Archive for December, 2004

Political Correctness Runamuck- Bus Stop Division

December 17, 2004

The University of Minnesota is a very good institution of higher education, featuring world class scholars and researchers in a number of disciplines. By one study measure (from the University of Florida) that examined a number of different benchmarks (NIH grants, research budget, numbers of refereed publications, patents granted, etc), it is a top 5 public research university. All this despite the fact that it bears the burden of being my alma mater (my family couldn’t afford Harvard or Dartmouth, and in fact, I was the only one of five kids who went to college) and the stigma of my lousy scholarship. Of course, I’m no worse than the football program, and I don’t demand a million bucks a year to be mediocre.

But I digress. The Twin Cities campuses of the U of Mn have more than 40,000 students, and there are two primary locations, one in Southeast Minneapolis, the other in Northwest St. Paul. They are separated by about three miles, and students and staff can travel between the two locations via shuttle bus that runs on a dedicated private road. It only takes about ten minutes to get from one to the other because the bus basically does not have to stop for traffic- there is just one point on the busway where it crosses a thoroughfare, and the drivers have transmitters to lower stop arms against cross traffic. So far, we fit the urban green ideal- buses, mass transit, poor students, discriminate against big bad private cars, and so on.

Recently, the University teamed with the city of St. Paul to establish a business start-up “incubator”, a building where new companies that are spun off through the research discoveries of the university could find floor space and biomedical “wet labs” on an affordable basis where some rent and support services can be paid for in equity shares of the company. This is similar to the way many of the Silicon Valley and Boston 128 corridor biotech firms got their starts; it is hard to manage effective anti-cancer drug discovery in the kinds of garages where Apple and Medtronic were midwifed.

Happily, the Minnesota “University Enterprise Labs” (UEL) incubator happened to find a home in a recently vacated building right smack on the private bus road between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. You can literally stop the bus at the one place where it needs to slow down to check for crossing traffic, jump out, and walk from a figurative fifty yard line to the end zone and be at the building. The location is so perfect that the University moved its business development support office from the campus to the incubator. Thus, now there are not only companies associated with the U in the building, companies that professors have to go visit frequently and that have license agreements with the university, but actual university employees.

Perfect, right? In our world of traffic, gasoline price hikes, pollution, and all that, we can just jump on the bus at the McNamara Alumni building, where the University’s intellectual property and legal departments are housed, ride to the UEL, and hop off! Now we can even take mass transit to work in the morning, knowing that we won’t need to have an automobile available to get to meetings at the UEL!

Not so fast, bub. I tried that once. I was smart enough to ask the driver if he knew where to stop, and he told me that he could not, and that I couldn’t ride because I would not be able to get off the bus. So I sent an e-mail to the university transportation department and asked why (which e-mail was never answered; maybe it was my sarcastic tone about air pollution?).

However, I did learn, finally, from an inside source what the problem is. Children, can we all say “government regulation”?

It seems that the trend of the court decisions regarding the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has been to order specific and advance compliance with strict standards for bus stops. Even for private bus lines. In order to set up a bus stop at that point, they determined that they would have to construct shelters and access ramps for all possible variants of passengers, at a cost of near $250,000. This when the buses all have hydraulic lifts already to assist wheel chairs in and out. And, the need to possibly cross the (private, with no traffic other than university-operated buses) street means that they need to add full traffic light systems with pedestrian walk signs, and the like.

Now, I believe that the provision of lifts on the bus is exactly the right thing to do, and I will happily pay added taxes to ensure that it gets done. And I can’t think of a soul whom I would want to be around who would object to making sure that those with special needs are safely accommodated under such circumstances. The issue here is that the bureaucratic powers that be felt that this could only safely be done, from an ADA-compliance and/or tort liability standpoint, by looking at the extreme solution. For less than $100 I could install an alarm buzzer from the non-bus stop up to the receptionist in the building so that someone could come to assist. I am sure that there are many other ideas that would work as well. But the game today is CYA.

