white than either side lets on, but disturbing nevertheless. A few impromptu remarks on this drama playing out at what is, interestingly, the birthplace of the first widely available web browser (Mosaic, which later became Netscape).

Dr. Howell is an interesting character. An ordained Presbyterian minister by background, he converted to Catholicism and moved to UIUC to become involved with the Catholic student center, of which he eventually became the director. He simultaneous started teaching as  an adjunct associate professor on Catholic doctrine at UIUC, and by all accounts was popular with the students and well-liked by them. He was given an award for teaching excellence.

In an Email responding to a query about this, he expounded the reasoning behind Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships, specifically the “Natural law” argument. He, however, did not state this in a manner disassociating himself personally from this doctrine (“Catholic moralists defending this doctrine put forward the following arrgument:”[…] or something of the sort). As he himself is by all accounts a devout Catholic, it was understood by some as personally agreeing with them, which led to complaints against him and his annual contract not being renewed. (Technically he was not fired, but I am familiar enough with academia to know how appearances are kept there.)

Leaving aside Jewish (or my own) views on homosexuality, I am personally of two minds about the affair. On the one hand, every college lecturer would do well to remember the admonishment of Avtalyon in Pirkei Avot 1:11: “Scholars, heed your words. For you may be exiled to a place of evil waters [i.e., malicious elements who will distort your words to suit their purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.” On the other hand, for every Dr. Howell there are dozens of lecturers and professors who vigorously advocate Marxism (a doctrine in whose name even more people have been killed than in the name of National Socialism), spout antisemitic and/or anti-American drivel from their bully pulpits,… with impunity. (OK, most of these enjoy the protection of tenure, unlike Dr. Howell.)

Meanwhile, as the Fox article explains, students have rallied to his defense, including from some rather… unexpected groups.

Thousands of supporters are rallying behind Dr. Kenneth Howell, the University of Illinois professor fired for expressing his Catholic beliefs, via a \”Save Dr. Ken\” Facebook group.”
“It’s turning into a whole movement for freedom of speech in the classroom,” said senior Tim Fox, a member of the group and former resident at the university’s Catholic student Newman Center.The “Save Dr. Ken” Facebook group includes alumni, current students and outside supporters who are familiar with Howell through his books or his appearances on EWTN, a Catholic television network. Howell is actively involved in the group and has written personal responses to some of his Facebook supporters.

“Save Dr. Ken” is actively working to take its protest beyond Facebook. Its home page offers detailed instructions on how to protest Howell’s dismissal, separately tailored to students, alumni and outside supporters. […]

Students are also organizing a mass boycott of all university religion courses unless Howell is reinstated by the fall, Melissa Silverberg, editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Illini, confirmed.

Howell is a popular professor; his students voted for him to receive an “Excellence in Teaching” award last fall, and now they are rallying for him.

[…] Students at the center are not the only ones protesting. The campus secularist group, Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers, has taken up Howell’s cause. Howell had worked with the group in the past, helping organize a public debate between an atheist and a Catholic on “Does the Christian God Exist?” last February. Its president wrote a letter to the university chancellor, Robert Easter, saying, “[Howell] has shown a commitment to the questioning of all ideas. His loss is a profound blow to the University of Illinois and its purpose… Who will next be silenced?”“Even people who disagree with what [Howell] taught think that his firing was wrong,” said Silverberg.

But not everyone is in Howell’s corner. Some students say they are not so sure he should be coming back.

“I wouldn’t necessarily get behind this protest,” said David Bettinardi, a senior. “Teachers can abuse their authority, and if a teacher talks about his personal beliefs in class, it becomes less education and more indoctrination. That’s true for a professor with any set of beliefs – atheist, Catholic, whatever.”

Other students said Howell’s dismissal was not just an issue of freedom of speech, but revealed a double standard at the university.

“Professor Howell didn’t mean to insult homosexuals; he was just stating the Catholic position,” said Mike Hamoy, a senior chemistry major who took Howell’s class in fall 2009. “I’ve had multiple professors who have mocked how much Catholic families reproduce or who have implied to the class that God is a joke. Why aren’t these professors fired for their open insults?”

The logic behind the double standards is very simple, Mike. If you agree with the Anointed and thus are a loyal member of the New Class, you can get away with nearly anything. But woe unto those who dare stray off the reservation, or who simply are “not one of us”…

Did Yale prof imply lots of fakes could do degree coursework just fine?

