Sunday, February 17, 2019

The University of Arizona: A Dysfunctional Police State

Imagine asking an organization's security employee to enforce a policy only to hear him refuse because such a policy is beneath him. Then on another occasion you find such employees in the locality enforcing local speed-limits. To be sure, speeding tickets are a lucrative business, but that usually goes for a city's police department. Imagine next crossing a grassy quad on a university campus as two campus security employees slowly pass on bikes--watching. Entering the student union, there is yet another. Then returning with a coffee back across the rectangular grassy area--which had been roped off all summer for "turf restoration"--you see a security employee passing on a motorcycle--again watching people. Then as you return to the campus library, you notice a "police" jeep slowly creeping along opposite from the quad. On another occasion, I witnessed a "police" motorcycle pull up from a bike-only path to stop just outside the science library's main entrance to watch students going by. It was creepy. The next morning, two such motorcycles were "on guard" at an intersection leading into the Student Union and two such jeeps slowly passed by as I biked past. Once on campus, I asked an administrator whether there had been an incident on campus, and she replied, "No, they're just making sure people go where they're suppposed to be going." The enablement itself of the obvious excessiveness was itself creepy. The administration there is worse than oblivious. 
The overriding sense that some of the students and faculty doubtlessly have that they are being perpetually watched far beyond the rationale of protection is something to which I can attest. One student told me she intended to transfer because she thought the security employees were watching her because of the color of her skin. Another student--honors no less--avoided the main library because of all the "police" presence; he has dark skin and typically has a pair of earphones on, and for this doubtlessly he has been particularly subject to being watched, even when he has been in a study room. 
I can attest that the administrative offices, including those of the VP for business affairs, the provost, and even the president, are accustomed to looking the other way, which in itself can be regarded as passive aggressive. In flagging that university as highly dysfunctional, and thus to be avoided especially by scholars, I draw on my time as a visiting scholar at that university, where I was met with active and passive aggression and, more generally, regarded as less than a nobody by nonacademic staff having an overblown sense of entitlement undergirded with a lack of accountability. The University of Arizona can thus be regarded as "the poster child" for dysfunctional organizational culture. I submit that aggressiveness is nothing short of anathema to an academic atmosphere. That non-academic employees at a university would have so little respect for academia while the "academic" administration betrays its calling, whether out of cowardness, incompetence, or a sheer disvaluing of academic standards is squalid enough to justify whistle-blowing on behalf of academia. 
I had the unpaid visiting-scholar status that provided access to research facilities (e.g., library databases and computers), so I was surprised to find that just a day after the last official day of my term the university cut off all of my computer accounts; I couldn't even check my university email to take care of any transitional matters. "That's petty," a professor at a European university wrote of the practice, so I checked with the human resources department. Even a full professor leaving the university to teach elsewhere is cut off on the last "contract day" without warning. I had thought the practice was just another way in which visiting scholars are marginalized there. In general, truncating a transition (e.g., cloud storage, library books, etc) is rather short sighted, and thus evinces the dysfuncational, priggish mentality. 
The "campus colleague" designation is on the faculty level, yet such a colleague would never really know it, for even the non-academic library staff regularly referred to visiting scholars as "the general public" when I was at the university. The most startling (and revealing) instance illustrative of this point came the morning after I  had been assaulted in one of Tucson's many ghetto areas. I asked a library supervisor in the science library if I could use a phone to call my physician's office as my injuries were worse than I had supposed from the attack on the previous night. "I'm on the faculty here and I was assaulted last night and the attacker broke my phone, so I would like to use a phone here to call my physician to make an appointment today," I said. Astonishingly, the supervisor replied, "There are no phones in this library; there is a pay phone for the general public in the main library." In her mind, the faculty of the university were part of the general public. Simply astonishing--the