Thursday, February 26, 2009

Friends for Education 502

Social networking, an activity that is generally anathema to me in RL, is a wonderful thing on the in'ernet. Just this morning I was checking out the new Facebook group for Friends for Education. I can feel I have a ton of friends just by joining it. One of the members of that group is Sandy Kim, one of the candidates endorsed by Friends for Education (I guess if it was the more grammatically natural Friends of Education, FOE would be rather negative), who faced down the forces of evil last week I described on a recent post. Sandy has her own group and I joined that one too. Imagine my surprise when I found a link to my blog on her Facebook page! This must be a candidate I can trust.

In all seriousness, the election looms come April 7th. The appointed Objector is slinking away, leaving a swathe of destruction in his wake. He will not be forgot, nor will he be missed. The incumbents who are running identify the correct vote by their names: McKinNOn and NOvak. Do I need to spell out the reasons why? The electoral board shenanigans rife with conflicted interests is one. The three-headed presidential monster is another. Where is the fiscal responsibility they so like to tout in that? A building program bursting the budgetary schemes is another. A complete lack of care or interest in education, students, needs of the community. Concepts of mission and vision jettisoned. COD in the news for all the wrong things. Dallying with disreputable activists (Horowitz) which results in floods of appalling publicity across weirdo websites (this is not one of those).

The ones to take their places all care about the community and the college. Sandy is one of them. Kim Savage is another. So is Tom (or is that Thomas?) Wendorf, not to forget Nancy Svoboda.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

College of Dishonour

As afternoon rolled into the evening, the few citizens remaining in the makeshift courthourse that normally serves as College of DuPage's boardroom were witnesses to the sordid depths people will plumb to preserve power. That justice finally prevailed that night was scant cause for rejoicing, for the scenes that unfolded over more than four hours left a vile taste. At stake was the right of Sandy Kim, a veteran and one of the most accomplished graduates in recent COD history, to take her rightful place on the ballot for the April election for the college's Board of Trustees. .

Aligned against her was a group containing several incumbent board members. You might think COD board members would be promoting her achievements and encouraging her sense of civic duty; but these men were instead trying to devour her on a baseless charge. Appointed board member Kory Atkinson had seen fit to object to her candidacy, alleging that she did not meet the residency requirement. The chairman of the electoral board convened to hear the case was Micheal McKinnon, current chairman of the board of trustees, who has business ties to the objector. Mr. McKinnon is also a candidate in the election for a 6-year term, who perhaps is not without self-interest in the outcome of the proceeding. Both men are colleagues of another incumbent Mark Novak, who will be a rival of Ms. Kim in the election for the 2-year term.

Sandy Kim made no mistakes in her application; there were no boxes left unchecked, no signatures of dubious origin, no variations in Christian name, no quibbles over numbers, the likes of which had characterized objections heard earlier in the day, mostly unsuccessful I should add. Ms. Kim's error, when it came down to it, was that she lacked affluence sufficient to establish a residence of unquestionable stability. Her intent to establish a permanent residence at her current abode, where she had signed a lease in March 2008, was called into question because of fluidity in her previous living arrangements for the two years prior while a student at COD. The fact that she shared this residence with others was used to insinuate that the current situation was unstable and apt to alter at any moment. The fact that she had mail delivered to her parents address was used to imply that she really lived there instead. The lengths taken to destroy Ms. Kim's candidacy were breathtaking. The president of Benedictine University was subpoenaed to produce all documents relevant to Ms. Kim; the objector himself drove to a post office in Bartlett to obtain an affidavit from a postal worker.

There were no facts against her, just insinuation, speculation and illusive questions of intent. Without an iota of evidence, the chairman of the electoral board still found fit to cast a vote against her. Only by a slender 2-1 majority did she prevail. As citizens, we should be grateful for the likes of Ms. Kim who have the courage and commitment to serve in unpaid positions on boards of trustees. That she was thus subjected to cruel, unfair and baseless attack by far larger and more financially advantaged forces calls us to play our parts in preserving the democratic process.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

It seems appropriate on this Valentine's weekend, or the end of the V-weekend as I write, to probe further the background of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, the organization that presented me with a lavishly produced magazine presenting their skeptical position on climate change and inviting me to attend the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change, which almost sounds like a real scientific event. The cover letter that accompanied the slickly produced publication was a lot less subtle, leaving one in no doubt as to the motives of these people. I would suggest to the author of that letter, a certain Arthur Robinson from the "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine," located in an immensely remote village in Oregon that, if he wants to persuade people to join his cause, he should not portray himself as a deranged loony by painting the 95 % of scientists who are convinced by the evidence that global warming is real, as being nutcases or miscreants. The Heartland Institute may be better served to get more credible people to sell their position.

