Easily offended Ivy Leaguers look to dumb down curriculum

books

One does so tire of college elites bleating about being “oppressed” by administrators’ failure to be “inclusive” when crafting courses.

Among recent squawking is that from special snowflakes at Yale, who have launched a petition calling on the Ivy League school’s English department to abolish a core course requirement to study canonical writers, including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, stating “it is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors,” according to The Guardian.

It would appear that Yale English students, despite being an undoubtedly bright bunch, aren’t capable of picking up the works of, say, Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, Edith Wharton or Richard Wright on their own.

Yale requires English majors to spend two semesters studying a selection of authors it labels “major English poets”: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot “or another modern poet” in the spring. (Presumably the other modern poet could be a non-white, non-male writer, but that wouldn’t fit the agenda of the easily aggrieved.)

Its intention, the university says, “is to provide all students with a generous introduction to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of the English literary tradition.” The poems the students read, it adds, “take up questions and problems that resonate throughout the whole of English literature: the status of vernacular language, the moral promise and perils of fiction, the relationships between men and women, the nature of heroism, the riches of tradition and the yearning to make something new.”

To combat this pernicious patriarchal authoritarianism Yale students have launched a petition calling on the institution to “decolonize” the course.

“They want the university to abolish the major English poets requirement, and to refocus the course’s pre-1800/1900 requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity,” according to The Guardian.

The petition says that “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity,” and that the course “creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.”

Actually, Yale has a wide variety of English courses that focus specifically on women and people of color, along with some that touch on queer issues.

These include English 10: Jane Austen; English 239: Women Writers from the Restoration to Romanticism; English 291: The American Novel Since 1945, which includes works by Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison and Alison Bechdel; English 292: Imagining Sexual Politics, 1960s to the Present, which involves a historical survey of “fiction, poetry drama and creative nonfiction that have shaped and responded to feminist, queer and transgender thought since the start of second-wave feminism”; English 293: Race and Gender in America; English 306: American Artists and the African American Book; English 313: Poetry and Political Sensibility; English 326: The Spectacle of Disability, which examines how people with disabilities are treated in US literature and culture; English 334: Postcolonial World Literature, 1945-present; English 352: Asian American Literature; English 445: Ralph Ellison in Context; English 446: Virginia Woolf; and English 945: Black Literature and US Liberalism.

But, of course, students would have to enroll in additional courses beyond the basic two currently required to partake in the above. It would appear the “persecuted” are trying to change the school’s approach to teaching English rather than simply signing up for an additional class or two.

One student went so far as to write in the Yale Daily News that the school’s English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history” by having two of its foundational courses in English focus on “canonical works that actively oppress and marginalize non-white, non-male, trans and queer people.”

I’ve read some of the above major English poets and fail to see how their works create “a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.” But, being a middle class white male, I suppose I couldn’t possibly understand what’s offensive to a group of late teens and young twenty-somethings at one of the most select, politically correct universities in the world.

What’s more likely going on is that a collection of vocal Yale undergraduates have tired of being forced to read Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, et al. To be fair, these writers can be difficult to slog through, what with their penchant for archaic language and use of such tricky literary devices as allegories and soliloquies.

But instead of buckling down and becoming better readers and writers by understanding what the great English poets of the past had to say when they put pen to paper, they’d rather accuse the school of “harming students.”

I’ll say this for Yale English students: They may not be too resilient when it comes to holding up under the yoke of great literature, but they’ve got a bright future in the area of creative thinking.

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California, there I go; enough of your dog-and-pony show

california traffic

Here’s a head-scratcher: California, beset by ridiculously high real estate prices, onerous taxation, draconian regulation and, in the metro areas, extreme congestion, is losing tens of thousands of residents to other states.

During the 12 months ending June 30, 2015, 61,000 more people left California than moved to the state from elsewhere in the US, according to information generated by California officials.

The so-called “net outward migration” was the largest since 2011, when 63,300 more people fled California than entered it. Over the past quarter century, the state has experienced negative outward migration in 22 of the past 25 years, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s been 20 years since I bid adieu to the Golden State, where I was born and where my parents still reside. I’d lived in many different parts of the US and had seen a great deal of the country, so leaving for the last time in 1996 wasn’t difficult.

At that time, it was all but impossible to find a decent home for under $350,000, even two hours or more from the state’s large metro areas.