So, we drive to work, then drive to the UEL, burning gas, adding to traffic, polluting the air, and (worst of all) losing our regular parking spots in the ramp closest to the building. Someone put in an emergency call for Walter Olson at “Overlawyered”.

Maybe Nick Coleman could write a column about it.

UPDATE: Welcome, fellow Walter Olson fans.

Newsweek’s Jon Meacham and Christmas

December 15, 2004

The Newsweek managing editor produces this lengthy and intended “myth-busting” account of how we misguided evangelicals simply Don’t Understand Enlightened religion. It is the standard explanation “Jesus Seminar” treatment, focused on the lack of positive proof of all of the Biblical events.

But, I suspect that Meacham is one of those people who is trapped by the world he has chosen to live in. He actually has a history of respectful interest in matters of religion, which would make sense given his choice of a little-known religious-origin college for his undergrad studies. Read his description, in his fine book Franklin and Winston, of the church service conducted by FDR and Churchill aboard ship up in the Arctic, where Roosevelt read the prayers and robustly led the hymns (“O God, Our Help In Ages Past”) in a way that would give apoplexy to Barry Lynn if it were reported about Bush and Blair today.

I almost feel sorry for Meacham, because he gives off an almost wistful sense of wanting to believe, but not being able to harmonize “simple” faith (that is not the same thing as “simpleton faith”) with the hyper-sophisticated and cynical world that the editor of a major national newsmagazine must inhabit, that of a nice “god” who stays out of the way and doesn’t interfere with how we want to lead our lives.

In this way, he reminds me a lot of the late and now little-known (in America) Chuck Templeton, who was the closest associate (and acknowledged superior preacher) to Billy Graham in the late 1940’s. He lost his faith after attending Princeton Theological Seminary, and died unhappy after a polymathic media career in Canada. Despite that apostasy, incidentally, he and Graham remained good friends until his death, with Templeton telling anyone who would listen, “Billy Graham is a NICE guy!” Templeton cried at times because he wanted the warmth of the relationship with Jesus back in his life, but simply could not believe no matter how much he desired to do so.

The entire “expert analysis” approach trumpeted by The Jesus Seminar has been thoroughly debunked by many people, including Dr. Greg Boyd’s Cynic, Sage, or Son of God (now unfortunately out of print), Penn State’s distinguished professor of history, Dr. Philip Jenkins’ Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way, (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195156315/qid=1103151724/sr=2-2/ref=pd_ka_b_2_2/102-0185129-7198507) going all the way back to Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus,

(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0800632885/qid=1103125525/sr=2-3/ref=pd_ka_b_2_3/102-0185129-7198507).

The most interesting account I have found is Charlotte Allen’s The Human Christ- The Search For The Historical Jesus (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0684827255/qid=1103132668/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_6/102-0185129-7198507?v=glance&s=books), because she summarizes, in very readable form, the attempts made by every different new group of liberal scholars going back 2,000 years to suddenly re-manufacture Jesus in their own images. Today’s “Jesus Seminar” clone of those previous militant naturalists straightening out us superstitous “Jesusland” residents is painting a picture for us of a pacifist, tolerant, feminist and (especially- the common trait) non-divine philosopher named Jesus. Certainly not the Son of God.

But all of history is what we believe based on the best accounts we can find, minus what we have falsified, not what we have built up because we found another brick; we start imagining the edifice without having all the bricks because they simply do not all exist any longer. If we didn’t reconstruct the past this way we would never be able to know anything at all. So, Jesus and all elements of His life we read about in the most comprehensive accounts we have of any character of antiquity, with generally such supportive compatible accounts that schlars invented a supposed common document, “Q” that they were all supposedly copied off of. Where we can, we discard errors.

Then we believe or we don’t believe. And nothing significant to Christianity has been falsified.

But the dirty little secret in the entire controversy is the “catch 22”: if you are a debunking, anti-divinity scholar, your views are credible. But, if you have the same or far better credentials, write for publications that are as prestigious, but you also happen to be a Believer, your scholarship is tainted and your work does not exist. This is the way that Mr. Meacham and his friends justify ignoring the large majority of scholars, through the centuries dating back to Origen, up till today. If they believe, they are not qualified- they reach the wrong conclusions.

