Commentary & Opinion

Let me start today’s commentary on innovation in higher education with a brief scenario.  A college professor, along with a group of teaching assistants and upper-level undergraduate students, organized his freshman physics section of some 200 students into multiple small groups to discuss the lecture they all had  already heard on-line by a Nobel Laureate who was not only an exceptional physicist, but also an exceptionally engaging teacher .   The two-hour class flew by as each small group discussed the concepts presented by the Nobel Laureate, and developed experiments to demonstrate thei

 

In a nation obsessed with creativity, freedom is the exalted position. For freedom gives meaning to our actions. Yet it is the defect of ideology to assume action is reducible to one simple principle, a uniquely explanatory element. In reality, freedom is a complex and composite affair.

 

 In an earlier essay I mentioned that there was no reason why pure scientists such as myself shouldn't have a say in politics -- particularly since law-making is sometimes regarded, wrongly I believe, as being just in the province of those trained in law.

 

In the little more than half-a-generation, since a young bi-racial, Harvard Law School Graduate named Barak Obama set out to prove that America was ready to embrace a complete change in race-based socio-political viewpoint, much has indeed changed, though hardly in ways he envisaged.  Especially in the interactive sense he anticipated.

It’s summertime. 

That means kids swimming in the pool, going to camp and – of course - smoking their first cigar.

Shocked?  Every year, more than 1,000,000 kids try their first cigar.  And, if the cigar companies have their way, you won’t be able to do much about it.

After intensive lobbying by cigar companies, Congress is about to vote on an amendment that would exempt many cigars from any regulation at all. 

 

Let me state at the outset that my tea leaves are no more refined than anyone else’s. However, we are in the midst of potential earth shattering events that are worthy of speculation, events that are likely to shape our national destiny for decades.

I am persuaded Mitt Romney wins the next election in large part because there isn’t a victory narrative President Obama can develop. Thirty eight consecutive months of over 8 percent unemployment is in itself a scenario for defeat, notwithstanding all of the rationalizations the president will offer.

 

Many conservatives are concerned that we have lost a sense of moral obligations, without which the state must eventually fail. They trace most of the nation’s ills to character, including the national debt, crime, failing schools and poverty to name a few.

 

From its very first use in our national history, collective bargaining by fiat has never been a fair or effective means of achieving justice or peace in American labor relations.  The overwhelming material and political power of the financial/commercial/industrial amalgam has always wielded too great an influence over the official mechanisms set in place to police the process. Knowing this, the amalgam has used every available means to destroy the most effective defense available to American workers: their unity.

 

You see the advertisements everywhere: electronic cigarettes – which don’t use tobacco – are exempt from public smoking restrictions and help those who wish to quit.  But are the claims true?

While it is true that these devices don’t use tobacco, there is little scientific evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit.  In addition, since there is no regulation of these devices, the quality and safety of these products cannot be assured.

This past weekend I, along with many other extremely fortunate citizens of the Capital Region, experienced a truly memorable event at RPI’s stunning Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center – or EMPAC.   Entitled John Brown’s Body, the event commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and was a partnership of the Albany Pro Musica and the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.  The music was sometimes haunting, sometimes a call-to-arms, sometimes ethereal, sometimes dirge-like, sometimes jubilant and, at all times, exquisitely beautiful.

 

An estimated 34 million people around the world are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Most of these individuals live in developing countries, but approximately 1.2 million Americans are infected. At least of third of those living with HIV/AIDS in the US are unaware of their status.

 

It is axiomatic to suggest that if there are three Jews in a room there is likely to be nine opinions – each one shaped by a view of reality. As a consequence, there are dozens of Jewish organizations representing every political opinion and judgment under the sun. However, on one matter there was usually convergence, the welfare of Jewish life and the state of Israel.

The currently dis-United States of ours has arrived at a trying juncture, in its turbulent tribulations, to determine the actual status of its democratic durability.

 

The Muslim Brotherhood charm campaign in the U.S. has officially been launched. Now that the Brotherhood is no longer an opposition group, but a political juggernaut controlling a majority of the seats in Egypt’s parliament, a series of meetings with experts in the U.S. have been organized to convince the wary that they are far more moderate than their reputation suggests.

 

Max Frisch, the 20th Century Swiss architect, novelist, playwright, philosopher wrote of many things but on one subject, he was most intensely prescient.  Of technology, he wrote—“Technology is the knack of arranging the world, so that we don’t have to experience it.”