organizational culture was that distorted. I related this incident to one of the other supervisors a week later. That supervisor admitted that her colleague could indeed have used her discretion to let me use an office phone. When I mentioned another visiting faculty member who also regularly used that library, even that supervisor who presumably would have used her discretion positively for a faculty member was so oblivious to her own anti-(visiting)faculty bias that she referred to the other visiting faculty (who unlike me taught at the university) as a "nobody." Again, stunning. The organizational culture of non-academic employee quite obviously included little respect for scholars. The utter lack of respect resonates with how other non-academic employees at the university had treated me, and even with how the university handled my, and presumably other scholars', departure from the university. 
As yet another example that is indicative, I found the secretaries in the honors college to be uncooperative when I tried to find out whether something bad had happened to a student whose transition to the university had been so rough that I had helped him with some home-cooked dinners and a few nights in my living room during the semester break in December; the university had refused to put him in a dorm because the financial aid office employees were dragging their feet, so he was homeless. Six months later, I had not seen him on campus so I was concerned, given the high rate of bike and pedestrian fatalities in Tucson. The secretaries paid no regard to the fact that at the very least I had been vetted by the university as visiting faculty member; to them, I was clearly an outsider, definitely outside the loop. 
Incidentally, a faculty of Art had given the student the code to enter her building and office at night so he could sleep in her office in December, but a young library-staff person who had overheard the student and I speaking once about his plight made it her mission to get the code invalidated so the student would have to sleep outside! So he was sleeping outside by Christmas Eve. I would later not think terribly highly of myself for not having invited him to stay over at my place, or even spend the week. Perhaps unwittingly I had absorbed some of the heartlessness of the staff at the university. 
At any rate, as disrespectful and even heartless as the nonacademic staff generally were during my stay, the active and passive aggression of the security employees was beyond the pale, yet the administration repeatedly looked the other way to protect those employees even when they had behaved very badly. Crucially, a real police force is accountable to a government, whereas an organization's employees are accountable, at least in theory, only to an executive. So for a university's security employees to play local police officers is itself not only a category mistake, but dangerous given the organizational bias that executives can have. 
On the few occasions on which I had contact with campus security employees (e.g., on their refusal to enforce the campus anti-smoking policy--even as they found the time to go a half-mile off campus to ticket speeding cars), they too were not only quite rude, but also aggressive toward me in spite (and perhaps because of) my visiting-faculty status. Speaking with a former security employee just days after my "appointment" ended, I was astonished to hear that that university's security department--which fashioned itself as a local police department (hence enforcing banal campus policied was "below it")--had a thirst to dominate and even be aggressive even against students. 
The security employees' perpetual watch on the campus was thus unnerving to many students and perhaps even faculty and staff, but the "higher" administrators looked the other way, which in itself evinces passive aggression. Once when I was in the provost's office-area on another matter and I mentioned that the presence even that morning was over the top (three separate occurrences of security--on bikes, a motorcycle, and a jeep--on patrol within a ten-minute period on the main grassy area), the academic-affairs provost's assistant defiantly replied, "I feel good when there are police everywhere." She displayed no sense of there being any downside, even when I told her that students had told me they feel uncomfortable on campus as a result of the perpetual presence. Not only was she not sympathetic toward me; she was hostile! Was I running up against an authoritarian/totalitarian "red-state" mentality that had identified one of the enemy?
I instantly realized no chance of any self-correction existed within that university's administration, as I had already complained to the VP of business affairs, who technically oversees the university "police" (aka security) department. In this essay, I detail the case of that university's police state, which, like Nietzsche's new bird of prey, consists of weak people who nevertheless thirst to dominate even and especially the strong. The sheer excessiveness in the nearly perpetual presence is itself a red flag, given the implicit aggressiveness and the obliviousness of the "supervisors."