Women and Porn

December 14, 2004

OK, OK, that title is a bit misleading, I admit, because the winning entry has nothing to do with sex, which says (confirms?) something all by itself.

It has been fairly widely asserted that what porn is to men, romance novels (“bodice rippers”), with their discreet descriptions of passion and suggested- as opposed to blunt- physicality, are for women. I can see certain ways in which that might be the case for those females who are starry-eyed and thinking about men all the time. But if you are a more, er, “normal” woman, you don’t see the world that way. There are lots of higher priority thoughts regarding much different matters. Such as the kids, for example.

Let me explain. Men think of sex, conservatively, every eight seconds or so, unless something intervenes to increase the frequency, such as, for example, an attractive female walking by. Or a slightly less attractive female walking by. Or any female thinking of walking by. You get the idea.

What is the equivalent obsession for women? What will make them risk their reputations, lives, and careers because of its irresistible hold on their psyches and all waking thoughts? Not sex, that is certain. Fashion? For some, perhaps.

But the real winner is: home remodeling, as represented by HGTV. If I had football or basketball running on the television as much as my wife has HGTV going from the instant she arrives home after a long and stressful day at work, I would be the most expert data wonk in history, and ready for a prime-time job at ESPN. And look at the rise of first, Home Depot as the initial outlet for such impulses even as the high couture department stores fade away as major economic players. And what chain is now rising fast as the competitor to Home Depot? Lowe’s. Why? Because its store formats are more appealing to women. Home Depot has too many power tools and too much wood (men). Lowe’s is full of stainless steel appliances and window coverings.

Men, do this experiment. Next time your one-and-only is watching HGTV, stand in front of the television (if you dare), and wave a thousand dollar bill, all the while screaming “Free shopping spree! Here’s the cash! I’m watching the kids!” She will decapitate you as she responds, “Move, dumbbell, Candice Olson is describing why she stenciled a polar bear next to the fireplace!”

A woman can do a striptease in front of the Super Bowl on the TV screen. Or the NCAA championship game, and he will follow her to the next room, panting, having lost all curiosity about who might win. But if you interrupt or block “Designer’s Challenge”, God help you.

UPDATE: Welcome, all ye who observe and hallow the name of Instapundit. I always wondered how I might react to the ecstasy of an Instalanche(TM). Actually, I haven’t quite yet grasped the reality. I’ll go home tonight and ruminate on it as my lovely bride watches HGTV.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE (final version):

The New Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary defines “satire” as “n. biting wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose vice or folly…” I suspect that my unpardonable sin here was to treat the compulsive viewing of HGTV as “vice”. Excuse me, folks, gotta go add one more thing to the list of things that you aren’t allowed to say!

The reactions to this post, less here than at Michele Catalano’s “A Small Victory”, ranged from the Not Me refrain of “Well, I’m a woman and I LIKE porn-power tools-whatever”, to the Catherine MacKinnon radical feminist school of “You slimy men only think of one thing” to “I’m a man and I LIKE HGTV”. Forthe record, I know all kinds of women and men, and viva la differences both ways, as well as the similarities. My basic text is UVa Prof. Steven Rhoads’ book, a serious meta-analysis of the hundreds of studies on gender differences.

If Jonathan Swift were alive today, he would be a blogger. He would also post “A Modest Proposal”, and he would get reactions from:

PETA (If you are going to insist on hamburgers, at least be consistent and eat your own young)

Policy Wonks (Mr. Swift’s proposal appears to have merit on its surface, but he makes a mathematical error that defeats his entire thesis; the better solution is to raise taxes and set up collective farms)

Anti-abortion activists (This debauchery just goes to illustrate how easy it is to slide down the slippery slope…) (Disclaimer: I am pro-life, anti-Eric Rudolph)

Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome (If we had instituted universal population controls, this wouldn’t be necessary……)

I wonder how Scott Ott (Scrappleface.com) handles this. Of course, he is actually funny……