Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”
Saturday, June 23, 2012
One of Victor Hanson’s most persuasive arguments about why democracies have an advantage over despotisms in fighting wars is that democracies are much more likely to correct their own mistakes. You may start with McClellan, but eventually, you end up with Sherman and Grant. You may get caught napping at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, but finally Patton roles into Germany and Lemay flattens Japan. You may start behind the Russians in rocket science, but eventually, you pass them and go to the moon. Why? Negative feedback. Democratic government is a hornet’s nest of complaint and experiment, and that’s a good thing.
Conservatives understand that the bigger government grows, the less chance “negative feedback” has of doing its job. The super-centralized state, like the Soviet Union or China, is tremendously destructive of its own resources because it is beyond the influence of any feedback mechanism: free speech or free market. These states produced the biggest economic mistakes and the worst ecological damage on the planet.
Big business often wants to behave badly, and gets away with it for a while. When it sees a competitive advantage, it will edge toward monopoly and crony capitalism, and then, aided and abetted by legislation, it becomes a de facto part of the government. Its point is to evade the market and avoid restraint. One of the most irresponsible forms of big business is the multinational corporation, which in its peripatetic global existence tries to place itself in the weakest regulatory regime possible.
What we want is a government just big enough to effectively regulate businesses and accomplish other legitimate government tasks. Businesses like to externalize their costs. It is one of the roles of effective modern government to reduce that externalization. A rational conservative acknowledges that government has an important role, but leans toward the private sector as being less dangerous and more productive to the health and welfare of the country. It is not easy to get businesses to act responsibly, but it is even harder to get big government to do it, and there is always a danger that any regulation will produce worse effects than the problem it is aimed at curing. The trick is striking a sane balance between government regulation and business. Somewhere around that balance point, both the market and the market place of ideas are very effective in curbing mistakes because they provide the necessary feedback, although as Churchill notes, Americans may have to try everything until they hit upon the right thing.
The truth of all this came home to me in a striking way at the end of May, when the governmental agency that I work for, California State University at Fresno, cut down 164 trees, many of them old and magnificent, all of them healthy, in a parking lot remodel. This was done with no announcement to faculty or community until after the cutting had begun, and then only in an obscure email, which said, as the trees were coming down, that cutting would begin the next day. Although there is a faculty senate, and several committees with faculty membership that should have been consulted, none were. Negative feedback was utterly disabled.
After the deed had been accomplished, the university started offering rationales. We needed more parking. (The enrollment, in the wake of the California budget crisis, is substantially shrinking.—I guess we can expect that to turn around when the state gets its spending under control.) The trees were old and diseased. (Not true according to biology and plant science professors who inspected the trees as they came down.) The trees were inadequately irrigated. (Not true. Their roots were in the water table. They needed no irrigation.) Parking lots with trees are unsafe. (Show us some crime statistics. Some studies say they are safer.)
Lack of consultation in violation of standing university rules and even state law has been a continuing source of frustration for the faculty at Fresno State, on a number of issues, and this year the complaints have been long and loud. My colleagues tend to see this style of governing as “corporate,” and have some justification for their characterization. CSU leadership in Long Beach has decided the system is threatened by competition from National, Phoenix, Kaplan Universities and the whole for-profit university venture, and they seem to be copy-catting much of what these organizations do, including their management style. But, however “corporate” our managers want to be, we really work for a government agency run by bureaucrats, and it is doing just the kinds of things that government agencies entrusted with resources do.
Roger Scruton admirably explains this in his thought-provoking new book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism. Scruton cites the example of Ravenna Park, which I am familiar with as a former resident of Seattle. He relates a history very similar to the tree wastage at Fresno State:
Even in a democratic society in which private property and the rule of law enforce a proper separation between the one who threatens harm and the one who prevents or punishes it, the evidence is that state bureaucracies become a danger to the environment as soon as they acquire the role of controlling rather than containing what is done. A nice illustration is provided by the story of Ravenna Park in Seattle. This was established in 1887 by Mr. and Mrs. William W. Beck, who bought several parcels of land on the outskirts of the city, in order to preserve and provide public access to the giant fir trees growing there—some 400 feet high and 20 feet in diameter. They built a pavilion for concerts and nature lectures, and charged a 25¢ entrance fee to the park, which would be visited by around 10,000 people per year. In 1911 the city, in response to conservationist pressure, bought the park under a compulsory purchase order for $135,663. Almost at once the giant trees began disappearing, cut down and sold by park employees, sometimes with a bureaucratic rubber stamp that condemned a particular tree as a ‘threat to public safety.’ By 1925 none of the trees remained. An effective private investment that had conserved an important environmental asset, and created a lively public interest in maintaining it, had been destroyed by public ownership in a matter of fourteen years. [My italics]
In the next few months, we are going to hear an enormous cry from the California State University system about how it needs money. And truly, it will need money, as California is confronted by its out of control deficit. Yet, our university recently spent $4 million on a new swimming pool, $4 million on this parking lot remodel, and spent $1.8 million at the end of this year on a miscellany of proposals rather than putting the money where it belonged, at the beginning of the year, into classes. Chancellor Charles Reid’s salary climbed from $198,500 in 1998 to $421, 500 plus $30,000 from the CSU Foundation in 2010. Who could blame California taxpayers for wanting some reform before they reinvest? The CSU administration claims that taxpayers are breaking a social contract, but have they been good stewards of public resources? Let them prove that their spending habits are rational before engaging us in a lobbying effort.