I have some trouble wrapping my brain around this Insty item:

RUSSIAN SPY MAY LOSE HARVARD DEGREE, and James Joyner asks: “By all accounts, Bezrukov completed the program and earned the degree in the same way as any other student. A decade ago. So, what’s the problem? He lied about his name, of course, but so what? Presumably, he also used fake credentials to get into the program. Maybe he wouldn’t have been admitted based on his actual qualifications. But that seems trumped by the fact that he was obviously qualified to do the work since, um, he did the work.” I remember a professor telling me about a fake-student case at Yale; she’d done the work satisfactorily but was still booted. Explanation: “We turn down lots of people who could do the work satisfactorily if they got in. If we start letting them stay on that basis even if they’re frauds, we’ll have a lot more frauds show up.” But, you know, that’s Yale. The Harvard crowd seems to have more trouble figuring out how the incentives created by a policy will play out . . . .

Let me get this straight. Does this imply that Ivy League colleges actual standards for coursework (at least in the luftgescheften) are a lot more lenient than their admission standards?

I remember a day when getting into an elite university (at least in the sciences) meant you actually got a superior training as well… Why am I getting uncomfortably reminded of a real estate bubble?

Educational renaissance of New Orleans, post… Katrina?

Via Captain Ed at Hot Air, don’t miss this documentary about the renaissance of the school system in New Orleans after the rebuilding of Katrina.


Granted, this school system basically had nowhere to go but up. “As one person relates in this Reason TV video, one school had a valedictorian who could not pass a graduation exam in six attempts despite getting straight As in high school.”

In the comments, this nugget from the pseudonymous “MayorDaley”:

Guess who was was instrumental in changing the schools of New Orleans? No other than Paul Vallas, Superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana, and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools. In 2002, Vallas narrowly lost the Illinois democratic nomination to none other than Rod Blagojevich. Davild Wilhelm, Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama were Blago’s top strategists and secured a victory for Blago. How odd.

Somewhat surprisingly to some (not so much to me), school choice is not a strictly liberal vs. conservative issue: as commenter Khorum points out, none other than the filmmaker who produced Al Gore crockumentary is putting out a film “Waiting for Superman” about America’s failing public schools and what to do about them. And unions are actually trying to strong-arm Paramount into suspending its theatrical release. Many of the parents interviewed in the movie are politically liberal.

On a related note, if you have 40 minutes to spare, watch John Stossel’s “Stupid in America“. Unbelievably, John Stossel (not known for Europhilia), points out that Belgian schools do much better at much lower cost per pupil. You see, Belgium has no such thing as school zone assignment to pupils: parents can send their children to any state school (or state-subsidized school) they want. Even within the state school system (or within the Catholic school system, for that matter) this creates internal competition on quality. The phenomenon, known to any American or Israeli parent, of buying or renting a house in function of the school districts tends to come as a big shock to any Belgian (or most Euro) parents who relocate to the USA.

More on the higher education bubble

Via Insty, I discovered this long blog post at “Musings from the hinterland” on the education bubble. It mostly, together with two earlier posts here and  here, addresses the wrong-headed policy of pushing everybody to get a college degree — regardless of interest or aptitude — and the consequences, such as “diploma inflation” and crippling student debts on the part of college dropouts admitted at schools that were beyond their intellectual means in the first place.

Interesting discussion in the comments, especially at the first post.

8 reasons why college tuition is the next bubble to burst

Via Insty and others, a nice summary of 8 reasons why college tuition is the next big bubble to burst: (the article is apparently so popular the site exceeded its bandwidth limit, here is the Google cache)

1) Tuition is, and has been, increasing at double the rate of inflation

On average, college tuition increases at around 8 percent per year, which means the cost of college doubles every nine years.  Because colleges know that students will simply borrow more money to cover tuition increases, colleges have been relying on steady tuition hikes to solve all of their money problems.  If this continues a college degree will soon cost as much as a house.

2) Students are borrowing more than ever to pay for college

The number of college students graduating with over $25,000 in student loan debt has tripled in the past decade alone.  Today, 66% of students borrow to pay for college, taking on an average of $23,165 in debt.  Twelve years ago, 58% borrowed to pay for college, taking on only $13,172 in debt.