"Police day" at the University of Arizona, for instance, was overdone even for a university beholden to its own security department. Although that department only had one of the tents in the campus-safety display, the disproportionate display of "police" power evinced in the line of vehicles in the photo below reveals the underlying attitude, even if its sheer brazenness comes at the expense of an academic atmosphere that is generally expected on university campuses. 
Tellingly, yet another security jeep was yet to come when I took the picture; the driver would park the vehicle notably blazoned with "Police" on its sides on the grass (contrary to university policy), curiously placed strategically diagonal to two walkways as if to say, "I'm in your face; deal with it." That's the attitude that the security employees have foisted on a campus that could otherwise enjoy the serenity of an academic atmosphere. No matter that some students and even scholars had transferred out of the resulting discomfort while on the campus. A showing off of the hardware was actually a beating of the proverbial chests by alpha males far removed from higher education yet somehow in its very midst. The passive aggression and even cases of outright aggression of the university's security employees can be said to come from resentment, for the employees are obviously uneducated, and even, given the urge for dominance, from an "attack" orientation directed even and especially to scholars as we have an alternative basis of power to that of the threat of a gun. Of course, the esteem of scholarly expertise--higher learning--can be betrayed by university administrators beholden to their own security employees who are nonetheless under the fantasy of being a local police department with the democratic legitimacy of working for a government. 
The night before the morning of the "Police Day," I biked home from that very spot on campus. On my way, I saw three campus security cars in a campus parking lot with their lights flashing, then about half a mile from there two police cars, again with lights flashing--the police talking to a driver, then on a residential street not far from there I stopped because a policeman was scouring me from a distance with his spotlight--apparently riding a bike at 9:30 pm is somehow suspicious in a residential area. I stopped immediately to wait for him to leave the area ahead, but this only aroused his "curiosity" so he turned around and made a beeline for me. The primitives are not exactly subtle. I just watched him pass--holding my phone with camera ready. Then about a half mile from there I looked into the headlights of a parked police car parked in a small parking area at a minor intersection--presumably the guy was poised to spring on a speeding car. I had had enough. Just before I turned right, I instinctively gave him a Nazi salute. Tucson is a police state, so the instinct was right, but I was stupid to use my free speech in this way. Day in and day out, seeing police seemingly at every turn--even on a university campus!--I had had enough of the police state. In fact, I had taken residential streets to avoid the omnipresence. But alas, they are everywhere in Tucson--except in the foothills, where the rich people live. Otherwise, Tucson is a hole, a junk city. By the time I reached my apartment, I was overwhelmed by the overkill, so I knocked on my neighbor's door to chat with her; she was not at all surprised to hear my report.
The sad thing is: the locals who seek to dominate--the weak, that is, who erroneously count themselves as strong--don't even realize how uncomfortable they are making daily life for the locals, as well as students and faculty at the local university. How in the world could showing an overwhelming presence at a broader safety fest somehow make all this better than worse? "I'm in your face; deal with it."
Take a look at the picture and ask yourself--how comfortable will the student be who was stopped--he told me--by two campus security cars with lights flashing for riding on a campus sidewalk ALONE late one night, or the student who got the attention of THREE squad-cars for starting up on his bike as the light was turning from red to green, again ON A UNIVERSITY CAMPUS.  I have asked students: do you think the security employees are so clueless, or are they intentionally pushing themselves, not caring in the least that they are making people uncomfortable on campus?  Invariably, the students are confident of the latter. I think both are true.
A case in point. I was taking a picture of the student Chinese New Year display on the campus quad. My action caught the attention of two security employees, who judging from their facial expressions did not approve. Perhaps they didn't want to be photographed? Then they should have been moving, on patrol, rather than perpetually watching, and rather blatantly. No shame. No concern for the disconcerting impact they have on others.

