Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Reading List For Stanford’s Class Of 2021

(This post caps off a four-part series on the entering college and university classes of 2021.)

On July 16, 2017, Stanford News published a story on Stanford’s Summer Reading List for its entering class of 2021.  The following are excerpts from the story, written by Taylor Kubota, shortened (without changing the content or context of the story) for readability.

Stanford’s Three Books program prompts students to think about sustainability and equity
Earth systems Professor Noah Diffenbaugh aims to engage first-year students in challenging discussions with his Three Books selections centered on sustainability and equity.
Following 13 years of tradition, Stanford’s incoming, first-year students have received a special package for the summer: three books, carefully curated by a Stanford faculty member. Their assignment is to read all three prior to New Student Orientation, which will include a panel discussion with the authors.
The Three Books this year are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)
 “In my research, I’m interested in understanding what it is about the physical climate – heat waves, drought, floods – that most impacts people and ecosystems,” Diffenbaugh said. “Once you begin to examine the relationship between people and the environment, it becomes clear that the big global challenges for this generation lie at the intersection of sustainability and equity – the two are inextricably linked.”
Diffenbaugh selected the books Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, BA ’11; The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert; and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, BA ’99, MA ’00, a former Stegner Fellow in Stanford’s Creative Writing Program.
Engaging in difficult discussions
At the heart of Diffenbaugh’s decisions regarding this year’s Three Books is the desire to encourage students to think deeply and thoughtfully about challenging issues that lack clear-cut solutions. Diffenbaugh also believes the ability to work through these complicated topics will benefit students far beyond their academics.
“There are larger-scale discussions going on now, not just on campus, but nationally and internationally, and one of my goals is that our students are able to engage with those in a constructive way,” he said. “These books deal with highly charged topics where there’s no obvious solution. So, how do we have a reasoned discussion that leaves space for free speech and the free flow of ideas, where people can disagree and allow their views to evolve as a result of the dialogue? That’s an ongoing challenge, and this is an opportunity to wrestle with that experience right at the outset of college.”
Tied together
Beyond the fact that each book addresses difficult, timely issues, they are also unified by this year’s theme. Together, this collection shows how the realities of sustainability and equity can seem to exist in parallel but are, at their roots, intertwined.
Homegoing and The Sixth Extinction run in parallel, with Homegoing examining the history of how people have treated each other, and The Sixth Extinction examining the history of how people have treated the rest of life on Earth,” Diffenbaugh explained. “Salvage the Bones really brings those two together and examines the ways in which environmental vulnerability is shaped by poverty and access to both material and nonmaterial resources. It also speaks to the power of human resilience, even in the face of extreme environmental conditions and extreme inequality.”
A panel featuring all three authors, moderated by Diffenbaugh, will take place at Memorial Auditorium during New Student Orientation. This panel will be simulcast at the Pigott Theater for pre-major advisors and interested staff or faculty. Students participating in online discussions on Stanford Canvas can submit topics and questions for the panel.
In August, Stanford faculty and administrators chosen by Diffenbaugh will be hosting “Three Book Chats” on Canvas for students to get a preview of academic life at Stanford.
Descriptions of the 2017 Three Books program selections:
·       Homegoing is a novel that follows the lineage of two half-sisters born in different villages in Ghana and their descendants through eight generations. It details the troubling history of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic and the lasting impacts it had on those who were taken and those who were not.
·       The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History lays out the five mass extinctions that have occurred on Earth and makes a case, through science and narrative that the sixth is now underway, caused by human activity. This was the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner in General Nonfiction.
·       Salvage the Bones takes place in the 12 days immediately surrounding Hurricane Katrina, which Ward experienced firsthand. Its subjects are the Batistes, a family of five who, in advance of the storm, are already facing poverty, death of a parent, alcoholism and teenage pregnancy. This book won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction.
Comment On The Three Books
Professor Diffenbaugh is a highly regarded expert in his field of earth systems, environment and energy.  But that does not make him an expert on Africa and poverty, subjects of two of the books.
A true progressive might charge Professor Diffenbaugh with cultural appropriation, or worse, a White privileged member of the Western patriarchy condescending to select a book on persons with African roots.  An African or African-American Studies professor, preferable female, should be selecting a book on two half-sisters in Ghana and their descendants.  Similarly, a professor who has experienced poverty, or death of a parent, or alcoholism, or teenage pregnancy, yet surmounted one or more of these obstacles to achieve academic success, should be selecting a book on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on poverty stricken families.
The third book lies squarely in Professor Diffenbaugh’s ambit, but is biased in favor of the global warming side of the debate.  In fairness, he should also have selected a book that disagrees with man-made global warming so students could read and discuss both points of view.

Perhaps Stanford’s new provost, Persis Drell, in keeping with her remarks to the Faculty Senate on April 27, 2017, will advise next year’s faculty member entrusted with selecting the Summer Reading List to include a diversity of viewpoints.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lyrics For The College And University Classes Of 2021

In a previous post, your friendly proprietor alerted you to dozens of words that can be hurled at you if you dare to think for yourself and reject the progressive narrative.

