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The Weekly Blab 4.7

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 7—November 31, 2009


Happy Holidays

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, and enjoyed their holiday turkey, turduckin, ham, or whatever.  At the Szafran homestead, we had a 14 pound turkey for the three of us, which translates into lots of leftovers.  After three days, I gave up the ghost and said enough, at least until Christmas.  We didn’t do too much—read some books, watched some good soccer on TV (Chelsea is number 1! Go Drogba!), and watched Cliff Richard and the Shadows 50th Anniversary Reunion Concert. 


We now enter holiday party season, so everyone should watch their weight, or else you won’t be allowed to graduate (thanks to Ronny Richardson for spotting and sharing!).


New Program Update

The letter of intent for the M.S. in Architecture is essentially complete and will be going downtown in the next day or so.  We had a meeting with our colleagues at Georgia Tech, and they made a small number of helpful suggestions about the LOI, and said they would not oppose this degree.


The letter of intent for the DPS is also almost ready—we’re just waiting on some supportive comments from other USG institutions.


Follow-up on Free Speech on Campus

Back in issue 4.3 of the Blab, the subject of political diversity was discussed, which is one of a group of free-speech issues that pop up on campuses from time to time, and is always interesting.  Well, the issue is back in the form of a call to action from the AAUP and the College Art Association (also supported by the MLA, AFT, and several other organizations).  The statement asks colleges and universities to defend free speech against violence, the proximate issue being Yale University Press’ decision to remove cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed from a book they’re publishing, The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen.  The Yale University Press stated that it was removing the cartoons due to fear of violence.  The author wasn’t happy about the decision, but ultimately agreed to it.


This is one of those situations where there’s lots to criticize.  Supporting freedom of speech against violence is like mom and apple pie.  Who doesn’t want to support freedom of speech?  The idea of removing the actual cartoons from a book that’s about those very cartoons is absurd on its face.   While there might be an argument in favor of not publishing the book at all, publishing it without showing what it’s actually about pretty much defines the word “ridiculous”.  


That having been said, why was there so much anger and even violence about these cartoons?  Without a doubt, there were extremist opportunists who used the publication of the cartoons to advance their own twisted agendas.  However, there were also many people who were honestly and deeply offended by them, and who wants to purposefully offend people, especially on sensitive matters like religion? 

The cartoons were insensitive or offensive on several levels.  First, Islam (like Judaism and Christianity) forbids the making of graven images, and this is a serious prohibition among Sunni Muslims, doubly so for images of the Prophet. Second, several of the cartoons were not only images of the Prophet Mohammed, but depicted him as a terrorist, with the horns of a devil, or in other offensive ways.  Third, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten deliberately courted controversy by sponsoring the creation of the cartoons and by publishing them in order to (as they put it) contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship, fully knowing that creating images of the Prophet Mohammed was problematic—in fact, one cartoon (which they published) showed someone writing “The culture editors of the Jyllands-Posten are a bunch of conservative agitators” on a chalkboard.


What led the newspaper to sponsor the contest, asking Danish cartoonists to draw the Prophet Mohammed as they saw him, was prompted (believe it or not) by a Danish children’s book entitled The Qur'an and the Life of the Prophet Muhammad by Kåre Bluitgen.  Mr. Bluitgen was writing this book to explain Islam to Danish children, and reportedly could not get cartoonists to draw pictures of the Prophet Mohammed for his book because the cartoonists feared reprisals by extremists.  The book was ultimately published, with an anonymous illustrator.  Pretty ironic.


So there are lots of things to condemn here—the violence that followed the publication of the cartoons, the Yale University Press for censoring the book, and the newspaper for deliberately agitating the issue. There’s a lot more to condemn, too, as seen in some Danish editorials.


