Author Archives: charlotted

Beach Boys

I went to the brown bag lunch to hear about ”Interpreting the Beach Boys: Sun, Surf, and the Quest for Fulfillment,” a talk given by Dr. Dagger. Dr. Dagger is a political science professor and the topic of his talk was his interpretation of the Beach Boys as Christian missionaries. He started his talk by explaining that people who are interested in politics need to also pay attention to those that are apolitical like the Beach Boys. He compared them to Diogenes who carried a lamp around in broad daylight during the time of Plato to find an honest person. Diogenes and the Beach Boys believed that other people lived a phony life with pretentious ideals and they needed to return to nature. The Beach Boys emphasis on on the universal reflects their sense of their Christian mission. Dagger argued that they were pioneers of Christian rock and the quest for fulfillment was understood and they sought full communion with God. The ocean mentioned in the Beach Boys songs is a metaphor for God and the sun is a homonym for Son (Jesus). The most shocking argument he made was the the song Good Vibrations is about the Holy Spirit.

Overall Daggers talk was interesting but highly unconvincing. I heard rumors after the talk that the lecture was meant to be a joke, but I have a hard time believing that an academic event sponsored by the university would be a joke. He also failed to support his argument with characteristics of the actual Beach Boys that would support the notion that their music is missionary work.

Hitler

I heard a story recently about a high school student who was engaged in rule breaking activities with a group of his friends and took the blame on himself when they got caught. He was kicked out of his elite boarding school and will forever be known by the cause of his prompt removal. Of course this high schooler was guilty of rule breaking, but so were the other kids that were with him. They had all done something wrong but only one name was smeared. The true story only told to those closest to the student who got kicked out. The school refuses to even investigate the possibility that there were more students at fault than one. They have cleared their liability and given a punishment, therefore they do not see it necessary to dig deeper and find more students to kick out.

Similarly when people think about the holocaust the name that they bring up is Hitler. Hitler is the evil man behind all of the holocaust, but he did not act alone. It is not always remembered that people supported Hitler and believed in his cause. As long as there is one source of evil to blame people are satisfied. Very few books actually try to piece together what really happened and distribute the blame across all those who are at fault.

Nan Keohane

Nan Keohane’s definition of leader is someone who defines or clarifies goals and brings together members of a group to accomplish those goals. The main point of her talk was that there are two types of leaders those who are in front of their followers and those who are behind scenes. These leaders are loved, feared, or hated but rarely ignored. Leaders that are behind the scenes are usually not behind the scenes because they would not succeed out front but because they deliberately chose to be behind the scenes. A famous example of a leader who lead from behind is Nelson Mandela and Long Walk to Freedom. Keohane quoted him as saying “it is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think that it was their own idea.” Leading not dominating is a final virtue. The best leaders are the ones whose existence is barely known who have the choice to step out front but don’t. This is not how people normally think about leadership and the way that Keohane presented the power of leading from behind provoked some interesting questions. People in leadership positions are often thought of as supported by their followers but this sense of leading from behind depicts a leader who supports their followers. Similar to the way that students are supported by their teachers to achieve higher levels of performance leaders inspire their followers to do what they believe in and take pride in their cause.

Václav Klaus “Hayek and Today’s World”

The lecture given by Václav Klaus on Friedrich Hayek began with Klaus asserting that he “always tries to maximize comparative advantages.” This small phrase mentioned at the beginning of his speech is the point I learned the most from in his lecture. The purpose of his talk was to describe the challenging task of transforming Czechoslovakia from communism to free society. An unexplainable recession caused people to start thinking about economic reform. The government tried to put into reality at third reich which was a fuzzy combination of planning and market. The movement was in a desirable direction, but it was evident that the reform was insufficient and inconsistent and criticism came from the right. This lead to a socialist calculation debate which Klaus believes should be an obligatory reading assignment for students to better understand economics. Friedrich Hayek was an inspiration to Klaus for his economic opinions and anti socialism writings. He was rumored dead in Austria but the people says that if he is dead in Austria we will bring him to life in Prague soon. This began a period of student demonstration and the children of the time motivated their parents to act because they had done what they could now it was the fathers turn to do what they could. Eventually Czechoslovakia became parliamentary democracy and market economy  The fall of communism was in 1989 and the new Czech Republic had to privatize everything a task that was unforeseeably difficult and time consuming. His main argument was that the Euro doesn’t work because all the states are so different and they should not be united under one common currency.

Deborah

Deborah’s reaction to learning about her mothers cells is the most tragic of all of the Lacks family. Deborah is so desperate for answers about her mothers life that she continues to go on searches with Skloot to find information about her mother and sister even when they increase her blood pressure to the point where she breaks out in hives.

In an open letter, the author criticizes Skloot for calling her book a work of nonfiction yet clearly filling in the blanks of the story with her own ideas. From this light we see her relationship with Deborah as one of exploitation and manipulation rather than the friendship that i portrayed in the book.