You probably think some of the people charging you with intellectual crimes are hypocrites.  For example, flying on a private jet to a conference on global warming, or denouncing inequality while earning $300,000 a year as a tenured professor at an elite university.

To help you resist the assault on thinking for yourself, I suggest you memorize the lyrics of “Games People Play” that Joe South released in late 1968, almost a half-century ago.  South won the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” and “Best Contemporary Song.”

The first three stanzas will keep you sane as you endure the psychobabble that calls itself progressive.

But, if you are really clever, you will learn how to use the progressive vocabulary to your advantage.  If you master its terminology and keep a straight face, you can run for high political office and enrich yourself while promising to help the have-nots.

Games People Play (Joe South)

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

And they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they're covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

La-da da da da da da da
La-da da da da da da
Talking 'bout you and me
And the games people play

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Welcome to Stanford’s Class of 2021

Professor John Etchemendy, who served as provost for over 16 years (2000-2017), in a departing speech before the Stanford Board of Trustees, outlined challenges higher education is facing in the coming years. Following is an excerpt from that talk, with comments inserted by your friendly proprietor.

But I’m actually more worried about the threat from within. (Comment:  I cannot recall or find a single public remark or email to the faculty, staff, and students of Stanford in which Provost Etchemendy expressed concern during his 16 years as provost over the threat from within.  Perhaps he only realized this problem after stepping down.)  Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; (Comment:  In my 16 years as provost, Stanford’s Academic Council tenured and tenure-track faculty has grown from 1368 to 1659.  During those years, several hundred members of the faculty retired.  This means we made about 500 new appointments.  I can’t recall how many of these have conservative credentials, but there must be a few.  Some Stanford departments do not have a single registered Republican.  I’ve searched my email files but I can’t find those in which I instructed our 7 school deans and dozens of department chairs to include highly qualified conservative candidates in their searches, nor can they find their email replies to me assuring this was the case); in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.
(Comment:  In the 2016 presidential election, over 90% of Stanford’s faculty voted for Hillary Clinton; only 5% for Donald Trump.  But our faculty never let their politics intrude on their teaching and research.)
This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve.  (Comment:  Who was the Chief Academic Officer of Stanford University during the past 16 years?)
It will not be easy to resist this current. As an institution, we are continually pressed by faculty and students to take political stands, and any failure to do so is perceived as a lack of courage. But at universities today, the easiest thing to do is to succumb to that pressure. (Comment:  Stanford Board of Trustees voted to divest from coal companies during my tenure as provost.)  What requires real courage is to resist it. Yet when those making the demands can only imagine ignorance and stupidity on the other side, any resistance will be similarly impugned.
The university is not a megaphone to amplify this or that political view, and when it does it violates a core mission. Universities must remain open forums for contentious debate, and they cannot do so while officially espousing one side of that debate.
But we must do more. We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. (Comment:  No thanks to you.)  It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds with, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.
(Comment:  The Hoover Institution is the only unit on campus in which diversity of thought truly prevails and in which the monoculture of the left does not dominate.  Yet during your years as provost, you made it more difficult for Hoover to hire full-time Senior Fellows by removing their right to purchase a campus residence, sponsor foreign visitors, and serve as principal investigator in federally funded research.)
I fear that the next few years will be difficult to navigate. We need to resist the external threats to our mission, but in this, we have many friends outside the university willing and able to help. But to stem or dial back our academic parochialism, we are pretty much on our own. The first step is to remind our students and colleagues that those who hold views contrary to one’s own are rarely evil or stupid, and may know or understand things that we do not. It is only when we start with this assumption that rational discourse can begin, and that the winds of freedom can blow.
(Comment:  Hmmmm.  Wonder if new Provost Persis Drell will take actual steps to do something about the intellectual imbalance at Stanford, or just mouth the same platitudes as her predecessor Etchemendy—after he left office.)
At the Faculty Senate Meeting of April 27, 2017, here is a summary of Provost Drell’s remarks.
In reaffirming Stanford’s commitment to academic freedom, Provost Drell said that expression of the widest range of viewpoints of members of the faculty at Stanford is encouraged, free from any institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion. She said individuals may express viewpoints that are critical of elected officials and national policies.
“The only thing legally forbidden is for the institution itself or the institution’s resources to be used in engaging in political activity in support of or opposition to a candidate for elective public office or other purely partisan activity,” she said.
Drell said Stanford has a long practice of not taking political or policy positions, unless they have a direct bearing on its ability to carry out its core missions of research and education.
“We believe the sharing and appreciation of diverse perspectives is vital to our community, therefore it is essential that the institution remain a neutral broker of ideas,” she said.
(Comment:  I am eager to see her instructions to Deans and Department Chairs that they include candidates with diverse perspectives in their searches.  Or that she re-instates former privileges that Etchemendy removed from full-time Hoover Senior Fellows.  I’m from Missouri, the “Show Me State.”) 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer Reading List for College And University Classes Of 2021

Update (July 21, 2010):

The following progressive terms should be added to the list below.