The final straw came when, tired of commuting 2-1/2 hours each way to San Francisco from near where my folks lived along the Monterey Bay, I looked for a home closer to the Bay Area. The best deal available was one half of a small, rundown duplex in the concrete jungle of a San Jose suburb that looked to have had its fair share of gang problems. The price was $267,500.

A couple of months later I changed jobs and moved to the Florida Panhandle, where housing costs were one-quarter of California’s.

When you add in the bureaucracy the state appears to revel in, the restrictions on everyday life – don’t dare ask for a plastic bag when checking out at a supermarket, for example – the rampant hyper-environmentalism, the steady drumbeat of property crime such as cars being broken into, burglaries and vandalism, and the swarms of people who seemingly inhabit every square inch of the state from the coast 25 miles inland from Marin County north of San Francisco all the way down to the border with Mexico, it’s no wonder that many are choosing to leave.

Yes, the job market in the tech sector is currently booming, but when it costs so much to buy or rent a place to live, and taxes eat up so much of what remains, it’s tough to get ahead. I could never understand how one could have peace of mind with a $3,000 mortgage payment looming each month. That’s a sword of Damocles I didn’t need hanging over my head.

The impact of California’s outward flow is felt throughout the west, as well.

Twenty years ago, people not only in neighboring states of Arizona, Nevada and Oregon complained that California “refugees” were driving up real estate prices, but also in Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho.

During a housing boom, a California resident can make a profit of $100,000 or more on their home in a relatively short time. The windfall can be applied to a princely palace in other areas. But that means real estate prices rise for everyone in those other areas.

Of course, during the housing bust that occurred last decade tens of thousands of Californians walked away from their homes, abandoning abodes rather than making payments on properties that had suddenly declined in value precipitously.

For now, California officials don’t seem all that concerned.

The state has never been shy about taxing its residents to make up for revenue shortfalls, and while there is a sizeable percentage of individuals who classify themselves as political conservatives, they are outnumbered by political liberals who, while perhaps well intentioned, have run the state aground through decades of social, fiscal and political experimentation based on theory but with little foundation in practicality.

But, as with any polity, the absence of legitimate two-party or multiple-party systems has enabled those who run California to treat it as their own private political Petri dish, passing laws, ordinances and regulations to fit their needs, rather than what works best for those they’re supposed to be serving. It’s no different from, say, a Southern state completely dominated by conservatives. Once the checks and balances are removed, it’s the citizens who pay the price.

California’s future is impossible to predict, of course. But until those that run the state decide to do something dramatically different, it’s almost a certainty that the ongoing mini-exodus will continue.

Behold all creatures, even the gross and foul

buzzards

Spend enough time outdoors and you can’t help but catch glimpses of an array of picturesque birds, almost no matter where you live.

In my neck of the woods, bright cardinals, vibrant bluebirds, squawking blue jays, tittering mockingbirds, dancing thrashers and soaring hawks are regular visitors, along with a variety of smaller birds such as wrens, sparrows and warblers.

Canada geese, mallards and wood ducks are evident in waterways, as are heron, egrets and white ibises.

Cliff swallows can be found nesting on the underside of bridges, and swarm the skies at dusk, eating insects in sizeable quantities; while a variety of woodpeckers make themselves heard – and occasionally seen – including red-headed woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers.

There are also species seen only rarely, such as buntings, kingfishers, eagles, tanagers, orioles and crossbills.

Along the coast there is a vast assortment of sea birds which, given my infrequent trips to the beach, I choose to classify as gulls, terns or sandpipers. In my book, the latter two are interchangeable, encompassing everything that isn’t a gull.

One can hope that the Bird Watchers Society of the South Carolina Midlands doesn’t take offense at my ignorance and show up at my house with pitchforks and torches; they’re sensitive sorts when it comes to avifauna, I’ve been told.

This weekend I was able to see firsthand the significant diversity evident in the local avian population. Just as last year, I’ve managed to grow a nice large sunflower in my front yard. This one came up all on its own, from seeds that came off last year’s plant. Saturday I spotted a bright yellow goldfinch perched atop it, pecking at the seeds. Within a few moments a second goldfinch joined it, and the two dined away, plucking at seeds and scattering chaff.

The Eastern goldfinch is well suited for such a diet, possessing a conical beak that helps it remove seeds, along with agile feet to grip the stems of plants while feeding.