The two facial expressions of the security employees make clear that the underlying attitude is at the very least suspect, for I was merely taking a picture on the campus.

Another case in point. One morning biking on campus--a Saturday morning no less--I looked at a security employee who was hiding at one end of the underpass between the business and music schools. Because I sustained a look at him, he got on his bike and started to follow me. Concerned, I turned around to leave campus, walking my bike. As I did so, I chatted with a college-aged guy, Jim. We were both "creeped out" by the employee's suspicion. Just off campus, as we were talking, we became very concerned when the employee stopped about 15 feet from us and watched us as we talked. Both James and I were stunned at the employee's mentality. We walked away and the employee stayed put, still watching us. I took a picture only at that point so not to give the employee any further irrational sense of being provoked (there was absolutely no provocation on our part, which made the employee's conduct particularly worrisome).

I have circled in black the security employee, who was continuing to watch Jim and I as we PEACEABLY walked away chatting.

Jim remarked to me that he could not see how students put up with this. I agreed with him. At that point, we saw that the security employee had called one of his coworkers to the "scene." James and I remarked that the employee’s mentality was utterly beyond anything normal or rational. I told Jim that I am just a visiting scholar, but that I have truncated my research because I no longer feel comfortable on campus due to the security employees--their blatant aggressiveness. I have complained to the VP of Bus Affairs, but to no avail. I honestly think the guy who oversees the university’s security department is either oblivious or he actually wants the sordid mentality to continue.
Just three weeks earlier, on a morning during finals week, a security jeep drove down the bike path near the admin building and onto the grass, stationing itself right in front of the front-windows of the science library. So much for de-stressing during finals week. A librarian subsequently agreed with me that the security employees are oblivious to the need to be discreet in their presence around academic study. I'm convinced that the security employees have no respect for our endeavor, and in fact they may even be hostile to faculty because we represent an alternative basis of power organizationally that they don't have. In short, a huge power-trip is in play. 
Looking out from the main library at dusk one evening, I noticed a campus security jeep stationed just in front of the building. The car's lights were on, and yet the vehicle stayed stationary for at least 30 minutes before driving on. Such surveillance was not unusual. That it was on such obvious display right out in the open and for so long reflects on the warped nature of the security employee's judgment. Was he or she trying to intimidate students? 
On my birthday, no less, two campus security employees demonstrated excessive intimidation when they stopped me on my bike ostensibly because I was holding a red rather than a clear light. I was returning a bike from the university's bike-share program and I had my bike. This scenario was not in itself suspicious, as the university had a bike-repair station on campus and loaner bikes. In spite of this, one of the employees did not believe that my bike was mine. Even though he was aware that I was on the faculty (albeit visiting), as my identity had to be checked!, he aggressively shouted, "Get your fingers out of your pockets!" "Stand over there!" It seemed to me that he was playing Joe local cop, so he was going to treat me no differently than were I a homeless man at a bus stop. The difference is that I had been vetted, so the "cop's" aggressiveness was "overkill." I had been compliant, so his aggression did not come from anything I had said or done. I could thus see the problem: that the university employee not only disrespected scholars, but was overtly hostile to us.
Six months before that, I had complained to a franchised restaurant manager at the Student Union about one of his student employees. The manager, come to think of it, had the same tone as the security employee who accosted me for having a red light, which "is illegal in the State of Arizona." No matter that I was on a university campus. Similarly, the restaurant manager ordered me, "Stand over there!" I rebuffed his tone, replying that it was not appropriate. He was like a child, continuing to bark orders at me. I finally said, "You know, that's low class even for Tucson." He replied that he would get back at me by calling the police. I headed immediately to the Union's administrative office, with the restaurant manager just steps behind--hounding me!
So I was surprised when I was in one of the Union offices calming recounting the incident to the marketing director only to hear a young university security employee in the lobby YELLING at me to get out of that office. The director and I were stunned. She told the young man that I had done nothing wrong and was welcome to continue to use the Union. He arrogantly dismissed what she said and told her he would follow me until I left the building. I would report the immature man with the legal right to use lethal force to the university's Human Resource department, only to find six months later--on my birthday--that he had not been fired. In fact, as the "back up" to the security employee who pulled me over for holding a red light, the kid's bravado was palpable. "I've seen him before," he told his coworker. "He was not cooperative." Stunned, I corrected the lad, explaining that his conduct had been out of order as per the Student Union's administration. In spite of the fact that I had been compliant on the bike "infringement," the other employee must have utterly dismissed my correction. "Get your fingers out of your pockets! Stand over there!" It was a power-play, as my moving a few feet along the broad sidewalk made no real difference whatsoever in distance between myself and the two university employees who had a faculty member in their cross-hairs. I complied of course, but I must admit I mentally checked out of that university at that moment. "We're done here," I said to myself in reference to my loyalty to such a dysfunctional organization. From then on, I truncated my research project with the hope of not having to set foot on that campus again, and from what student librarians would tell me, I was not the only visiting scholar to come to that conclusion and leave utterly disenchanted. 
Not even students from Greek life on the main campus to hand out candy on Halloween were spared being watched over by two campus cops with guns. One of the students told me that the fact that the presence was so close made the students uncomfortable. As the picture below indicates, the campus security employees had no problem with intimidating the students. The judgment that such an event required such a close police presence is itself warped, so the lack of needed oversight by the university's vice president of business affairs was also evident. 