3) For profit colleges are paying homeless people to take out federal loans to enroll

Because student loans are so easy to acquire, enterprising colleges are paying homeless people to enroll.  The math makes sense when you think about it: if paying someone a $2,000 “stipend” gets the college $20,000/year in tuition courtesy of the federal government, that’s money well spent.  Unfortunately, many people who accept such “stipend” offers never graduate, become overwhelmed with student debt, and destroy their already bad financial records.

4) Colleges are on a non-teaching staff hiring spree that far outpaces enrollment

Why hire a full-time professor when you can hire an “environmental sustainability officer”?  According to the a New York Times article, over the past two decades colleges have doubled their non-teaching staff, while enrollment has only increased by 40%.  Often times staff members have exotic duties like monitoring environmental sustainability, or their focus is on student “lifestyle.”  Economist Daniel Bennett, who conducted this study, says “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.”  Of course, much this exotic hiring and lifestyle catering is made possible by student loan money.

5) For profit reliance on federal loans has reached an all time high

According to Bloomberg, publicly traded higher education companies derive three-fourths of their revenue from federal funds, up from just 48 percent in 2001 and approaching the 90 percent limit set by federal law.  The fact that colleges are almost completely relying on borrowed money to finance tuition, up to the legal limit, means we’ve almost hit the breaking point.  If not for the easy student loan money sloshing around, many colleges would go belly up tomorrow.

6) Schools are spending on luxurious amenities to lure in more students

Flush with student loan money and wanting to attract even more, colleges are increasingly spending on luxury dorms, gyms, swimming pools and other amenities.

Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner noted that when he went back to his college, a chancellor told him that “[the gym] was a top priority because parents and prospective students increasingly think of themselves as customers, shopping for the most amenities for the best price, and the colleges that didn’t come to grips with this would soon see their customers going elsewhere.”  But gyms are just the tip of the ice burg.  At High Point University in North Carolina, students are treated to valet parking, live music in the cafeteria and Starbucks gift cards on their birthdays.

7) College president salaries are sky high, even in a historical economic downturn

USA Today reported that 23 Private College Presidents Made More Than $1 Million in 2008, while 110 made more than $500,000.  In case you were wondering, this is not the norm — as recently as 2002, there were no million-dollar presidents.  And it’s no wonder the college administrator gravy train continues despite the down economy.  After all, when your “customers” have easy access to credit and pay you with money they don’t have, the economy doesn’t really matter, does it?

8) The student loan problem cuts across all schools, for profit and nonprofit

Often times the discussion about a high tuition leads to a flogging of for profit colleges.  And while for profit colleges are often the worst about shamelessly fattening themselves at the trough of student loans, it’s not a for profit vs. non profit issue. In fact, for profit colleges account for less than half of student loan defaults.  Nor is the issue one of “good colleges” vs. “bad colleges.”  As this New York Times article illustrates, even students at prestigious non-profit schools like NYU can find themselves in financially ruinous circumstances because of their student loans.

Shanghaiing homeless people into enrolling in college so they can get student loans… This is the sort of absurdity that one normally encounters in over-the-top satirical novels…

‘Black flight’ in the Dallas school district

Here is a Dallas Morning News story that is guaranteed to make liberal heads explode, as it pits two favored ‘mascot’ groups of the ‘anointed’ against each other.

The subject is ‘black flight’ in the Dallas school district. Black parents are increasingly trying to move to better-to-do suburbs, in order to place their children in highly ranked schools there. The main motive? Guess what: lower percentages of Hispanic/Latino kids.

I never subscribed to the asinine theory that only white people can be ethnically prejudiced. (I avoid ‘racist’ here, since Latinos can be of any race.) And ethnic tensions between blacks and Hispanics certainly exist. But it appears that the real motivation is not ethnic bigotry per se, but avoiding recent immigrant (legal and otherwise) kids with deficient English.

Go read the whole piece. Note that it is not written from a conservative or libertarian point of view.

The higher education bubble about to burst

Two great articles about the college tuition bubble about to burst: subprime goes to college, and, by Instaman himself: Instaman’s own Washington Examiner piece.

What is the root of all evil here? Is it the utterly misguided idea that everybody — including people with average or below-average intelligence — needs a college education (how about actually teaching something in high school instead)? Is it the proliferation of vapid make-believe majors of the ‘studies’ ilk, while engineering and hard sciences increasingly have to recruit (legal) immigrant students from abroad? Is it the use, by employers, of irrelevant college degrees as a proxy for standardized tests which employers are no longer allowed to administer, leading to situations where BA/BS college degrees become an admissions ticket to jobs that don’t require a college education to begin with? Is it the availability of cheap student loans with no regard for whether the graduate will be gainfully employed at a level that will enable him/her to repay the loan? (Insty gives the example of somebody with $100K in student loan debt who got a degree in gender and religious studies, currently employed as a photographer’s assistant and having trouble making payments meet.) Is it the fact that ‘studies’ degrees have a much higher profit margin for colleges than labor-intensive, high-cost degree programs in STEM fields (=science, technology, and medicine)?