I had mused in my last posting on the Global Warming Teach-in as to the sources of revenue possessed by this Heartland Institute. Using a trick learned from appointee to the Board of Trustees at College of DuPage Kory Atkinson (alack he is soon to be leaving us after the April election), I did a search on Google. Before Mr. Atkinson had demonstrated this activity at a Board meeting, I had no idea such things were possible. Thanks to Google, (where would we be without you?) several relevant references to Heartland and its murky history were retrieved within seconds.

Silly, naive me for not realizing it immediately. Heartland appears to be in large part a front for large corporations interested in muddying the waters around issues that would severely compromise their business. In the nineties, a major sponsor of Heartland was Philip Morris, and Heartland campaigned to influence public opinion on the perceived dangers of second-hand smoke in order to defeat smoking restrictions in public places. As a side-bar, Dulcie and I would probably never have discovered the full brilliance of American craft beer since we could not have enjoyed places like the Map Room or Hop Leaf if they were not non-smoking. No thanks to Heartland though.

The smoking battle lost, attention has turned to global warming. Enter Exxon, supplying $115,000 in 2000, $90,000 in 2001, a mere $15,000 in 2002, $85,000 in 2003, $85,000 in 2004, $109,000 in 2005, and a whopping $230,000 in 2006. These figures are taken from Greenpeace's "ExxonSecrets" website. Heartland claims to be independent of any political party or corporation. The large contributions from companies like Exxon are not denied but stated to be never more than 5 % of its total annual revenue, which amounts to an impressive $5+ million. It also claims to "actively oppose junk science" (there's a laugh given the central position that Mr. Robinson appears to hold in Heartland's PR).

Much like the vast amounts of money that is funneled into utterly futile enterprises in "creation science" for completely erroneous ideological reasons, it seems a great pity that so many resources and so much effort is being invested in derailing the global warming train. It is a great mistake to prop up the creaking infrastructure of the old energy businesses at the cost of developing new ones. And even if the whole global warming thing is later discovered to be wrong, the changes made to our energy infrastructure motivated by a belief in it being right will not have have been in vain.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The "fact-challenged" professor

The SSCP finds himself claiming his fifteen minutes of fame this week courtesy of my close personal friend David Horowitz, the self-styled, self-proclaimed champion of academic freedom. While it is all too boring and too tedious to try and explain to those not in the know, as was I until a few months ago, until (now out-going), unelected appointee to the Board of Trustees, Mr, Kory Atkinson, brought in Mr. Horowitz' Academic Bill of Rights under cover of darkness in his proposed new policy manual. Subsequently, Mr. Horowitz used this to claim a major victory in a fund-raising letter that got picked up by websites and bloggers across the nation. All of a sudden the proud name of COD was spread across websites like American Jingoist, Gunslot and others that are characterized by perversion, hatred, bigotry, ignorance and stupidity. I found it so disgusting that I could not sit silent and stated my objections to this association to the Board of Trustees on January 12th.

It seems that David Horowitz found out about it because in this Friday's Courier he wrote a letter of rebuttal, taking a certain Robert Jarman to no uncertain task in characterizing him as a fact-challenged professor. It's all very amusing. Part of Mr. Horowitz' problem is that he didn't actually listen to what I said but relied instead on a brief summary of it that appeared in the Courier. Okay, David, I know I'm sometimes fact-challenged - Dulcie would be quick to agree - but it's always a good idea to check the original sources. I know in your line of business you tend to deal in hearsay and anecdote, but in my business I like to deal with facts. Let the readers decide. Below appears a transcript of my statement to the board that night. Below that I've copied the letter by Mr. Horowitz that appeared in the Courier this Friday.

Statement to the BOT, January 12th, 2009.

My name is Richard Jarman, resident, ratepayer, occasional student, and fulltime faculty member of the NASD. What surprised me about this association between Mr. David Horowitz and the College of DuPage is the manner of its discovery: I read about it on a website called The American Jingoist, which is not, so far as I am aware, an official news arm of the college.

Surprise turned to dismay as I read further. Although the language of the ABOR seems at first glance innocuous and even commendable, speaking as it does to diversity and academic freedom; it is what lies beneath that is troubling. For I believe that the motives behind the man, the Freedom Center and all those that lend it support are actually very far removed from those that are publicly espoused.

Mr. Horowitz writes of "a major victory for conservatives, Jews, Christians, and members of the armed forces, just to name a few." While I can identify with more than one of these groups, I regard this as anything but a victory. For a start, singling out specific groups gives the lie to that diversity allegedly sought by Mr. Horowitz. Would Muslims, atheists, and pacifists also number themselves among the victors? I am doubtful.