As Fraternity and Sorority students handed out candy on the campus "mall" (i.e., green) at around 6 p.m. on Halloween, two armed campus policemen stood in the middle of the event, rather than bothering to be out of the way such as where I was when I took this picture Was the intimidation really necessary? Did the two even consider how their central, on-going presence would impact the students? 

Ethically dysfunctional organizational cultures can be found in not only for-profit corporations, but also universities—especially in those whose managements are business-oriented rather than academic. The University of Arizona is a case in point. That managerial incompetence and sheer bad judgment could exist even at the “highest” levels points to how dysfunctional organization can perpetuate itself, and be extremely hard to correct.
As if the university security department is not a handful for students, staff, and faculty, step off campus, and the local police are perpetually stationed--watching us--and they are so blatant about it we can only wonder at the underlying mentality.

Was ongoing surveillance necessary on a quiet weekday morning with just five people out?

On another quiet weekday morning, at same location, a squad-car pulled up across the street from a parked police jeep. The jeep belonged to two policemen apparently "eating" at the local establishment (not the two guys pictured above), so it is strange that the employees in the squad-car in the foreground pulled up anyway, oblivious to the obvious concern that two vehicles in close proximity would arise. The two employees got out of their car and walked a half a block, so they really didn't have to pack so to make the police presence so apparent on that street. A local squad car will even go through the main entrance and loop around inside the campus even though the university's own security presence can be said to be excessive. For a local police employee to make the incursion even though it is obvious that campus security is right there ahead, watching!, is yet another indication that the overkill is pathological in nature.

That security jeep is manned, and stationary. Nevertheless, a local police car had just looped around anyway, just before I took the picture. The excessiveness would have been readily seen had I taken the picture earlier.

I wrote to the alderwoman of the ward that includes the university about the excessive presence of the local police near and even on the campus. Demonstrating possible collusion or at least wayward incompetence, she replied that she does not get personally involved in such matters. Clearly, there would be no accountability locally too. Perhaps the mentality on campus was merely a reflection of a decadence locally, reaching even the local government. Such a system is devoid of the check provided by a feedback loop. For it to be operative, a sense of humility concerning the possibility of being wrong, including of going too far without realizing it, is necessary.
I submit that a society has an interest in policing large institutions that are themselves not governments (i.e., accountable to the people) and yet hire employees and permit them to regard themselves as part of a local police force. A university is a non-profit or for-profit organization, even if some money is received from governments. Security employees are non-academic employees rather than part of the local police force. For some non-academic employees to be not only rude, but aggressive toward faculty--including scholars/doctorates--ought to be anathema to academia. Perhaps in spite of its money for research, American academia has become rather decadent and weak. Such a condition definitely exists in the dysfunctional culture and administration at the University of Arizona. 

See also, "Corruption Enabled in the University of Arizona's Athletic Department."

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ivy-League Exclusivity: Political Ethics in The Yale Political Union

