These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector an informal, unofficial, and unheralded publication I edited during my years teaching at Lock Haven University. In response to overwhelming demand (a couple of people at least) these are being archived here for those strange people who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia. Some of the references to then-current events may be puzzling, but feel free to skip them, or relate them to more recent events of similar nature (which can always be found). References to internal politics at Lock Haven University may be easily transfered to situations at other academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in square brackets.

    —Donald E. Simanek

Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 1987


Some tine has elapsed since the last issue of The Vector and your editor has perceived an overwhelming mandate to get out another issue.

Pres. Willis and his administration are eager to see another issue. He didn't say so, of course, and I haven't asked, but I'm confident that he would privately approve if asked. However, by not asking, I am giving him deniability, and am sure that his administration will be stronger because I didn't ask.

(I've got to start turning off the radio while writing this stuff, at least until the Iran-Contra hearings are over.)

How many of you caught that nice pun which Secord slipped in during his testimony? When the committee was trying to find out why some of the money never reached the Contras, someone asked what happened to a particular sum of privately donated money. Secord responded, "That went to the Contras. It was a Contra-bution, so to speak."

He stressed the pronounciation to emphasize the pun, but no one laughed. Still, one must admire anyone who makes a pun like that under those circumstances.


Traveling from Pennsylvania to Iowa these last two summers stimulated a few observations of no particular significance.

Beside a lane to a wooded area outside Logansport, Indiana, a sign prompts amusement: "Back Acres Chiropractic Clinic."

In Ohio one sees "Carter's Lumber" yards. I suppose those neat stacks of lumber behind the building are Carter's little lumber piles.

Once into Iowa, business names take on a somewhat "disreputable" tone: Sneaky Pete's restaurants are found in the Davenport area. There's a "Little Bandit Lumber Co." near Lisbon. "The Poor House Family Restaurant" is in Mount Vernon. [Maybe they could use this slogan: "Here's the place to eat when those high priced restaurants drive you to the poor house."]

The worst road on our route: Interstate 80 in Western PA. Beaten to death by heavy trucks, the road surface and bridges were undergoing extensive repair. They might as well begin from scratch. Trucks often carry signs indicating how much tax the vehicle pays, implying that they pay their way. Ha! The difference between what they pay and the true cost of repairing the damage they cause amounts to a huge subsidy to the trucking industry. Maybe trucks should be given their own highways, constructed of materials durable enough to withstand such heavy traffic. Trucking companies could buy the land for right-of-way, and maintain the roads entirely from trucking revenue. No tax money would be needed, and the customers would pay the true cost of the service.

Whoops, I almost forgot. That has been tried before. It was called a "railroad." It wasn't a bad idea, either, though taxpayers complained that railroads had to have government subsidies to stay in business. This is just another reminder that irrationality runs human affairs.

The most inconsiderate and dangerous drivers we encountered: those on the relatively new interstate highway through Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The tedium of driving is relieved if one can pull in some classical music on the car radio. Such good music abounds in Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio, from a number of public radio and college radio stations. But on the roads through Indiana, too far south to receive Chicago FM stations, the airwaves are polluted with country music and religious broadcasts. One is reminded that this is the heart of the Bible Belt, a vast intellectual wasteland.


A surprising number of readers have said that they'd like to see more commentary on news events in this column. One such response would be enough to surprise me. Apparently The New York Times is not enough for some people; they hunger for more. But then, considering the superficial, simpleminded and narrow treatment the media give to events, perhaps a dissenting and skeptical view is needed.

Since the last issue of The Vector was so long ago, we've accumulated a backlog of news items worthy of comment. They range from the foolish to the ridiculous.


What are we to make of the press reports about those folks in Fostoria, Ohio, who are driving out to stare in wonderment all night at floodlit rust stains on a soybean oil storage tank? Their simple minds and active imaginations saw in the stains an image of Christ standing behind a small boy. One observer identified the boy as "Buckwheat, from the Little Rascals movies." Another said that the image "just reminds us that Jesus will come again." Newspaper and TV reports I saw reported this event straight, as if it were important news. It is important. It demonstrates again (if any demonstration were needed) that most human beings are credulous fools. The really frightening thing about this is that, in a democracy, people with such shallow minds and distorted perceptions are allowed to vote, and their vote counts as much as that of rational people. I can identify with the souvenir hucksters who were selling coffee mugs, with a picture of the apparition, to the assembled multitudes. Why not? Fools and their money deserve to be parted.