Throughout the book Skloot emphasizes that she was always there for Deborah slowly gaining her trust. When Deborah first panics at the motel and covers her mothers medical records Skloot patiently waits for her to calm down. Skloot earns the families trust with her persistence and her continuous presence, not with any merit. Deborah is “involved” with the research that Skloot is doing but not involved in the writing. Further the Lacks family does not make any money off of a story extracted from their lives just like they made no money off of the cells extracted from Henrietta’s body. The exploitations of this family are the same, they just live under a different hat.

Business and the Environment

This reading reminded me of an exercise that I did at a semester program on a farm in Vermont to illustrate the tragedy of the commons. I do not remember how the exercise was run, but I remember the conclusions I drew from it: when everyone is responsible for shared resources no one accepts responsibility. There are examples of this all over our campus. For example, the level of disrespect that people have for the green bikes and the way that people treat the furniture all over campus. There is a sense of entitlement that goes along with shared resources and everyone feels that someone else should be the one to make a sacrifice.

There is also a notable difference in the attitude toward resources in third world and first world countries. First world countries usually have people who believe that as long as they pay for the damage that they are doing it is acceptable to do it. Third world countries usually have people who care more about the commons. This is probably because they are more reliant on the commons than they are on their personal property in most cases, but the humility and respect they have for shared resources is something first world countries could learn from.

What can we do when no one accepts responsibility and first world countries continue to take all of the resources for themselves? We need to raise the consequences. Legal enforcement is the only way to ensure that people respect what does not belong to them alone. In the case of green bikes and school furniture, if students were worried about consequences such as paying for damages  they would develop significantly more respect for what does not belong to them.

Collapse

The comparison of the two dairy farms at the beginning of collapse was a great set up for the message of the book. When Diamond first describes the two farms its as though he is describing two places that you can visit today, but then you learn that one of the farms was abandoned 500 years ago because the civilization failed it provides the reader with a shocking perspective. The point very clearly driven across that even civilizations that seem too big to fail are not indestructible. If it happened to Garder Farm it can happen to Huls farm and if it happened to ancient civilizations it can happen to the modern ones.

The comparative method that Diamond uses throughout the book makes his points more convincing because he is using the foot in the door method. First he gets the reader to agree with him that the two civilizations and situations are similar by providing information that supports them being similar. Very few details are given as to how they are different other than one is modern and the other is ancient. After the reader believes that they are similar Diamond explains that one of the civilizations has collapsed and makes the argument that because on failed in a similar situation the other has a high probability of failing as well. Overall this way of arguing his point is effective but not convincing enough to the skeptical reader. At the very least most readers will realize the importance of protecting their planet and their resources after hearing about the collapse of so many civilizations. At least scientists are still trying to figure out how we can live on Mars for when the day comes that Earth collapses.

 

Scientific Method Surprises

The scientific method is  something I learned to use in fourth grade and dismissed as an annoying process that I had to use for all of my science papers. It was so much more interesting to come to a hasty conclusion about the  results of my science labs than objectively look at the evidence and reach a conclusion. As the expected results of our labs in fourth grade were always fairly straight forward I was usually tempted to change my evidence to support the conclusion I was supposed to draw, rather than finding an explanation for the evidence and results I actually got.

After taking a statistics course my attitude toward the scientific method changed. I developed more respect for the process of gathering objective evidence and finding many forms of evidence for your particular claim or hypothesis. After a while I began to realize that the scientific method not only applied to what I was doing in science and math but also to my english and history courses. We were expected to keep our personal opinions out of our papers for these classes and whatever thesis we came up with needed to be supported by evidence that most people would agree supported the thesis.

Methods of Scientific Evidence asserts that examples of the best naturalistic observation are those of a secretary’s notes during a meeting, Jane Goodall’s observations of Chimpanzees, and Jean Piaget’s research on children’s behavior. The article begins by explaining the importance of unobtrusively witnessing whatever you seek to observe. All three of these examples are situations where the observer would not have had an impact on the behavior of the observer, and the observer left bias out of their evidence reporting. The value of this sort of evidence is immeasurable because it allows other scientists to read through it an reach their own conclusions.

Inconsistency

The part of this reading that interested me the most was the section on Barack Obama and inconsistency. Often politicians manipulate votes by claiming to want the same things that the voters are interested in. I have always believed this to be true but failed to see its appearance and pertinence in all politics. If a politician does not display this sorts of inconsistencies then they are usually not elected and therefore not a very good politician. Yet, inconsistency is meant to be a negative quality. Its a false promise and a divergence from honesty and integrity. Why is it that the American people accept this sort of behavior from our politicians? For the most part we are aware that the inconsistencies exist and that politicians are dishonest and not to be trusted, but we do not strive for more trustworthy politicians.

In choosing to be lead by people who demonstrate these inconsistencies we give America an inconsistent front. This image can render us untrustworthy to other countries. While we are still a powerful country this is not that grand of an issue. If however, we were to fall out of power our enemies would capitalize on our lack of consistency and fault us for the more shocking of our perspectives. When politicians are caught in their inconsistencies the media and press publicize it excessively, perhaps indicating that American’s enjoy having something to complain about and therefore overlook the inconsistencies when they are to their advantage and highlight them when they are disappointed. In essence rendering ourselves inconsistent as well, and thus creating a cycle of inconsistency.