When I was a student at Yale, I was a member of the Party of the Right (POR) in the Yale Political Union (YPU). I was pretty much a libertarian back then, and the POR consisted of libertarians and Burkean traditionalists. The Burkeans dominated the positions, and they had their little club within the club to protect their prerogative. John Kerry, who would go on to be a U.S. senator and a presidential candidate, had been president of the YPU in 1968.  At least as of my student years at Yale, the YPU has consisted of several “parties,” which are really little debating/drinking societies spanning the ideological spectrum.  This is merely the surface, however. Beneath, Yale's culture of exclusivity reigned and undoubtedly still does. Getting into Yale is just the first of several levels of greater and greater exclusivity. 
At least until the year I graduated, the POR had a secret society, which through the nineteenth century at least had been a Southern literacy society. Continuing the society's tradition, POR's secret society was only open to men while I was at Yale.  So much for the women in the POR!  They have been (and, I believe still are) ineligible for membership in the party’s secret organization. I didn’t like that exclusion even though I am not a woman.  However
To be sure, the unfairness wasn’t limited to women.  The only guys who were invited into the secret society were those who were in leadership positions of the POR--in effect, Burkeans. This didn't stop the party's chairman from inviting women (even those who had risen to the party's leadership ranks) and the rank and file generally to watch the special few get tapped for the secret society. I was out, I presume, because I was a student at the Divinity School. Although the M.Div. degree is undergraduate in a divinity school, it was easy for undergraduates in Yale College to view us as graduate students (the same goes for JD and MD students, as they seek the first degree in their respective schools (i.e., undergraduate). To make matters worse for me, I was in my 30's when I attended Yale, after having earned two masters and a Ph.D. degree elsewhere.  
So I was surprised, when in the year that I joined the party, the party's chairman invited me to a Friday night party, which was being held in a room half way up Yale’s bell tower. He told me that the new members of the POR who are men would be inducted into the secret society, so I should come.  So I canceled my other plans and attended. Actually, he wanted all the party members to be at the party to serve as an audience for the two or three guys in the party’s leadership who were to be tapped for the secret society. 
Here lies Yale's rank underbelly: It is no fun for the extant insiders to select others to go to the next level of exclusivity if none of the excluded were around to watch it. As much as I detested this squalid mentality, I was most upset that the chairman had lied to me. When I confronted the chairman, he (and his friends in the leadership) denied that he had told me that the men who were new members of the party would be inducted into the secret society, formerly a men's Southern literary society. Only now does it occur to me that the guys controlling the access were themselves Southerners. At least one of men occupying the chairman's position of the party was from Kentucky--close enough. With the exception of some of my Quaker ancesters, who fled North Carolina in the 1830s as those Quakers were stanch abolitionists, I don't have a Southern bone in me. Plus, I was older than the students studying for their first undergraduate degree. 
The usual means of protesting the leadership of the party was, in my time at least, to address the party before one of the weekly debates (held in the residential colleges, with a full bar) and formally hand the chair a letter of resignation. I think those protestants overestimated the impact of their “act” of defiance.  I did not resign; no, I simply ignored the party’s leaders on campus and did not attend any more POR functions.  I think that annoyed the leaders more than had I resigned in voiced protest, for the leaders were used to that. So even today, I suppose I am a member of the POR, in spite of the fact that my ideology has become much more independent. In hindsight, I wish I had joined the Independent Party. The lesson I learned back then from the POR was how easily people in power can lie. That is a tradition that even the staid traditionalist Burkeans can give up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

North-Pole Air in Illinois: An Effect of Global Warming

Lest I be too concerned as a native Illinoisian that while I am living in Phoenix in Arizona, climate change will increase the number of 115 plus days during June, July, August, and September in the urban heat-island that is expanding nonetheless, today that city is comfortably 90 degrees (F) warmer than it is in Northern Illinois. The respective highs today are 73 and -15 degrees (windchill at -35, so there is a 110 degree difference in how the temperatures feel). I have experienced -40 degree wind-chill (combining the effects of the temperature and wind speed) early on two mornings in Northern Illinois; today that wind-chill will be for at least 24 hours. Minnesota has been experiencing -60 wind-chill (and Montana, -70!). Records, all. 
Why? differential climate warming (more at the arctic than at the equator) reduces the Arctic jet stream's energy. Like a tired rubber-band, the circle of air becomes wobbly, and this in turn allows the frigid air at the North Pole to escape southward. So both more 115 and 120F days during the summer in Phoenix and more belching of Arctic air in the northern Midwest of the U.S. (and in the northern E.U. too!) are henceforth more likely. 
So in reading about Arizona and Illinois, you would naturally conclude that the extreme temperatures in BOTH directions are among the most notable ways we can tell that climate change is underway. The extremes already before 2020 should be understood as taking place while the oceans are continuing to absorb 93% of the increased warming of the atmosphere due to carbon and methane increases. Just think what the volatility may be like once the oceans have sufficiently heated that they will no longer absorb the excess heat!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Climate Seasons and Astronomy Confused: A Societal Blind-Spot