GANJA & HESS, which dates from 1973, is one of those films that can be labeled a forgotten classic. The reason why it is forgotten is that too few moviegoers saw it during its all-too-brief original theatrical run. But now, decades later, the uncut version of the film, which was written and directed by Bill Gunn, is available on DVD.

The word 'etiquette' reminds me of vicarage ladies discussing which way their pinkies ought to point when holding a tea-cup, but I use the word here with respect to the problem of friends who don't, can't or won't, respond.

I don't email much, and typically my 'you have mail' box may have anything between zero and three new emails each morning. I know people who apparently receive as many as 80 a day, excluding advertising! (How such a phenomenon occurs I'm not sure. They must be very talkative.)

Over the last several months, concerns regarding our nation’s system of higher education have continued to escalate…concerns regarding cost, quality, rigor and, yes, even long-term value.  And, as we all know, the employment opportunities for recent graduates of our institutions of higher education, particularly those who have earned a baccalaureate degree, have decreased substantially, despite the fact that members of the nation’s high technology sector have stated that there are not sufficient numbers of U.S.

Wordsworth defined poetry as – “The spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…”  There are times when we poets have no other recourse.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE OLD SOLDIERS GONE?
(Drums and Echoes Redux, May 31- 2012)
By Paul Elisha

Have you noticed, the swagger goes first?
A feeling, that despite all the other
Endless vestments of equivalence
Yours were somehow different, is by some
Inscrutable mystique now retrospect.

As we are about to embark on one of the high-profile movie seasons, it is as good a time as any to ponder exactly what is being marketed to mainstream moviegoers. 

Most Monday nights we are in front of the tube, mesmerized by the “Antiques Road Show.”

“Look at the piece of junk!’’ my husband exclaims.

“Don’t just sit there. Get down to the basement and start looking!’’ I reply.

One recent Monday night was different.

Oh sure, there were some “antiques’’ involved. They were the thousands of middle-aged people like us, dancing and rockin’ out in a big public arena.

Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the leading psychiatrists in the US, recently did something remarkable. In a letter published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on May 19th he humbly wrote, “I owe the gay community an apology.”

He was apologizing for a study -- first presented in 2001 and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003 -- that examined at whether or not therapy could make gay people straight. Dr. Spitzer concluded that it could, based on interviews of 200 men and women recruited from centers that offered so called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy.

 

Based on the accumulation of recent reports, Europe is among the “walking dead.” The recent elections in Greece and France indicate that the respective populations are resistant to austerity measures. Despite insolvency, or in France’s case the prospect of insolvency, Europeans are so committed to their entitlements, they won’t give them up. Claims that a higher millionaire tax will offset the deficit provides a frission for socialists, but does little to offset the financial imbalance.

The law of contract, based on the consent of the parties, and the law of torts, based on our obligations when no agreement covers what happened, are fundamental to American law. There is only one problem. Both fields are hopelessly out of date.

 

In announcing their intention to cancel this year’s Memorial Day Parade, in Saratoga Springs, New York, last week, the annual event’s sponsoring organization, listed a number of reasons, one of which really shocked this commentator’s sense of how cheaply, beyond dollar value, many of today’s Americans assess the worth of their so-called ‘Freedom.’  The sponsors literally stated the event was too ‘dollar-costly.’

At that moment, the full meaning of just how materialistically divided we’ve become, struck home.  Then, a flood of pointedly related questions arose:

 

It has been an article of faith among those opposed to the federal health care reform law that it must be repealed.  You see it all the time: “repeal Obamacare.”  But what does that mean?  Do they really mean repeal everything?  It turns out that the answer is “yes.”

The law is extensive.  It covers lots of issues.

 

The release last year of Martin Scorsese’s HUGO has brought to the forefront a long-deceased cinema pioneer. That would be Georges Méliès, who is played in HUGO by Ben Kingsley.

What makes Méliès so interesting historically is that he was as much an illusionist as a filmmaker. His imagination allowed him to concoct and employ a range of special effects in the films he made around the turn of the 20th century. These effects include time lapse photography, multiple exposures, and hand-painted color on film shot in black-and-white.

There are at least two famous airlifts associated with World War II. In 1942, when the last route from India to China was cut off, FDR made the decision that it was imperative China receive armaments and supplies for the Army Air Force in China, which was struggling to pin down Japanese forces. Both the US and UK began the appallingly dangerous air lift over the Himalayas -- from Assam (famous for its tea) in India to Kunming in China.

In his State of the Union address this past January, President Obama warned the higher education community that, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”  Clearly, “affordability” of postsecondary education is a top priority of this administration.  President Obama went on to say that, “We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition, we’ll run out of money.  States need to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.   And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down."

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