Equal Pay
Glass Ceiling
Gender Stereotypical Roles
Lost In A Labyrinth
Objectify People
Sexualize People
Sticky Floor
Women Being Underconfident

Most colleges and universities send their entering classes a list of books to read during the summer.  It provides common ground for the frosh to discuss new ideas with each other and faculty during orientation.

Your friendly proprietor has a better idea, to wit, mastering the progressive vocabulary.  Doing so will stand you in good stead during your first week on campus and the years to come.

Here is a partial lexicon, presented in alphabetical order.  The list is not exhaustive.  Feel free to add other words or coin your own by combining two or more in the comments section.

Practice these words and phrases until you can utter them with conviction.  Try constructing sentences with two, three or more, the better to show your progressive erudition.

Never disagree with, or challenge, anyone who uses these words, except to correct, refute, or denounce anyone who misrepresents, distorts, or rejects them.

If you are ever accused of transgressing any of these progressive notions, level two or more similar charges against your accuser.  

Otherwise, Welcome!

Black Lives Matter
Climate Change
Cultural Appropriation
Deterioration Of Our Public Goods
Differences (Value Our)
Glass Ceiling
Global Warming Denier
Hate Speech
Healing Space
Human Rights
More Women And Minorities In STEM
Rainbow Coalition
Right-Wing Extremism
Safe Spaces
Sanctuary Cities
Save The Planet
Sexual Violence
Social Ills
Social Justice
Species Eradication
Stereotype Threat
Trigger Warnings
Unconsciously Learned Racism
White Heteromasculine Hegemony
White Privilege
Workers Rights

Monday, July 3, 2017

Make China Great Again

Every Chinese knows the outlines of Chinese history from its founding four thousand years ago as the most advanced civilization in the world, to its decline under Western imperialism in the 19th century, to its rebirth in the late 20th century.

Beginning with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the late 1970s, continuing through the presidencies of Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and now Xi Jinping, China has been transformed from an impoverished, backward nation into a modern economic, military, and political powerhouse.

President Xi does not wear a baseball cap with the words “Make China Great Again” stitched on the front.  But he has a Trumanesque wooden desk sign with the characters “Make China Great Again” carved into it.

Think about it.  President Trump’s keywords are “Make America Great Again,” to fix what ails the United States after the past two presidencies of continuous war, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and subpar growth.  Opposing Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and reducing government intervention in private affairs are all Congressional Democrats, many House and Senate Republicans, establishment Republican politicians who lost to Trump in the primaries and their donors, government bureaucrats, the media, the professoriate, liberal and conservative think tankers, Hollywood, and many foreign leaders who want the United States to pay for their defense and climate agenda.

Now look across the Pacific.  President Xi’s keywords are “Make China Great Again,” to the restoration its dominant historical position in Asia.  Supporting him are tens of millions of Chinese Communist Party members, the People’s Liberation Army, the media, and the vast majority of hard working Chinese people who want a better life for themselves and their families.

The American commentariat is working overtime to explain away and cover up the failures of the past 16 years.  President Trump is working hard to create an environment conducive to sustained higher growth through lower tax rates on firms and individuals, reducing burdensome regulations on economic activity, and limiting the intervention of the federal government in private affairs.  He is running a high hurdle race hoping to get through the first heat in his first two years without tripping over every hurdle.

Meanwhile, President Xi wakes up every morning knowing that he has five more years left in the ten-year term of a Chinese president to “Make China Great Again.”  If all goes as planned, in October 2022 he will hand power and his desk sign to the next decade of Chinese leadership that will strive to "Make China Great Again."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

China's President Xi Jinping Reads The Riot Act To Hong Kong

Mid-morning, on July 1, 2017, twenty years to the day after China recovered sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom, China's President Xi Jinping issued his "4-NOTS" doctrine to an assembly of Hong Kong's elite.

1.  Hong Kong people shall NOT challenge the authority of the Central People's Government in Beijing or the absolute sovereignty of the Chinese nation, which includes Hong Kong.

2.  Hong Kong people shall NOT use the territory to carry out infiltration and sabotage against the mainland.

3.  Hong Kong people shall NOT push for more autonomy or independence from China.

4.  Hong Kong people shall NOT tear Hong Kong apart by deliberately creating differences, internal rifts, provoke confrontations, and engage in any reckless moves (in short, shall NOT push for more democracy than China is willing to tolerate).

Transgressing the 4-NOTS crosses Xi's "red lines"and is absolutely impermissible.  (President Xi does not suffer red-green color blindness.)

What if Hong Kong people flout Xi's warnings?  If that happens, Hong Kong will quickly lose its autonomy and likely be absorbed into Guangdong Province, or come under direct rule of the Central People's Government well before 2047.

In 1997, Hong Kong was important to China.  Its economy was equal to 18.4% of mainland China's GDP.  Twenty years later, due to sustained high growth in the mainland, it has fallen to 2.8%.  By 2030, it will be on the order of 1% or so.  Hong Kong will have lost its previous importance to Chna.

To repeat, If Hong Kong people behave themselves and obey Xi's 4-NOTS, they can enjoy a prosperous and satisfying life.  If not, they have been warned.

Xi Jinping is not a typical Western-style president, prime minster, or chancellor.  He means what he says and will act on his words.