In the Northern Hemisphere, in the Northern E.U. and U.S., it is ludicrous to claim that winter begins not until December 21st. If we go by the claim, the Christmas season is in the fall—joined by Halloween (and Thanksgiving in the U.S.). Similarly, September sports autumn cooling off rather than three more weeks of summer. In many areas, leaves turn fall colors well before September 21st. As a matter of fact, “Climate scientists define summer as the three months from June 1 through August 31st.”[1] Why, then, do meteorologists on television, at least in the U.S.—that vaunted superpower—announce that fall officially begins on September 21st. They even show “fall begins” on the day of the 21st on the week of weather. Similar, the fools show “winter begins” just four days before Christmas, on the winter solstice. That solstice is in the winter—not the beginning of it.
Just for added confusion, astronomers use the names of the meteorological seasons for the four quarters of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. These quarters are loosely related to the climatic seasons. The “winter” quarter begins on December 21st, the “winter” solstice, when the perpendicular rays of the sun hit their most southern “line” on the Earth; the “summer” solstice, well into summer on June 21st, occurs when the perpendicular rays are furthest north in the Northern Hemisphere. On September and March 21st, the perpendicular rays fall on the Earth’s equator. The solstices are thus associated with daylight extremes, whereas the equinae suggest balanced day and night.
In short, to conflate meteorology and astronomy is a logical error, which is bound to lead to errors and confusion. It surpasses comprehension why weather folks on television apparently do not know that climatically winter in the Northern Hemisphere is in December, January, and February; spring comprises March, April, and May; summer runs from June through the end of August, and fall’s months are September, October, and November. At the very least, the weather “personalities” should be familiar with weather recording. It makes absolutely sense to announce on, say, September 10th that the previous summer had overnight lows much above average, and then say on September 21st that fall has begun. Such a “feat” contorts human nature itself, and yet the blind-spot has unfortunately endured.

1. Doyle Rice, “Can’t Sleep on It: Nights Are Hottest on Record,” USA Today, September 7, 2018.

Friday, March 2, 2018


In Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on 11/11/11 in 2011, costumes were the norm in the evening as revelers celebrated the numeric convergence. I suspect that unlike the Chinese, the Europeans were struck by the convergence itself, rather by any good luck attached to the numerology. I myself was struck by the convergence alone. Both at 11:11am and 11:11pm, I was surprised that other Americans around me seemed to be either ignorant of the alignment or utterly indifferent to it. It occurred to me that just as a given time-date system is artificial, so too are human cultures—which include political and economic values that are stitched together by leaders who peddle meaning to the masses. Both our systems and our ideologies are all too limiting, yet we can find meaning in them. Perhaps this is ultimately why we have them and the leaders that trumpet them or suggest new ones. I contend that 11/11/11 too plays into the human instinct for sense-making, especially in terms of visual and cognitive symmetries.

