FROM THE EDITOR'S WASTEBASKET
These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector
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 transferred to situations at other
academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in
Number 19, 1989
How many readers recognized the source of the opening paragraph of
this column in the last issue?
Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if
I would write an autobiography they would read it when they got
leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand, and
herewith tender this issue.
Mark Twain, from A Burlesque Autobiography.
We plagiarize from the best sources!
In the last Vector
we reported yet another piece of jargon which
sneaked into the language when our backs were turned, and is now
firmly entrenched. It is equity group
. You'd be surprised how many
readers thought we made that up! When I first heard it I was sure
that it was the name of an investment firm. [Note added Feb. 2007.
It seems that the term is now dropping out of use!]
One thing which adds dreariness to our academic lives is having to
read the "official" documents which fall, from time to time, onto
our desks with a hollow thud. One recent example was the Lock Haven
University Interim Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Plan,
1988-1989. Appendix A contained a "Glossary of affirmative action
terms." Had I found it sooner, the preceding 37 pages might have
made more sense. I don't know the source from which this 10 page
glossary was lifted, but I don't blame our own administrators for
it. It clearly originated elsewhere.
There I find a definition of equity groups:
The protected classes addressed by the Prospectus: Racial/ethnic
minorities, women, and other special groups such as Vietnam era
veterans and the disabled.
Don't bother to look up equity group
in your dictionary. It won't
be there for a while.
In the same document I find a definition of sexist:
A person, generally a male, who believes, either formally by
conscious subscription to an ideological or philosophical posture
on the subject, or implicitly by patterns of behavior and
discourse, that males are inherently superior to females, or that
the "natural" roles of men and women place the former rightfully
in positions of social, economic, and political leadership and the
latter in roles of primary parental responsibility and home
management. In employment practice law, the imputation of sexism
to an employment decision would suggest intentional discrimination
on grounds of sex.
Maybe it's just because I happen to be a male, but I detect just
a hint of sexism in this definition! Surely the writer(!) of this
rambling definition could have gotten the point across with
gender-neutral language. This seems to say that sexism is
"generally" an offense perpetrated by males against females, but
could that be interpreted as a sexist bias against males by the
In the same document sexual harassment is defined. Here the writers
do manage to keep the language sex-neutral, a remarkable
Documents such as this seem to be written by persons totally deaf
to the subtlety and beauty of which language is capable. These are
people who would use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. They produce
documents such as this which don't clarify issues, or help us to
find reasonable solutions, they merely intimidate, confuse and
perplex us all.
[It was about this time that I heard a speaker propose that the college
add a gender-studies major to its curriculum. I expressed puzzlment
at the name, for I'd always been taught by my English teachers that
"Words have gender; people have sex."]
Many of these "scraps" are written at odd moments throughout the
year. The rest are written at even moments. When enough accumulate
they are swept into a pile and end up here. Obviously I'm not
concerned about whether they are timely. I firmly believe that
relevance is timeless, and irrelevance is even more so.
This is being written just as we've survived another transition
from daylight saving time. The acronym DST could also stand for
"Daffy Stupid Time." Back in Iowa I remember farmers joking that
there's no way to train cows to adjust their milk production
schedule to a time change twice a year.
I have a memory like a sieve, and can never remember which way to
turn the clocks. The newspapers helpfully remind us with a phrase,
"Spring forward, fall back." (Or maybe it is the other way
around; I can never remember.)