The vibrant yellow coloring of the goldfinches were brighter than that of the face of the sunflower, which had begun to darken as its seeds ripened.

A face even a mother would be hard pressed to love.

A face even a mother would be hard pressed to love.

Contrast that with the view of a day later, when, while driving through a more rural part of the state, my daughters and I came upon a roost of approximately 100 turkey buzzards perched in a dead oak tree. The tree was  situated in a low-lying swamp, approximately 15 feet below that of the rural highway, so many of the birds were eye level with us.

If you haven’t seen a turkey buzzard, you haven’t seen ugly. A large bird with a wingspan of up to six feet, the turkey buzzard has feathers that are brownish-black. Its head seems too small for its body and is often red like the comb of a rooster, with no feathers.

It has a short, hooked beak and its feet are pale. Adding to the bird’s strange appearance are its eyes, which feature “a single incomplete row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two rows on the lower lid,” according to Wikipedia.

The turkey buzzard is pure scavenger and loves carrion. It finds its food using its eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings decaying process in dead animals. Many a time I’ve come across a “wake” of buzzards hopping and flapping around a deer carcass, fighting each other for the right to rip off a strip of dead flesh.

Because turkey buzzards lack a syrinx – the vocal organ of birds – its sounds are limited to grunts or low hisses.

Other facts that always win folks over to turkey buzzards: They feed their young through regurgitation; to cool down they spread their wings and urinate on their legs; and, best of all, the turkey buzzard’s method of self-defense is to vomit its food. Yes, when one is disturbed or harassed, it will throw up on the creature bothering it and can send said upchuck sailing as far as 10 feet.

That recalls a memorable scene in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony when youthful protagonist Jody finds his young pony dead just as a buzzard has sunk its beak into one of the deceased creature’s eyes. Jody, enraged, attacks the buzzard, which responds by vomiting on him. (Steinbeck wasn’t exactly noted for treacly prose.)

For us, stopped on quiet backroad, though, the view was quite remarkable. It was almost medieval to see scores of buzzards hunched on the bare branches of an old oak as twilight approached. Some took flight, and the “swoop, swoop, swoop” of their wings made an indelible impression.

Most of the birds didn’t travel far, just to another tree a bit further away, where they perched, silhouetted against a slowly darkening sky.

One supposes every creature has its role in the ecosystem, but given my druthers I’d rather pull seeds from a healthy sunflower or snatch mosquitos out of midair than fight half a dozen other vomit-happy birds in order to tear apart roadkill on a back country highway.

As crisis worsens, Venezuela becoming more isolated

simon bolivar airport

Venezuela’s implosion continues.

Amid hyperinflation, massive unemployment, social unrest, political oppression and shortages of food and medicine, the South American nation is on the verge of general anarchy, a legacy of Hugo Chávez’s years of mismanagement, along with that of successor Nicolás Maduro.

So it’s hardly surprising that airlines such as Lufthansa and LATAM Airlines are crossing the country off their schedules.

The pair joins Air Canada, American Airlines and Alitalia which in recent years have scaled back or suspended Venezuelan operations, according to The Economist.

But it isn’t just unrest or political chaos that’s driving airlines to divert flights elsewhere.

Venezuela, seeking to avoid yet another devaluation of its currency or outright repudiation of debt, which would cut off credit to the ailing oil industry, has tightened currency controls introduced by Chávez in 2003.

The restrictions make it almost impossible for companies such as international airlines to convert the Venezuelan currency, bolívares, into dollars.

This has made it difficult for international airlines, who typically charge customers in local currencies, to repatriate their profits.

That isn’t surprising given that Chávez initially implemented currency controls after capital flight led to a devaluation of the currency.

“Lufthansa has written off the more than $100 million it says it is owed; LATAM says it is due $3 million,” according to The Economist. “The International Air Transport Association, the airlines’ trade body, estimates that Venezuela’s government is withholding $3.8 billion of airline revenues.”

A Lufthansa spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the country’s difficult economic situation and “the fact that is it is not possible to transfer foreign currency out of the country,” is behind the company’s decision.

Lufthansa is scheduled to quit service to the country this week; LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline group, has said it will stop flights to Venezuela by Aug. 1.

Contrast the current situation with that of 40 years ago, when Venezuela’s oil wealth attracted business travelers – and airlines – from all over the world.

At present, just a handful of foreign airlines continue to serve the troubled nation, including Air France and United Airlines.