(Investigation Reveals Questionable Spending by CSU Chancellor's Office,CBS News, LA; May 12, 2012)
Notice how Chancellor Reed warms to the TV reporter's questions about catering bills! Bureaucrats do not like "negative feedback," and that is about the only way in which restaurant-surrounded Long Beach is isolated. They do not even like questions which might lead to negative feedback, as you can see from the well-fed Chancellor's reaction.
Private contributors to our university have to face a big problem, and Scruton defines it: “Public bodies are able to externalize their costs in a way that private bodies seldom manage, and this fact alone makes them unreliable trustees of our collective assets.” In cutting the trees for an unnecessary $4 million parking lot remodel, our university unplugged itself from all the feedback mechanisms that could have prevented it from making a big and wasteful error. It had those mechanisms, but management chose to ignore them. It has been doing that for a long time. It is, unfortunately, operating just like the kind of governmental agency that Scruton describes, and if I were a donor, of land or any other resource, that would worry me immensely. I’d think twice about donating anything with a tree on it.
f. Very small King James Bible
This guy's got a great list. I don't know how he got it all into a 40 liter back pack: List of Things to Pack for Camino
WikiHow has some good ideas:
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
January 30, 2012. This is in response to Sibelius first version of contraception regulations.
The foundational issue here is the boundary line between freedom of religion (which like all rights, is not absolute) and state regulation; these boundaries are always contested. To give two extreme examples of the state's right to limit religious practice: If your religion demanded human sacrifice, you would not be entitled to do that under the 1st Amendment. Or, what would be even worse in my neighborhood, if you wanted to hold a revival meeting in the public park at 2 a.m., you couldn't do it. The HHS contraceptive mandate poses a case that is much more interesting than either of those.
Resources added on June 22, 2012
Archbishop William Lori's homily at Mass inaugurating Fortnight of Freedom
Stacy Thomlinson: Legal Challenge to HHS Mandate
Sebelius' Speech to Georgetown Un. Public Policy Institute (Referred to by Fr.Barron, 3rd video above)
"Here Comes Nobody" by Maureen Dowd (Referred to by Fr. Barron, 3rd video, above)
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Saturday, June 16, 2012
A source deep within the administration who we will designate as "Bullfrog" has revealed the location and astonishing size of President Welty's secret stash of old stationery. Well over a quarter of a million pages of old letterhead and hundredth anniversary letterhead are stored in a warehouse near the Fresno State campus postoffice. Here are the pictures provided by Bullfrog:
Closeup of bottom pallet:
The Extract is unable to confirm Bullfrog's report of stealthy trips by fourth floor administrative assistants to this site, but he speculates that they sneak reams of paper on the infrequent occasions when their bosses need to communicate with adults (as opposed to Long Beach administrators, alumni, and Bulldog boosters, who get the paw-print logo).
Since faculty are not considered to be adults (see previous blogs on CSALT, promotion of the new logo, declarative consultation, consultation by osmosis, and non-consultation), they have been consigned to use the paw-print logo when they write letters of recommendation and cover letters to publishers.
Bullfrog: "Look for a black market to start in old letterhead once departmental supplies begin to run low and the faculty starts to panic as profs try to publish or get students into good graduate schools. What you are looking at here is a potential gold mine. It could go as high as $2 or $3 a sheet, maybe higher."
Huron County Extract: "Isn't the administration afraid the bigger, more powerful cartels trying to control the stationery market may retaliate once this paper comes onto the market?"
Bullfrog: "Nothing to fear from Mexico, here, but Bowater and International Paper can be dangerous. Besides, somebody's making money on the new stationery. They've got their cut."
Huron County Extract: "How would the average faculty member, ahem, go about acquiring some of this product?"
Bullfrog: "Get to know faculty members who seem to be on the periphery of the administration, but who are looking to make a move. Keep a sharp lookout for dealers when you're in parking lot D. There are still trees there for cover and no surveillance cameras. It's a natural location for paper transactions to take place and conveniently close to headquarters."
Huron County Extract: "Just one more question. You don't suppose that the new logo . . . was imposed on the faculty, just to . . . to . . ."
Bullfrog: "To create a clandestine market in a controlled substance? [chuckles] Reedeep."
Friday, June 15, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Faculty for Shared Governance: CSU Fresno
and it has started with a fine entry by Sasan Fayazmanesh:
The Vision of the University as a Shop under "Analysis and Opinion," which eloquently sets forth the faculty's position in what has become a non-consulatative university.
There is also has a Facebook site:
Fresno State Faculty (Facebook)
This marks a new chapter in the faculty response to the CSUF administration's failure to consult with the faculty on many important issues. What is at stake, finally, is the quality of education that we can provide to our students. A top-down, non-consultative university organization will not only make policy blunders but demoralize its faculty as well. During the last academic year, we have seen this with the Budget Task Force, cohort hiring, the logo, and finally the destruction of 160 trees in the parking lots east of Peters.
The faculty is fighting for its rightful place in university governance, and the whole community--faculty, staff, students, the region--will be the beneficiary. This faculty effort crosses political and ideological boundary lines. I'm a Republican, more or less. I will certainly vote for Mitt Romney rather than Barack Obama. But Republican, Democrat, Catholic, atheist--none of this matters to issues of such fundamental concern. We are for the basic process required in a university which functions both rationally and morally: true consultation and the understanding that it is the faculty which is primarily responsible for curriculum and instruction. All Fresno State faculty should be in agreement on these issues.
I will continue to write about Fresno State issues, as the spirit moves me, but a site dedicated specifically to representing faculty interests is what we need at this point. I am relieved that a large and diverse faculty group now has its own blog, and I hope that there will be many contributions to it. The more voices the better.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
In the evening, you're very close to Sentinel Bridge and a famous view of Half Dome. Best time to take a picture is close to sunset, and there were several photographers with fancy equipment. I got this with a fairly cheap Canon. Is that a picture of Charles de Gaulle on Half Dome?
Deer hang out between the Pizza Shack and the Lounge, which has enough WiFi capacity to run two computers at the same time, so you see a lot of people just staring into screens and waiting.
(Now I'm really glad not to be up there.)
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
WHY WAS THERE NO FACULTY CONSULTATION ABOUT THIS PARKING LOT DESIGN?
Architects don't just throw plans at the people paying them and say, "Take it or leave it." They consult and plan with the people who buy their services. Here are some questions Ms. Matson: Who was the architect? What was he asked to do? Who asked him? Was more than one design considered? Was the architect told that the trees had value? Did anyone ask him to save any of the trees, to construct a design that used the trees or some of them? Can you name even one person on the faculty who saw the design? Why weren't the faculty on FACEL notified? Why wasn't the Executive Committee of the Senate notified? When was the decision to go ahead with the "remodel" finalized?
Matson's answer above, as set forth by Shirley Armbruster asserts:
"According to our landscape architect, the existing trees could not be preserved due to the changes in elevations for regrading and the new configuration of stalls and circulation. Furthermore, the architect indicates, the existing trees in the lots were mostly planted in 4’x4’ tree wells that were constrictive. Throughout the years of compromised budgets, these trees were poorly maintained, as was their irrigation system. The poor conditions coupled with the extreme reflected heat from the parking lots compromised the vigor and longevity of these trees, further reducing the trees’ potential lifespan."
Says who? Who was this architect and what were his qualifications to judge the health of the trees or their potential longevity? Was he more expert than John V. Constable of the Biology Dept. or John Bushoven of Plant Science, who inspected the trees as they came down and found them, with only two exceptions, not only to be healthy, but in many cases rooted so deeply that they did not need irrigation? Does the administration discount our own faculty as experts? (That will be news to the Central Valley.)
We have tree experts on the faculty, civil engineers on the faculty--a wealth of expertise. Many of the claims in the above FAQ can now be contested only with difficulty: the evidence is gone to support any other positions--clearcut and bulldozed away.
These are all questions that adequate faculty consultation would have provided and answered before the trees were cut. This is not just about trees, but about destroying a community resource without community consultation. It was cut first, offer rationales second.
Let us reflect a moment on what this FAQ might mean for the remaining parking lots at Fresno State which have trees in them. How many of them have 4 x 4 tree wells? I suspect all of them, especially the older, more beautiful lots such as D. What exactly is the standard of safety and what are the plans for surveillance cameras in other lots? Are there plans to "remodel" the other lots?
I offer the following as commemorative photos of parking lots D and E, west of the Music Building, and Q, north of Barstow, which given administrative standards of consultation, notification, and of course, farsightedness, may be cut down before we even know it. Have architects already been employed?
(If you click on the photos below, they get bigger.)
Lot D looking across to Lot E:
Looking more directly into Lot E:
Lot Q, north of Barstow, which is much like the recently logged lots east of Peters:
Here are some other Big FAQs for Vice President for Administration / CFO Matson:
ARE THESE LOTS SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT THAN A, J, AND UBC IN TERMS OF SECURITY NEEDS?
ARE THERE CRIME STATISTICS TO SHOW THAT LOTS A, J, AND UBC WERE ESPECIALLY IN NEED OF SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS?
ARE THE TREES IN THE LOTS, ABOVE, ACCORDING TO YOUR EXPERTS, IN DISTRESS?
DOES THE ADMINISTRATION PLAN TO LOG OFF THESE LOTS FOR THE SAME REASONS IT LOGGED OFF A, J, AND UBC?