My answer would be: all of the above.

Texas social studies curriculum and WaPo misrepresentation

Very little to add to Ann Althouse on the matter:

If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it. Or at least link to the text. And if you choose to paraphrase and not even link, and I have to look up the text myself, and your paraphrase is not accurate, it is my job to embarrass you by pointing that out.

Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

The Washington Post writes:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…

The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…

Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.

… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…

What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.

Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”

The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?

Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!

Henry Gates: reparations for slavery are pointless

Joe Hicks at Pajamas Media reports on the new book by Harvard black studies professor Henry Gates.

I’ve previously been hard on the professor for playing the victim card — and the race card — after he was arrested by a white cop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Note: Joe Hicks is black himself.] But after reading his new work, I’m willing to cut him some slack.

Gates’ book — Tradition and the Black Atlantic – was also previewed in the New York Times. The review hit like passed gas in the middle of a hot Sunday Baptist church service to those who have made careers out of racial complaints.

Gates says that everybody is familiar with the role played in slavery by the United States and the colonial powers of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, and Spain. But he adds that there has been “little discussion of the role Africans themselves played.”

[…] Gates argues that the role Africans played was “considerable” and included the very kingdoms in western and central Africa that are praised as examples of Africa’s historical greatness every February during “Black History Month” celebrations.

How did this African involvement in the slave trade work?

Gates references the historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University — who estimate that 90 percent of the slaves shipped to the New World were captured and enslaved by Africans before being sold to European traders and commercial agents.

In essence, the slave trade would have been impossible on the scale it occurred without African business partners.

[…] Gates points out that the belief that Europeans alone are responsible is a fantasy. This view is a romanticized version promoting the notion that Africans were somehow just “kidnapped” by evil white men — the version promoted in the old television series Roots. The truth is, however, that slavery was a highly lucrative business for European traders and African sellers alike.

Though it may be new to reparation advocates, none of this information is new to anyone who’s honestly examined slavery.

Well before the Civil War, the former slave Frederick Douglass said:

The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia.

Africans have been aware of their countries’ role in this evil trade. In 1999, the president of Benin shocked an all-black congregation in Baltimore when he fell to his knees and begged their forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role that Africans played in slavery.

Just how invested were the African kingdoms in the slave trade?

When British abolitionists were finally able to suppress the slave trade in 1808, rioters protested in the streets of cities in what is now Ghana, and the king of Nigeria said to the British:

Your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.

This old chief has been proven partially correct. Slavery continues to exist in African nations today, most notably in Sudan, Ghana, Mauritania, Benin, Gabon, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, where tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are enslaved.

Professor Gates has shown a great deal of intellectual honesty by dropping a hand grenade in the midst of the greatest hustle of “victim studies” — the notion that whites alone were responsible for slavery [and owe reparations].

[…] There needs to be more truth-telling of the kind found in Gates’ book. For too long, black academics and guilty white allies have been perpetuating fraud.

Read the whole thing. This is without even getting into the issue of Arab slave trade (the very word “slave” is a corruption of ‘Slavic’).

The truth is, the revolting practice of humans enslaving other humans has been with us since the beginning of recorded history. As Thomas Sowell repeatedly points out in his writings, it was precisely in the much-maligned Western civilization that a successful abolitionist movement could arise, drawing a substantial part of its inspiration from equally-maligned Judeo-Christian religious writings.

Outrage of the day

The administrators of Martin Luther King high school in Berkeley, CA think an antisemitic rap ‘artist’ and a borderline Shoah denier are appropriate lecturers for its pupils. Somewhere in Georgia, a generator is being hooked up to the grave of MLK junior, as it started spontaneously rotating at 6,000 rpm. (MLK: “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”)

And you wonder why you couldn’t pay me enough to go live in CA again, but especially not in the Bay Area.

The article also notes that CNN’s Anderson Cooper does his best to live up to the name of Contemptible News Network, with (this time around) a PC-based defense of segregated education.