But both are public companies and it seems unlikely either can or will stand for having their revenues tied up by a banana republic.

(Top: Air France plane show in foreground at Simon Bolivar Airport, near Caracas, Venezuela.)

Mr. Hockey: He did it all with skill, aplomb and unbending toughness

howe

There’s little that can be written here about hockey legend Gordie Howe that hasn’t been stated elsewhere with more color, clarity and eloquence.

Howe, who died Friday at age 88, was the consummate all-around player: he could score, pass, defend and intimidate. He was the embodiment of what a hockey player should be: tough as a $2 steak, modest and always had time for fans, young and old.

You don’t get the nickname “Mr. Hockey” for nothing.

Howe broke into the NHL at age 18 and didn’t retire until he was 52. Over the years he suffered broken bones, concussions and had teeth knocked out. He was said to have received more than 500 stitched on his face alone during his career.

In 1950, he crashed into the boards during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, fracturing his nose and cheekbone, and lacerating his eye. Only emergency surgery in which doctors were forced to drill a hole into Howe’s skull to relieve pressure on his brain saved the Floral, Saskatchewan, native’s life.

Howe responded the next season by leading the league with 43 goals and 86 points in 70 games. He would spend 25 years with the Detroit Red Wings and was among the league’s top-five scorers for 20 consecutive years.

When he was 50 years old – and playing with his sons in the rival World Hockey Association – he led his team in scoring with 96 points.

On top of all that, Howe, who grew up on the Canadian prairie, had a dry sense of humor, particularly on the ice, though opponents likely weren’t laughing along.

In the mid 1960s, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins took the league by storm as a youngster with his gifted skating and playmaking ability. During a game between the Red Wings and Bruins, Howe sent the rookie hard to the ice with one of his infamous elbows when he felt Orr had been a bit too spirited.

“I’m a very religious player,” Howe explained when Orr asked him about the hit. “I think it’s much better to give than to receive.”

Stan Mikita, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame center, once told The Detroit Free Press what happened after he cut Howe under the eye early in his career.

“A couple of minutes later at the Olympia, we were both turning in the Wings’ end. The next thing I remember I was at the Chicago bench, my head is killing me. Our backup goalie, Denis DeJordy, said he was the only one in the building who saw what happened. Gordie had skated by me, slipped his right hand up under his armpit, pulled out his fist, popped me in the jaw and put his glove back on.

“A few shifts later, he ambled by and asked if I learned anything. I said, ‘Are we even?’ Gordie says, ‘I’ll think about it.’”

Turning the tables on the Internet’s blackguards

snow

Over the past couple of weeks no fewer than half a dozen spam faxes have come into my office pushing everything from Caribbean vacations to timeshare rentals. My first reaction: Do spammers use fax machines anymore?; followed by, how can spamming people by fax possibly be worth the effort?

Not all spammers are retrograde. Anyone who writes or reads a blog is familiar with insidious spammers attempting to post all sorts of unrelated links in comments sections for such items as Chinese manufactured goods, search-engine optimization services, the ubiquitous “male-enhancement” products and scams that purport to enable individuals to earn $87 an hour working part-time from home.

Of course, a good spam filter keeps many of these from seeing the light of day, but some spammers are particularly persistent, especially on blogs that see heavy traffic.

Google uses a complex algorithm to rank the relevancy of websites and blogs, and has worked to make sure that the actions of third-party sites – read spammers – don’t negatively affect websites.

Google has even gone so far as to devise a “disavow” tool which allows websites and blogs to basically ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing their sites.

It would appear that these spammers are also being penalized by Google for their past actions.

The Coyote Blog noted recently that it has been receiving link-removal requests from companies that spammed its comment section in the past.

“Most of them threaten that somehow their past spamming might threaten my Google rating, when in fact they are actually worried about their own Google search ranking,” The Coyote Blog writes.

Coyote, unsurprisingly, is less than sympathetic to these online vermin. He responds to such requests thusly:

I might or might not get to it, depending on how I feel and how hard it turns out to be. I only have limited sympathy as your company placed those spam links on my site against my wishes and against the usage guidelines for the site and on posts that largely were irrelevant to your product. I had to go to considerable expense to move my server and add new software specifically to fight spam of the sort you were dumping on me. All I can say is that you reap what you sow. And as to your threats that my Google ranking is somehow in jeopardy due to your past behavior, I believe Google is fully aware of whether your site or my site should be penalized for such spam, and it is not going to be my site.