Closer to home, in Pittston, Pa., we saw news reports of a family claiming their house is infested with demons. The family wanted the Catholic Church to send an exorcist. Apparently they didn't consider calling in the Orkin or Ehrlich exterminators. No, this was a job for Ghost Busters!

The family asked for "qualified investigators" to look into the matter. I was not the least surprised to hear that Ed and Lorraine Warren showed up to investigate this foolishness, nor was I surprised that Ed Warren immediately proclaimed that he felt "evil presences" in the house. The Warrens have made quite a career as self-proclaimed "psychic investigators" specializing in haunted houses. Back in 1979 they appeared on the LHU campus with their spook-show lecture on "The Amityville Horror." [See The Vector, 3, 2, March 1979.] At that time more responsible psychic investigators had already concluded that the Amityville affair was Just a hoax. [Conclusive evidence of the hoax came later.] But the Warrens, in their amateurish and shoddy slide show, promoted the whole thing as a genuine and important psychic phenomena. [Our students, in their wisdom, paid the Warrens $1000 for this pathetic performance.] So far as I know the Warrens have never retracted their opinion of the Amityville case, even though the hoax has now been fully exposed.


And then there's the postal worker in Oklahoma who massacred his co-workers. After such an event reporters invariably interview people who knew the murderer, asking them what he was like. Neighbors and other acquaintances said that they had noticed this fellow was a little strange. Oddly enough no one in his National Guard unit seemed to have noticed this. Perhaps a pathological, murderous or outright crazy person is less likely to be noticed in a military setting. There he can fit right in.

Perhaps the Postal Department needs a new slogan: Through sleet, through show, through hail of bullets.... Actually, some of this mail didn't go through; it was judged too bloody.

Bloody packages reminds me of the recent case of the UPS employees who looked into some suspicious packages and found human heads, ears, and other body parts. They didn't consider that to be a normal shipment. Maybe they thought they were props for the filming of a new movie. I suppose they first consulted their manuals to see if there was any prohibition against shipping cadaver parts.


At a school near by one can receive graduate credits for a course in flying (piloting small airplanes). The course has no prerequisites, either.

[We'll not name the school, to protect the guilty.] This is another outrageous example of the corruption of standards in so-called "higher" education. I must concede that this course does qualify as a "higher" education than one which stays on the ground. We have all taken some courses which "never got off the ground". That can't be said of this course.

Last spring I got in the mail a poster from Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa, announcing its graduate degree in Physics. I fully expected it would happen. The faculty at Maharishi U., following the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh yogi, accept the notion that through meditation one may eventually achieve "higher powers" which include bodily leviation, and the ability to walk through walls. You might think that it would be hard to find qualified persons for the faculty of an institution which subscribed to such notions. Not so. Maharishi U. boasts a faculty of which nearly all have doctorates from respectable academic institutions. you'd think that such an institution might have trouble getting accreditation. Wrong again. MIU is fully accredited by Middle States. I can not think of a better example to show that accreditation is a sham. The fact that some "bible colleges" are accredited serves as further evidence.

A degree, even a graduate degree, is no guarantee that a person hasn't got a few screws loose somewhere. A person can pass all of the exams and requirements for a degree yet still lack good judgment and common sense. We see many examples of people who are highly accomplished and skilled in some area of human thought, and in some other area may be hopelessly addicted to some foolishness or other.


I'm really enjoying the continuing saga of the self-appointed and self-righteous spokespersons for religion making fools of themselves. The media have been giving them the roasting they richly deserve.

Back when Rev. Oral Roberts announced that God would make him cash in his chips if he didn't raise 4 million, I thought, "Well, we all have to go sometime."