Follow-up on Higher Education and Manufacturing Automobiles

Followers of the Blab will also recall that way back in issue 4.2 I talked about how there have been lots of articles lately about how Universities need to change, and using what’s happened to the automobile companies as an analogy as to why.  One of the articles mentioned was written by Hamid Shirvani, the President of California State University—Stanislaus, and appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education


Apparently the article didn’t go down too well with the faculty and staff there—a new Chronicle article details that a vote of no confidence in Dr. Shrivani has taken place, and passed by a margin of 91%.  The faculty spokesperson cites the earlier article as one of the major items that led to the vote.  So, no free speech for Dr. Shrivani.


As is often the case, the blogged responses to the article are as interesting as the article itself.  The earlier responses took the “what do you expect California to do?” tack.  California is in the middle of a huge tax shortfall, and (the argument goes) must therefore cut expenses, and higher education must get a share of the cuts.  This is reasonable enough, though there’s more to the story.  States always get hit hard following a major national recession, because tax revenue will be down.  To balance their budgets (which most are constitutionally mandated to do), they then cut services (which includes higher education), further increasing unemployment and reducing tax revenues.  It then takes several years for them to climb out of the downward spiral hole.  Cutting higher education also means that there will be fewer trained graduates to help pull the state up as times improve.  Economists are already talking about a “lost decade” for states coming out of this recession.  Hopefully, this talk will prove to be overblown. 




Diversity in the Classroom

I got two more responses to my question: “How do you bring diversity issues into the classroom?”


Rich Halstead-Nussloch (IT) wrote:  “In my Research Methods and Presentations, I have students utilize a globe, world map, or Google Earth to present a short story about themselves and/or their professional experience.  Last Tuesday we had pizza in class, and everybody showed on Google Earth where they had a memorable pizza.  It was a poignant and bonding experience, which engaged everyone.  It touched the USA, Canada, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and Afghanistan. At least 5 different cultures were described and amalgamated through pizza.  We learned a lot, practiced making presentations and had fun too.  BTW, the students requested and organized this all themselves.”


Mark Stevens (ETCMA) wrote: “In selecting literature for my British classes, I consciously work in authors from across the British Empire:  So we do a slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano in Brit Lit I, and some Caribbean, Indian, and African authors in Brit Lit II.  In the contemporary novels class I'm teaching this semester, we read a novel by an African-American author (Toni Morrison) and one by a Hispanic writer from the Dominican Republic (Junot Diaz).

In both classes, I assign personal journals relating the literature we're reading to the students' lives, and a few randomly chosen students per class session read their entries to the class, which allows for lots of diverse outlooks and revelations.”


Please share your stories on this subject.


This Week’s Trivia Contest

In honor of Joel Fowler’s excellent talk on random numbers earlier this week, this week’s trivia contest will be on numbers and Math.  The winner gets a They Might Be Giants CD from the vast Szafran repository of duplicates.  The most correct answers takes the prize!


  1. What is the origin of the word “mathematics”?
  2. What is the peculiar distinction for the number 243,112,609 – 1?
  3. The number system in many European nations (France, for example) is both decimal and vigesimal.  What does this mean?

And two hard ones:

  1. When the visitor to the national park noticed that there were mama snakes and papa snakes, but no baby snakes, what was the explanation?
  2. In topologic Hell, what kind of bottles is beer packed in?





Last Week’s Contest: 

Kimberley Bell (Continuing Ed) won the prize, which was a Jazz CD, with an awesome four correct.  The correct answers were:


  1. What is the capitol of Turkey?  Ankara
  2. Which famous American advocated for having the turkey be the national symbol, instead of the eagle?  Ben Franklin
  3. Where do the French (and Israelis, for that matter) think that turkeys originally came from, as indicated in their word for the bird?  India (the French word is coq d’Inde, and the Hebrew is tarnegol hodu —both meaning chicken of India)

And two hard ones:

  1. In what Broadway show was the Turkey Trot dance first popularized? Sunshine Girl
  2. The drink “Southern Death Cult” is made, in part, with Wild Turkey.  What other two liquors are used in the drink?  Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort