Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Higher Education is drowning in BS, and it’s morally corrosive to society" by Christian Smith




“…BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.
“BS is the farce of what are actually ‘fragmentversities’ claiming to be universities, of hyper-specialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.
“BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.
“BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous ‘excellence’ peddled by recruitment and ‘advancement’ offices in every run-of-the-mill university).
“BS is the ideologically infused jargon deployed by various fields to stake out in-group self-importance and insulate them from accountability to those not fluent in such solipsistic language games.
“BS is a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars, not because they espouse unpopular viewpoints that need the protection of ‘academic freedom,’ but only because years ago they somehow were granted tenure.
“BS is the shifting of the ‘burden’ of teaching undergraduate courses from traditional tenure-track faculty to miscellaneous, often-underpaid adjunct faculty and graduate students.
“BS is states pounding their chests over their great public universities even while their legislatures cut higher-education budgets year after year after year.
“BS is the fantasy that education worthy of the name can be accomplished online through ‘distance learning.’
“BS is the institutional reward system that coerces graduate students and faculty to ‘get published’ as soon and as much as possible, rather than to take the time to mature intellectually and produce scholarship of real importance — leading to a raft of books and articles that contribute little to our knowledge about human concerns that matter.
“BS is third-tier universities offering mediocre graduate programs to train second-rate Ph.D. students for jobs that do not exist, whose real function is to provide faculty with graduate RAs and to justify the title of ‘university.’
“BS is undergraduate ‘core’ curricula that are actually not core course systems but loose sets of distribution requirements, representing uneasy truces between turf-protecting divisions and departments intent on keeping their classes full, which students typically then come to view as impositions to ‘get out of the way.’
“BS is the grossly lopsided political ideology of the faculty of many disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, creating a homogeneity of worldview to which those faculties are themselves oblivious, despite claiming to champion difference, diversity, and tolerance.
“BS is hyper-commercialized college athletics and administrations sucking the teats of big money, often in the process exploiting and discarding rather than educating student athletes, and recurrently corrupting recruitment programs, tutoring services, and grading systems.
“BS is second- and third-tier universities running expensive sports programs that do little but drain money away from academics, when some of their ordinary students cannot find the time to prepare for classes because they work two and three part-time jobs to pay their school bills.
“BS is the ascendant ‘culture of offense’ that shuts down the open exchange of ideas and mutual accountability to reason and argument. It is university leaders’ confused and fearful capitulation to that secular neo-fundamentalist speech-policing.
“BS is the invisible self-censorship that results among some students and faculty, and the subtle corrective training aimed at those who occasionally do not self-censor.
“BS is the only semi-intelligible outbursts of antagonism from enraged outsiders incited by academe’s suppression of open argument, which primarily work to validate and reinforce the self-assured superiority of the suppressors, and sometimes to silence other legitimate voices.
“BS is the anxiety that haunts some faculty at public universities in very conservative states about expressing their well-considered but unorthodox beliefs, for fear of being hounded by closed-minded students and parents or targeted by grandstanding politicians.

“BS is the standard undergraduate student mentality, fostered by our entire culture that sees college as essentially about credentials and careers (money), on the one hand, and partying oneself into stupefaction on the other.
“BS is the failure of leaders in higher education to champion the liberal-arts ideal — that college should challenge, develop, and transform students’ minds and hearts so they can lead good, flourishing, and socially productive lives — and their stampeding into the ‘practical’ enterprise of producing specialized workers to feed The Economy.
“BS is administrators’ delusion that what is important in higher education can be evaluated by quantitative ‘metrics,’ the use of which will (supposedly) enable universities to be run more like corporations, thus requiring faculty and staff to spend more time and energy providing data for metrics, which they, too, know are BS…”

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.
For the entire article, click here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Drumpf




We Shall Fight on the Beaches, Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940



House of Commons
The position of the B. E.F had now become critical As a result of a most skillfully conducted retreat and German errors, the bulk of the British Forces reached the Dunkirk bridgehead. The peril facing the British nation was now suddenly and universally perceived. On May 26, ‘Operation Dynamo’ –the evacuation from Dunkirk began. The seas remained absolutely calm. The Royal Air Force–bitterly maligned at the time by the Army–fought vehemently to deny the enemy the total air supremacy which would have wrecked the operation. At the outset, it was hoped that 45,000 men might be evacuated; in the event, over 338,000 Allied troops reached England, including 26,000 French soldiers. On June 4, Churchill reported to the House of Commons, seeking to check the mood of national euphoria and relief at the unexpected deliverance, and to make a clear appeal to the United States.
“…There never has been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into the past-not only distant but prosaic; these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal and shattering power, of whom it may be said that: ‘Every morn brought forth a noble chanceAnd every chance brought forth a noble knight, deserve our gratitude, as do all the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready to give life and all for their native land.’
“…I would observe that there has never been a period in all these long centuries of which we boast when an absolute guarantee against invasion, still less against serious raids, could have been given to our people. In the days of Napoleon the same wind which would have carried his transports across the Channel might have driven away the blockading fleet. There was always the chance, and it is that chance which has excited and befooled the imaginations of many Continental tyrants. 

“Many are the tales that are told. We are assured that novel methods will be adopted, and when we see the originality of malice, the ingenuity of aggression, which our enemy displays, we may certainly prepare ourselves for every kind of novel stratagem and every kind of brutal and treacherous maneuver. I think that no idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered and viewed with a searching, but at the same time, I hope, with a steady eye. We must never forget the solid assurances of sea power and those which belong to air power if it can be locally exercised.
“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
For complete speech, click here. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Pfizer shuts down its research efforts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's


“…The big drug company Pfizer seems intent on being a pace-setter in cranking out the benefits of the tax cut to stakeholders who need them the least. In an announcement over the weekend, Pfizer said it was shutting down its research efforts on treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism. The company didn’t say how much it was spending on the two conditions, but said about 300 researchers will lose their jobs as it redirects its research and development budget elsewhere.

“‘Pfizer routinely reviews its R&D pipeline,’ the company said in its formal statement of the change. It said it was continuing its R&D programs for the drugs tanezumab and Lyrica. That’s a bit of non sequitur, since the first is a treatment for chronic pain from osteoporosis and other conditions and the latter is a drug for nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles and spinal cord injury and is an anti-seizure medication for epilepsy patients. They do both fall within the neurology field, however, which also encompasses Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“Pfizer’s announcement dismayed advocates for victims of central nervous system diseases, which have presented researchers with some of the most intractable challenges in the healthcare field.

“‘It’s really alarming to see such a large pharmaceutical company deciding to abandon research into the brain and central nervous system,’ James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, told me Monday. ‘It’s telling for how difficult it is to do research into neurodegenerative diseases.’ Of even greater concern, he said, is that ‘having Pfizer exit does not augur well for what other companies are likely to do.’

“Pfizer’s move also raises questions about what role Big Pharma should play in drug R&D, especially for conditions without known treatments or those with relatively few sufferers.
“Research into these two diseases is about as risky as one could imagine, since no treatment thus far has been shown to have any promise in curing either disease or averting its onset; some drugs may delay symptoms for up to a year or temporarily alleviate symptoms, but patient advocates consider those to be modest advances at best.
“On the other hand, an Alzheimer’s cure would be the very definition of a blockbuster drug, since 5.5 million Americans are known to suffer from the disease and the patient base is expected to expand markedly as the population ages. Parkinson’s afflicts about 1 million Americans, the Parkinson’s Foundation says…

“Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.
“As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year...
“What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news ‘reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,’ a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block…” (Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research by Michael Hiltzik).


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“We Americans are so numb by now that we hardly even take note of the mockery this implies of the public servant’s dedication to public good”—James Traub




 “…Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a ‘public’ and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool…


“‘Decadence,’ in short, describes a cultural, moral, and spiritual disorder — the Donald Trump in us. It is the right, of course, that first introduced the language of civilizational decay to American political discourse…

“A year’s worth of Trump’s cynicism, selfishness, and rage has only stoked the appetite of his supporters. The nation dodged a bullet when a colossal effort pushed Democratic nominee Doug Jones over the top in Alabama’s Senate special election.

“Nevertheless, the church-going folk of Alabama were perfectly prepared to choose a racist and a pedophile over a Democrat. Republican nominee Roy Moore almost became a senator by orchestrating a hatred of the other that was practically dehumanizing.

“Of course [Trump] has legitimized the language of xenophobia and racial hatred, but he has also legitimized the language of selfishness. During the campaign, Trump barely even made the effort that Mitt Romney did in 2012 to explain his money-making career in terms of public good. He boasted about the gimmicks he had deployed to avoid paying taxes.

“Yes, he had piled up debt and walked away from the wreckage he had made in Atlantic City. But it was a great deal for him… Then Americans elected the man who had uttered those words with demonic glee. Voters saw cruelty and naked self-aggrandizement as signs of steely determination.

“Perhaps we can measure democratic decadence by the diminishing relevance of the word ‘we.’ It is, after all, a premise of democratic politics that, while majorities choose, they do so in the name of collective good.

“There is, in fact, no purer example of the politics of decadence than the tax legislation that the president [signed]. Of course the law favors the rich; Republican supply-side doctrine argues that tax cuts to the investor class promote economic growth.

“What distinguishes the current round of cuts from those of either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush is, first, the way in which they blatantly benefit the president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum tax and the special treatment of real estate income under new ‘pass-through’ rules.

“We Americans are so numb by now that we hardly even take note of the mockery this implies of the public servant’s dedication to public good. Second, and no less extraordinary, is the way the tax cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the deductibility of state and local taxes…

“The new tax cuts constitute the economic equivalent of gerrymandering. All parties play that game, it’s true; yet today’s Republicans have carried electoral gerrymandering to such an extreme as to jeopardize the constitutionally protected principle of ‘one man, one vote.’

“…
Here is something genuinely new about our era: We lack not only a sense of shared citizenry or collective good, but even a shared body of fact or a collective mode of reasoning toward the truth.

“A thing that we wish to be true is true; if we wish it not to be true, it isn’t. Global warming is a hoax. Barack Obama was born in Africa. Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.

“It is, of course, our president who finds in smoking entrails the proof of future greatness and prosperity. The reduction of all disagreeable facts and narratives to ‘fake news’ will stand as one of Donald Trump’s most lasting contributions to American culture, far outliving his own tenure.

“He has, in effect, pressed gerrymandering into the cognitive realm. Your story fights my story; if I can enlist more people on the side of my story, I own the truth. And yet Trump is as much symptom as cause of our national disorder.

 “The Washington Post recently reported that officials at the Center for Disease Control were ordered not to use words like ‘science-based,’ apparently now regarded as disablingly left-leaning. But further reporting in the New York Times appears to show that the order came not from White House flunkies but from officials worried that Congress would reject funding proposals marred by the offensive terms…

A democratic society becomes decadent when its politics, which is to say its fundamental means of adjudication, becomes morally and intellectually corrupt. But the loss of all regard for common ground is hardly limited to the political right, or for that matter to politics. We need only think of the ever-unfolding narrative of Harvey Weinstein, which has introduced us not only to one monstrous individual but also to a whole world of well-educated, well-paid, highly regarded professionals who made a very comfortable living protecting that monster. ‘When you quickly settle, there is no need to get into all the facts,’ as one of his lawyers delicately advised.

“This is, of course, what lawyers do, just as accountants are paid to help companies move their profits into tax-free havens. What is new and distinctive, however, is the lack of apology or embarrassment, the sheer blitheness of the contempt for the public good.

“When Teddy Roosevelt called the monopolists of his day ‘malefactors of great wealth,’ the epithet stung — and stuck. Now the bankers and brokers and private equity barons who helped drive the nation’s economy into a ditch in 2008 react with outrage when they’re singled out for blame.

“Being a ‘wealth creator’ means never having to say you’re sorry. Enough voters accept this proposition that Donald Trump paid no political price for unapologetic greed.

“The worship of the marketplace, and thus the elevation of selfishness to a public virtue, is a doctrine that we associate with the libertarian right. But it has coursed through the culture as a self-justifying ideology for rich people of all political persuasions — perhaps also for people who merely dream of becoming rich.

“Decadence is usually understood as an irreversible condition — the last stage before collapse… The revelations of widespread sexual abuse offer an opportunity for a cleansing moment of self-recognition — at least if we stop short of the hysterical overreaction that seems to govern almost everything in our lives.

“Our political elite will continue to gratify our worst impulses so long as we continue to be governed by them. The only way back is to reclaim the common ground — political, moral, and even cognitive — that Donald Trump has lit on fire…” (The U.S. has reached the last stage before collapse by James Traub, Business Insider).


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Apple, Inc.: Rotten to the Core


“…If you were Apple, what tricks would you utilize to increase the sales of your latest product? If you know corporations, you’d know they use any possible trick they can as a generality to increase their profit: think of how huge a factor it would make in the sale of new iPhones if the old ones became slower.

“People have made the anecdotal observation that their Apple products become much slower right before the release of a new model. Now, a Harvard University study has done what any person with Google Trends could do, and pointed out that Google searches for ‘iPhone slow’ spiked multiple times, just before the release of a new iPhone each time…” (Did a Study Prove that Apple Slows Down iPhones to Boost Sales of New Ones?).

“Apple has acknowledged what many iPhone owners long suspected: It has slowed older phones.

The tech giant issued a rare statement of explanation on December 21, 2017, saying that it has used software updates to limit the performance of older iPhones that may have battery issues that would cause them to turn off suddenly.

“Tech analysts and angry customers have reported in recent days that operating system updates had caused older iPhones to slow considerably, with some suggesting that Apple could be using the tactic to encourage fans to buy new phones.

“Apple insists the updates were made with a different goal in mind: It said the performance of lithium-ion batteries degrades over time, which can sometimes cause phones to suddenly shut down in order to protect their components…” (Apple has acknowledged what many iPhone owners long suspected: It has slowed older phones).

From the Class Action Suit against Apple, Inc.:

38. “…Defendant breached the implied contracts it made with Plaintiffs and Class Members by purposefully slowing down older iPhone models when new models come out and by failing to properly disclose that at the time of that the parties entered into an agreement…

42. “Defendant intentionally interfered with Plaintiff and Class Members’ use or possession of their iPhone by purposefully slowing down their phones.

43. “Plaintiffs and Class Members never consented to Defendant interfering with their phones in order to slow their phones down.

44. “Plaintiffs and Class Members have lost use, value, had to purchase new batteries, and had to purchase new iPhones due to Defendant’s conduct…” (Stefan Bogdanovich; Dakota Spears vs. Apple,Inc.).


Commentary:


It is quite difficult to obtain an appointment to replace an Apple iPhone battery. Apple offers only weekly appointments; thus, forcing the consumer to visit their online support several times a day in order to obtain one. There is also little help offered through Apple Care over the telephone, except for a diagnostic check of the battery and, of course, with no opportunity to replace it.