Bumper stickers appeared in Oklahoma with the slogan "Send Oral to Heaven in '87," along with a "no dollars" symbol. Other bumper stickers simply said: L.O.R.D. Translation: Let Oral Roberts Die.

Donald Kaul, writing in The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette [Jan 18, 1987] had a good suggestion:

There's a chance—just a chance, mind you—that the Rev. Mr. Roberts is not sincere, that he is instead a shameless hustler who's trying to bilk his supporters out of a quick 4 1/2 mil. I know how to find out.

Do not send your money to Roberts. Send it to me. If he doesn't raise the money and he dies, we'll know he was a man of honor and I will personally see to it that his beloved medical students get their money. If Roberts doesn't die, however, that means that either he or God was being less than candid with us, in which case I will return the money.

Trust me.

Later, on March 30, 1987, Kaul writes a follow-up:

...A number of people responded with dollar bills. Well, Oral got the money so I guess I should send the contributions back. The thing is, what with postage, handling charges and the cost of fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by my daughter, the money is gone. As a matter of fact, the original contributors owe me 35 cents more apiece.

Send it in cash, will you?

I've been following the Rev. Oral's career since the 1940s and '50s, before he had a prayer tower, a hospital and a university, when he was traveling around the country healing people in his circus tent. (He bragged that his tent was larger than that of the Ringling Bros. Circus.) He doesn't have to do it that way now; he has a hospital with ordinary, university-trained doctors to do the healing, using methods derived from science, not religion. Maybe Oral has lost the "healing touch", but he still knows how to make a "touch".

Even in his revival-tent days, Oral said that he got messages directly from God. I also remember the news reports that during one of his snake-oil medicine shows, a big wind came out of the sky and blew his tent down and ripped it to pieces. I thought that maybe God was trying to send him a direct message. But he rallied support and soon raised enough money to buy a bigger tent. So, the recent events leave me with a feeling of seeing a rerun of a bad movie.

With his $1.3 million check to Roberts, dog-track owner Jerry Collins gave a bit of good advice: "I think he needs psychiatric treatment". Indeed, what can one say of someone who has a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus, and has a physical wrestling match with Satan? (Roberts had to call his wife for help with the Devil, who fled when she came on the scene.)


And what can we say about the tangled mess Tammy and Jimmy Baker got themselves into?

As a male, I admit to a smidgen of sympathy for Jimmy B. It probably isn't easy being married to someone who has the look and intelligence of a escapee dummy from a wax museum. Worse yet, she achieves that image deliberately.

Have you seen those "I ran into Tammy Faye at the Mall" T-shirts? The shirt has on its front a smudged and smeared reverse image of Tammy's face done in colorful mascara, lipstick, etc.

Jerry Falwell has been trying to come off as a reasonable diplomat and peacemaker in this whole sordid affair. He has handled his press conferences rather well, but did let himself slip when reporters' questions (on PBS) led him to comment on Gary Hart and Donna Rice. Unfortunately I didn't record Jerry's exact response, but it was something to the effect that if Hart was alone with her that weekend and didn't make sexual advances, then he should 'be examined'. I guess that comment shows rather clearly the warp of Falwell's mind.

Have you noticed how often the religious people most zealous in combatting "sin" and "immorality" seem to have the dirtiest minds? They can barely restrain the lust in their hearts, and it sometimes overfloweth from their mouths. I suspect that the reason they seem to be such crusaders against what they consider to be sinful is that they imagine everyone else has the same intensity of lustful and lewd thoughts as they do, but are less able to control them. Maybe not. More sex crimes are committed by religious persons than by non-religious ones.


At Lock Haven University we have an "academic convocation" to mark the start of the school year. A distinguished speaker is invited, and some of these speakers are well worth hearing.

LHU is to be commended for bringing such people to enrich the academic climate and expose us to diverse ideas. The convocation includes a procession of faculty in academic caps and gowns.

I wonder if the event would have any less value if the faculty in attendance were dressed in the same way they dress when teaching their own classes? Is the experience more intellectually enriching for the students if they see their profs attending in costume? Might not the speaker have time to expose the audience to even more ideas if some of the alloted time were not wasted on solemn processions, elaborate introductions, and other ceremonial matters? The speaker would get the same pay either way.