Should The Coyote Blog get around to addressing the spammer’s request, it usually adds an update to the post itself saying that “[company with link] has confessed to being unapologetic spammers in the past and a link to their site [and I include the link] has been moved from the comments section at their request and moved to the main post to give their bad past behavior more visibility.”

Hear! Hear! Way to stick it to the Man Mouse!

Long-missing ‘Inverted Jenny’ returns after 61 years

inverted jenny

Among America’s most famous stamps is the 1918 “Inverted Jenny,” featuring a misprint of a Curtiss Jenny JN-4HM biplane which is shown upside down, or “inverted,” and is valued at more than $1 million.

Just a single sheet of 100 of the misprinted stamps was accidentally released to the public in spring 1918, where a single individual snapped them up for $24. Until recently, 98 of the famous stamps were accounted for.

Now only a single Inverted Jenny remains missing after officials confirmed a stamp purported to have been purchased at a garage sale in Ireland sometime before late 2013 is one of the missing Inverted Jennys, one of four stolen in 1955.

The US Post Office created the stamp to coincide with the launch of the first regular airmail routes in May 1918, in Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. A fleet of six modified Curtis Jenny biplanes was to be used to transport mail.

Given that flying was hardly an inexpensive proposition, the post office recognized that new stamps were needed and designed the 24-cent Flying Jenny, which were eight times more costly than standard first-class stamps.

Given the short lead time – engraving began on May 4, 1918, printing May 10 and the first sales to the public May 14 – it’s not surprising that mistakes were made. At least three sheets with upside-down biplanes were spotted by inspectors and destroyed, but a single sheet of 100 stamps managed to slip past, according to The History Blog.

Collector William T. Robey of Washington, DC, was the lucky philatelist, purchasing the sheet on May 14, 1918. He eventually sold the Inverted Jenny sheet for $15,000 to Philadelphia dealer Eugene Klein, who later sold it for $20,000 to collector H.R. Green.

Green would later break up the sheet and sell many of the individual stamps to other collectors. Prior to breaking up the Inverted Jenny sheet, Klein and Green lightly penciled a number on the back of each stamp so that each stamp’s original position on the sheet could later be identified, according to The History Blog.

The recently returned stamp is position 76 from the Inverted Jenny sheet.

That stamp was part of a block of four that belonged to Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, a philatelist and daughter of Charles Bergstresser, one of the founders of Dow Jones & Co.

McCoy had purchased the block from New York City stamp dealer Spencer Anderson in 1936 for $16,000. In September 1955, during an exhibition at a convention of the American Philatelic Society in Norfolk, Va., the McCoy Block was stolen by an unknown thief or thieves.

“It’s one of the most notorious crimes in philatelic history, and there’s a piece of the puzzle now that’s in place,” said Scott English, the administrator of the American Philatelic Research Library.

Inverted Jenny No. 76 turned up in April of this year when it was consigned for auction to Spink USA Inc. by Keelin O’Neill.

Spink sent the stamp to the Philatelic Foundation in New York to be authenticated, and personnel of the foundation identified it as having belonged to the McCoy block.

After Spink identified the stamp as one from the infamous block it alerted the FBI and the American Philatelic Research Library. The FBI approached O’Neill, who stated that he had received the stamp in or about October 2013 from his grandfather, now deceased.

Before her death in 1980, McCoy assigned all of her rights, title and interest in the stolen McCoy Block to the American Philatelic Research Library.

The FBI recovered one of the four missing stamps in 1977 and another in 1982, and both were returned to the APRL, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

O’Neill voluntarily agreed to relinquish it to the American Philatelic Research Library once he was told the stamp was stolen. He received a $10,000 reward from the American Philatelic Research Library and also got a $50,000 reward from Donald Sundman of Mystic Stamp.

“More than 60 years ago, a block of four of the most famous error stamps in philatelic history – the Inverted Jenny – was stolen from an exhibition. There were no witnesses, no suspects and little evidence to pursue,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez of the FBI. “Today, the FBI is proud to assist in the return of the third Inverted Jenny stamp to the American Philatelic Research Library. This is just one example of the FBI’s commitment to restore significant arts and antiques to their rightful owners.”

The fourth and final Inverted Jenny from the McCoy block remains missing.