Applying a couple of skills learned at a previous board meeting, I investigated further. I have provided a few examples of the fringe, one might even say extreme websites, that we are now linked with. The names tend to give a clue: American Jingoist, Gunslot, terrorismawareness. While allegedly promoting diversity and intellectual freedom, Mr. Horowitz seems equally dedicated to promoting "awareness" of "Islamo-Fascism." I think the image on his website says enough. I am not a Muslim, but many of my students are, and I am deeply embarrassed to see an association between this college and inflammatory images of this kind. This is reprehensible.

Worse is to be found at the innocuously named Right beneath "Allah is nothing but a pagan moon-god" and "Rules for Commie Radicals," we find the name of COD. Alongside we find "Obama is a long-legged Mack Daddy." It gets worse, but I think I am making the point.

Personally I am insulted by Horowitz's insinuation that COD faculty are left-wing indoctrinating activists. As I survey my colleagues, the idea is utterly preposterous. And I must ask if the Board of Trustees really believes that this is the kind of relationship it wants to foster and this is the kind of publicity it wants to receive as a result? Rather, I would like to see more examples of the type provided by students like Nahiris Bahamon, who with her academic achievements shone a national spotlight upon our college and its enviable capabilities.

Thank you.

Letter by Mr. Horowitz taken from the Courier, February 6th, 2009.

The article by Juan Garza about reactions to my Academic Bill of Rights ("Faculty Denounce Horowitz's ABOR) reveals an appalling disregard for the facts by at least two College of DuPage professors. Professor Higgins' claim that the Academic Bill of Rights would require professors to represent all points of view is false, in addition to being patently absurd.

The ABOR requires no such thing. Asecond fact-challenged professor named Robert Jarman is then quoted, accusing me of hypocrisy in reference to an "article" I am alleged to have written for a website called "The American Jingoist."

In fact I never heard of this website before reading the Courier article, and never wrote any article for it or for another website "Gunslot" which Jarman also falsely links to me and then in classic McCarthyite fashion links to a website called "Whores and National Guard Ladies."

The article I am alleged to have written was in fact a fund-raising letter I sent out to the public, which these repugnant websites evidently picked up for reasons best known to themselves.

My alleged hypocrisy in this fund-raising letter is my claim that the prospective adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights at DuPage would be a victory for various groups "Jews, Christians and members of the armed forces just to name a few."

Jarman regards the statement as hypocritical because it doesn't explicitly include Muslims, atheists and pacifists as required by the ABOR's diversity requirement. Jarman is sure these groups would not regard the adoption of the ABOR as a victory. But all this demonstrates is Jarman's ignorance.

In the first place, as already mentioned, the ABOR does not require universal inclusion and in the second because the sentence he objects to obviously provides for the inclusion of Muslims, atheists and pacifists (this is the plain meaning of "to name a few").

Contrary to Jarman's arrogant assumption that the ABOR would not be a victory for these groups it would in fact greatly benefit Muslims, atheists and pacifists, and all students at College of Du-Page, because it would require their teachers to observe academic standards of fairness in dealing with opinions they disagree with – obviously a principle that professors Higgins and Jarman do not understand.
David Horowitz
Founder of the Academic Bill
of Rights

Don't eat that orange snow

I was surprised to find an answer to an enduring mystery in the pages of the COD newspaper, The Courier. During the almost perpetual snowfall that has characterized our winter which, in the blink of an eye, disappeared with the rapidity of a morning dew this past spring-like Saturday, we had noticed our street turn a deep amber. We ascribed the color to a mysterious de-icing agent that appeared to be applied specifically to our street, but to none of the others in the neighbourhood. One left the virgin white of Raintree and entered the amber of Raintree Ct., the line of demarcation being the 4-way stop sign. This substance was quite soluble and inevitably ended up in the garage where it would lie in dark brown pools. It would give off a distinctive caramel odor, a sort of echo of distant baking; and, as the water evaporated, a carpet of fine crystallites coated the concrete. I noticed the same substance over at the college last week and this week's Courier provided an explanation as to what this mystery substance is. It is in fact, according to the paper, a brine/beet solution called Geomelt.

The paper uses the term "organic" to describe it, and later states that it is "all natural," adopting the buzzwords of the health-food aisles to promote snow melting. Exactly what distinguishes organic salt from non-organic salt is unclear. Any one of my chemistry students would be able to tell you that salt is not organic in the chemical sense, being of course the archetype of the inorganic compound. Of course the term "organic" in the supermarket has a different connotation referring to the method of husbandry: the absence of mass-produced fertilizers and insecticides and so on. It's definition is a bit murky, and war has been waged between the true organics and those fake organic interlopes who wish to exploit the term to sell non-organic produce. Exactly how the production of salt would be organic is unclear. It is either dug from the ground, scraped off a salt-flat or extracted from ocean water by evaporation.

The claim is that the Geomelt will work to much lower temperatures than regular rock salt. As my more advanced chemistry students will be able to tell you, the freezing point depression of a solution depends simply on the concentration of particles. I believe the origin of the Fahrenheit scale, so beloved of our weathermen (meteorologists not Bill Ayers) was set at the freezing point of a saturated salt solution. So the claim that Geomelt works at -25 degrees F is quite surprising. Which brings me to the question of the role of the beet juice - the second ingredient in the mystery mixture. Why beets? Presumably, the soluble components are various carbohydrates, large molecules compared to salts that aren't that effective because they do not ionize in solution.

I noticed that the COD folks had gone around spraying the sidewalks with this stuff, leaving sticky brown trails. Perhaps the role of the beet is to glue the salt to the sidewalk, not to mention the soles of one's shoes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dangers in the Heartland

As part of a "national teach-in" on global warming, the SSCP graciously gave of his time to enlighten the students of COD on the issues facing the development of alternative energy sources. In the midst of the coldest winter in 20 years, at a time of now plummeting petrol prices, not to mention the worst recession in 60 years, give or take a decade, it is a bit of challenge to get really stoked about alternative energy. Yet there is probably no better opportunity than now, with the prospect of untold billions pouring from the Federal coffers, to get serious. Using Pascal's wager as an analog, I suggested that there is nothing to lose by betting on GW being real. If you are wrong, so what? You will have developed a new energy infrastructure that will be required by the loss of fossil fuels anyway. On the other hand, just like betting against God and being wrong, betting against anthropogenic warming and being wrong; well, you lose everything.

I was also curious to gauge the students' awareness of perceptions of global warming, so I asked how many listened to my close personal friend Rush Limbaugh. Astonishingly, none owned up. I even heard one mutter that he had no idea who he was. This is mildly encouraging, though I suspect it reflects that they generally listen to nothing. Rush, despite his $400 million contract for radio rant, should be concerned. Maybe David Horowitz is correct; we have corrupted our students with left-wing ideology. Bring on ABOR.

So, why Rush, and what is he to GW anyway? Because he symbolizes those who take a position for ideological reasons and are not swayed by either argument or facts. Our exposure to the loathsome ranter on Dulcie and Aylwin's Big Beer Adventure had taken me aback by his single-minded antipathy towards the alternative energy gang. We (I am identifying myself as one of them) are a bunch of liberal, left-wing activists engaged in some giant hoax to defraud the honest American public. These sorts of characterizations upset me. Quite what we are supposed to be trying to achieve by this I'm not sure. But truth is of little consequence to Rush. Ideas are even less important. Coherent, rational argument even less so. I had not fully appreciated the extent of the politicizing of global warming and alternative energy previously, though perhaps I should have. I was aware of the Christian Right, the James Dobsons (nice hair piece) and so on, being particularly skeptical of climate change. Fortunately, the church in general is getting to grips with the gravity of the situation quickly.

In yet another manifestation of synchronicity, when I collected my mail after the "teach-in" there in my pigeon hole was a big envelope from the Heartland Institute. In it was a thick, glossy (though not scented), very professionally produced magazine that purported to be a collection of "scientific" papers repudiating the anthropogenic warming thing. It also contained an invitation to attend the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change - or rather the absence of it. Among the actors are the usual suspects, some of whom I have exposed on these pages previously. Some geezer called Arthur Robinson who hails from Oregon and has "published" a paper in a fake medical journal. Honestly, do you think that a paper about climate change that had traction would appear in some obscure rag touted by right-wing doctors? It contains enough graphs to appear convincing to the untrained eye. Another one in the van is the wacky 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who caused the gullible American Physical Society much embarrassment by being invited to contribute to the "debate" last year.

I was struck, not so much by the existence of these anti-global-warming zealots, but by their commitment to the cause. Who is paying Heartland all this loot to distribute these expensive magazines? Like many other institutes and think-tanks, of which this country has way too many, it's main purpose is political: anti-tax, anti-public spending and so on. On can speculate that the traditional energy companies would not be averse to a bit of covert PR to fight GW, while all the time trumpeting their virtues in becoming green, in order to combat carbon caps and other solutions to carbon emissions. It just points to the importance of staying vigilant in the fight. I am feeling quite weary from all the nutcase right-wing pressure: one day it's Horowitz, the next Heartland. I wish they would all just go away.