I find it incredible that we have faculty members who really like the academic processions and proudly wear their musty and motheaten black gowns, to put on a show for students and their parents. One wonders what is lacking in their lives that they require rituals to bolster their egos. We even have administrators who take this symbolism so seriously that they would like to make faculty and student attendance mandatory at such events! There are faculty who would, like sheep, say "Great idea!"

I say let's dispense with such foolish play-acting; let's cut out the mystical mumble-jumble; let's put an end to pompous circumstances and get down to the business of real education.

One might hope that faculty members, who have had the benefits of higher education, would have also risen above the intellectual level and the mindless passions of the rest of society. Alas; many have not. I even know some professors who would go to a baseball or football game and cheer enthusiastically for one team or the other as if it really mattered which team won! There may even be professors who got up early to watch the TV coverage of the royal wedding of Prince Whatshisname to Miss Whoeveritwas. No; that example is too extreme; I can't imagine any faculty colleagues, even those I least respect, who would do that.


This year's academic convocation speaker is Rocky Bleier. Who!?? Someone informed me that about 8 years ago Mr. Bleier was a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Football, I suppose, though I haven't checked it out.) If he has any other claims to fame, they have not been mentioned in the advance announcements of this event.

A memo from Dr. Willis, our LHU president, says that this convocation will "boldly and firmly restate the principal mission of this university, which is to promote academic growth."

Brave words! A memo from the faculty marshals for this event says that the convocation sets the "academic tone for the year", and serves to "let students know that we, as faculty, regard academic work as the prime mission of this institution". In view of these laudable aims, I wonder why a speaker wasn't chosen who is primarily known and respected for his or her academic or intellectual accomplishments, or someone whose lifetime accomplishments are the result having received a quality academic education. I wouldn't presume to judge in advance what Mr. Bleier will say in his speech. His words might be inspiring. It just seems to me that if our aim is to set the academic tone for the year, we might find a speaker who has made important contributions to the world of ideas. I've been at LHU long enough to remember when we had such speakers here. I recall hearing Jacob Bronowski, Bernard Feld, Eugene Wigner and Norman Thomas speak on our campus. Perhaps the intellectual giants were too busy with other matters to come here this year. It could be that their fees are too high. It may even be that there are too few of them to go around.


We note in passing that one of our nearby institutions of higher education, Lycoming College, has a publication of a higher dimension than The Vector. It is The Tensor. This little newsletter was perpetrated by its Editor, physics major Tania Slawecki (gesundheit!), who, it would appear, also typed and drew cartoons for it.

Tania devised a new wrinkle on the labeling of irregular publications of this sort. One issue was designated the "Feb-Mar-Apr-May-June-July Issue." Another was labeled simply "31 October" (the "Halloween edition", of course). We haven't yet figured out why the "New year Edition" carried the date "25 January 1986," except for the fact that many issues are dated the 25 of a month. Maybe that's the only day the printing machine operates at Lycoming.

We are tempted to borrow Tania's good excuse for a tardy issue: "I assume no responsibility for the delay as I was merely being extremely productive during that time period..."

The first issue of The Tensor placed the blame squarely on us.

Our rival, Lock Haven University, has been publishing its informative, humorous and zany The Vector for a number of years now. We are all familiar with the relevance of vectors to physics: even so, 1 thought it a rather stagnant mathematical concept to employ. The TENSOR however, is Dynamic! A tensor can operate on one vector and Transform it into another...

What have we wrought? These days everything seems to lead to a sequel.

We've seen it happen with movies. We have Star Treck I. II, III, and IV, and who knows where it will end? Soon we'll see Friday the 13th, part XIII. First The Vector, then The Tensor, and onward to higher dimensionality!

Tania has graduated now, and The Tensor, now in its third year, is being edited by Dr. David G. Fisher.


Some readers asked why there was blank space at the bottom of page 19 of June 1986 issue. They thought they might be missing something. One speculated that we might have censored a good joke. Tsk! Tsk! The explanation is very simple. That was just, a VECTOR space.

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