" /> Glorfindel of Gondolin: July 2007 Archives

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July 28, 2007

Charging more for business and engineering majors

The nytimes reports that some state universities are charging different tuitions based on a student's choice of undergraduate major. Compelled by the continuing refusal of state legislatures to adequately fund public universities, these schemes are just one more step along the path to privatizing higher education.

“There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low,” he said. “That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That’s no longer the perception.”

As an aside, the nytimes article quotes an administrator at Texas A&M who tells us that “The salaries we pay for entering assistant [business] professors on average is probably larger than the average salary for full professors at the university.” Understandable, given the opportunity costs of teaching over practice when your field is "business", but still -- our cultural disdain for the humanities relative to the moneymaking disciplines shows no signs of ending soon....

July 26, 2007

If this is the worst they've got....

As this opinion piece from Charles Krauthammer demonstrates, Barack Obama's opponents are really grasping for straws. Now they're saying that Obama committed a gaffe by saying that he'd meet with foreign heads of state that we don't like. Krauthammer's explanation for why this is a gaffe is pretty weak.

Lost bird

"Lost: tame bird. Will not bite! Cannot defend itself from dogs or cats. Please call for reward."

Flyers with this announcement went up on almost every lightpost and street sign in my neighborhood last week, accompanied by a black-and-white photo of a small bird with a longish beak. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the bird, and that makes me sad.

The silver lining in this lost-bird story is that people are capable of missing their pet bird. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the person who went to all the trouble to post all those reward flyers actually loved that little bird. People can be self-absorbed and destructive, but they can also be loving -- and it's probably a good thing to remind ourselves of this every once in a while.

So I thought about love as I walked home. I started thinking about those of us who are so convinced of the non-equivalence, moral and otherwise, of people and birds that they would interpret this love for a missing bird as evidence that people sometimes misplace their emotions, or (more generously) that people have such a surplus capacity for love that they can afford to squander it on a being that isn't somehow intrinsically worthy of it. These people might say that humans alone can validate another person's love and can sometimes compel it, but a mere bird can only be the indifferent target of irrational emotion.

Surely you know people that think like this. You might even think this way yourself. After all, it does make instinctive sense to think of human beings as special in many ways, including perhaps their "appropriateness" as objects of our love.

But how can we know enough to be sure of this? If we can be confident about anything in the world, I think that we can be most confident about our ignorance. Religions, it seems to me, exist because at some level we're aware that we have no idea what the hell we're all doing here, or why, or what the point of it all is. Religions exist because we humans feel profoundly uncomfortable with this ignorance, and we mostly prefer faith -- just a belief in something we're not logically or empirically compelled to believe in -- to raw blubbering ignorance. We're uncomfortable not knowing what happens to us after we die, so we make up a story and believe in it rather than live with uncomfortable ignorance. We don't know why we're here, so we put our faith in a religious story that tells us why we're here and what we're supposed to be doing.

I'm not arguing against faith. I'm just saying that I think the ideas and stories we have faith in, that we believe without compulsion, are things we create and are not given to us by God. No, scratch that. I'm saying that even if there's a God that has given us anything, it's too difficult to distinguish which of our many yearnings and wishes and beliefs are God-given and which are conjured up by ignorant people just like ourselves. We have to remember that although faith may be a good thing, it's definitely not knowledge.

So what does this have to do with a lost bird? Even if many of you would agree with me that faith isn't knowledge and that we're ignorant about a lot of things, I'm surprised how many of us will act as if they know that loving a bird is a slightly foolish thing to do. But if it's a noble thing to love another person, why is it foolish to love a bird? Or to put the same thing a different way, if loving a bird is foolish, then aren't we just as foolish when we love each other?

It seems to me that in the dark of our ignorance, we could be a bit more generous than that. As far as I know, love is a wonderful thing, and it doesn't have to be hoarded up as if it were in danger of running out. Moreover, birds are wonderful too, and there's no evidence that we squander our love if we give some of it to a bird. So for all you humans-are-the-only-worthy-beings people out there, you can put a cork in it.

I don't believe you.

July 25, 2007

Chaos at the Tour de France

I'm starting to wonder whether we'll ever see a straight-up Tour de France again. The yellow jersey has been pulled from the race by his own team:

Rasmussen's exit was unprecedented. No yellow jersey wearer has been withdrawn from the race by his team over doping offences. The last race leader to leave the event in similar circumstances was the Belgian Michel Pollentier, caught trying to defraud a doping control in 1978.

Did "The Chicken" dope? Stay tuned for more....