"Forward" and "back" are too confusing. How about moving clocks
"ahead" or "behind"? No, that doesn't help. I wouldn't know
whether "ahead" means to move the hands from 2 AM to 3 AM (to a
time one hour later) or whether it is used in the sense of a person
arriving for an appointment "ahead of time" (too early). Besides,
at that time of the morning I'm not awake enough to find the
The trouble with memory aids, as with all mnemonics, is that I can
never remember them either. There's no logic to them. One can fall
forward as well as back, and can spring either way, too, if one is
Even if I had written down on paper that in the fall one moves the
clock "back", which way is back? Should it be "counter
clockwise", opposite to the usual direction a clock moves, or
should it be "back" in the sense one moves an event or
appointment back, which is to a later time? Maybe it means: Move
the clocks "back" to where they ought to have been all year,
which means, I think, to subtract one hour from whatever the clock
reads and reset the clock to that value of time. Not a real, hour,
you understand, but that relativistic hour which miraculously
appears or disappears in the time it takes for you to find and
execute the instructions for resetting your digital watch.
The simplest solution is to turn on the TV and check the
information channel, after the change has occurred, and hope they
got it right. This spring I heard one newscaster instruct people
to move clocks two hours ahead. Even they are confused.
If I finally get the clocks reset, all I have to cope with is
daylight time jet lag. It takes me two or three weeks to adjust my
biological clock to the new time, during which period I experience
a disorienting uneasy feeling that nothing is happening when it
Another thing I've never understood is why they call it daylight
saving time. The amount of daylight is the same however you set
the clocks, so where have we saved any daylight? We really haven't
gained an hour in each day. It's too bad we can't alter such
things. I have long been of the opinion that the world would be a
better place if mornings started later in the day.
I've never figured out the alleged benefits of inflicting this
legislated time warp on us. Oh, I've heard all the arguments for
it, but none of them are the slightest bit persuasive. I say we
put an end to this confusion. It's about time.
It sometimes seems to me that the world is a huge insane asylum with the
inmates in charge. The Ayatollah Khomeni reminded us of that last
year with his death decree on author Salman Rushde for the
unforgivable offense of Rushde's latest book, which few would have
noticed or read had not this attention been drawn to it.
Soon after this, someone posted a sign on a LHU bulletin board
proclaiming "The Ayatollah's mother wears combat boots." To
avenge this blasphemy, an Iranian hit squad was dispatched to
hijack Lock Haven University and to capture and hold all of its
faculty, students and administrators hostage for 4 million dollars.
It would have happened already, except that the Iranians have, as
yet, been unable to find Lock Haven.
In response to this threat, LHU canceled all plans to establish an
international student/faculty exchange program with Teheran
University. This will surely bring the Iranians to their knees.
Of course the Islamic fundamentalists are no laughing matter. They
ought to serve as a lesson to us all: a demonstration of what can
happen when fanatical religious obsession dominates a culture, and
dogmatic and intolerant religion assumes political power. "It
couldn't happen here," I hear you saying. I hope not. In this
country the same warped mindset results in different kinds of
outrages: bombing of abortion clinics, abuse of children in the
name of religion, vandalism of synagogues, banning of books in
school libraries, and attempts to inject religiously motivated
material into school curricula.
BEFORE AND AFTER THOUGHTS
Sometimes people comment on material in The Vector
before it appears. Others have something relevant to say even when
they haven't read it. So we are pleased to grant them the first
word, so to speak.
On the value of international travel, particularly by
If an ass goes traveling, he will not come home a horse.
Our preamble to "A New Religion" noted that the world shows no
evidence of having been the product of an all-knowing, perfect
creator. Here's an alternate view on this:
Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the
universe is still running it? It is certainly perfectly conceivable
that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods
to operate. In the same way many human institutions are turned over
to grossly inferior men. This is true, for example, of most
universities, and of all great newspapers.
H. L. Mencken, Minority Report, No. 298.
Mencken wrote this long before equity groups were advocating
gender-neutral language. Today we should probably refer to God as
"he, she or it, whichever."
Finally, responding to another issue entirely, Prof. John Swinton
of The Pennsylvania State University recently observed that
"...God is limited indeed if you and I are the best He is capable
of." [MUG Newsletter, Nov 1989, p. 3.] He was suggesting that
evolution isn't finished yet, and the highest form of life may
evolve later, to replace us.
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