At 11:11am on 11/11/11, I limited my “celebration” to sending out some emails to some friends and a general tweet to mark the moment for posterity; curiously, the people around me did not seem aware of the convergence. At 11:11pm, I was at a bar/restaurant listening to a band of old geezers play classic rock (and, sadly, a few Jimmy Buffett songs) from the 1970s. The only convergence in the 1970s was inflation and unemployment in the double-digits. In spite of my protestations, even the people I sitting with seemed utterly indifferent to the coming convergence—even as I took off my watch for emphasis! Still nothing—like watching a train go by on its own momentum. A few people across the room were checking their cellphones and blackberries, but, alas, for more pedestrian purposes than to keep an eye on the coming cosmic convergence. As I rather blatantly went to the lighted doorway to better see my watch at “the moment,” I felt utterly alienated from my own people. It was a case of the one and the many.
When the moment came, as I watched the five numbers on my digital watch all briefly display “11,” I felt like I was on Mars enjoying the thrill of my own private “Earth” moment while the Martians continued to sip their red brew. No, I was not drinking so I did not really think I saw aliens (they are all in Arizona, after all). Rather, I was struck by the divergence in values even amid the convergence in numbers. There wasn’t even a clock in the room! Had I been the manager there, I would have tried to arrange a date-time digital “clock” on a screen. Would the people have counted down the seconds? Would they have paid any attention to it? Walking back to my seat, I wondered whether I wasn’t some reincarnated European reborn in the Midwest as some bizarre joke from Descartes’ divine deceiver, or perhaps I was over-estimating the Europeans’ interest in the convergence. Perhaps it’s simply that I’m too innately unique—a man destined to forever be without a country.
About thirty minutes after 11:11pm, I was chatting with a middle-aged man who had been fired as a band teacher at a local high school. Our conversation came around to political economy. “Greed is good,” he stated in perfect seriousness with his eyes as though bullets aimed directly at me. I reacted as if I had been stunned by a taser gun. No wonder the guy’s students obeyed him. As for the gaping inequality in wealth in the U.S., he insisted that people should be allowed to accumulate without limit—even when they already have tens of billions of dollars. “That’s what America is all about,” he nearly shouted above the din of the band. How dare this even be questioned! The man was indeed voicing values held by enough Americans that he was expressing a major strand of American culture that I could not dismiss as an aberration or quirk. When I claimed that representative democracy itself could be at risk if private wealth gets even more concentrated in a few hands, he replied that the rich would never let America be ruined because they have a vested interest in the system. “The rich created this system,” he reminded me. Sure enough, the delegates at the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 were creditors deeply concerned over Shays’ Rebellion over debt that had just occurred in Massachusetts a year earlier. That the debtors had fought in the war without being paid yet they still had to make payments on their farm debt made no nevermind to the “Founders.” Was American founded by selfishness and greed? The former band teacher replied, “Yes, of course” as if there were no a thing wrong with that. I was absolutely stunned. I felt like I had been transported to Mars. I countered that even if a bunch of rich guys founded the United States, greed can result in people acting against their own self-interest, paradoxically as they are narrowly obsessed with it. “America can collapse from its own weight on top,” I added as though it were a fact. As I said this, I had already concluded that I was horribly at odds with a major plank in the American lexicon—namely, that economic liberty should not be limited, even at hundreds of billions of dollars being held by one person. In fact, the lack of limit, even when a constraint would be for the good of the system itself, is held by many as a virtue—something to be proud of. That a signature of greed is its lack of limitation is no problem because greed itself is a virtue. I found myself as though I were visiting another planet, though this time without even my own private amusement in watching 11’s match up on my watch. Beyond the cultural ideology, I saw in the leader of the band a sordid selfishness that could only be utterly unapologetic given its nature. All I could say was, “Well, we just disagree. Have a good night. Nice to have met you.” I wondered if the rest of the world had come to say the same thing to the American “tourist” (i.e., ideology) even while admiring our political stability and wealth.
Of course, people can get carried away not only with power and money, but also with convergences such as 11:11 on 11/11/11 in terms of luck, causality and metaphysics. In this respect, American culture is more solid than, say, that of the Chinese. As David Hume argues, we do not understand causality as much as we think. Hence, superstition is as though a perennial temptation—especially in religion, where the lapse is almost always invisible to the beholder. In numerology, the number one represents a beginning or gateway. Having several number ones presumably reinforces the validity of the “beginningness” quality. In other words, the “vibrational frequency of the prime number” increases its power such that its attributes are multiplied.  In the case of the number one, the attributes of “new beginnings” and “purity” are significantly magnified in power in 11/11/11, presumably reaching its zenith at 11:11 (a.m. and p.m., or just once on the 24 hour clock). The fallacy, which I suspect took hold in China, is to say that the increase in power means that there is more apt to be a beginning empirically and even metaphysically. We can resist this temptation to get carried away with even rare line-ups in our own systems, which, after all, are artificial because they are invented and instituted by people. In other words, even though it is a human instinct, sense-making need not over-flow and eventuate into metaphysical significance. We cannot say that acknowledging 11/11/11/ opens up a gateway in one’s life. Rather, a person can actively start something irrespective of the numbers, even if only by spotting and seizing an opportunity.
A numeric alignment can hold its own significance within its own system for the human mind. That is, the significance can be felt even as it is known to be contrived and thus arbitrary from outside the system. As I stood in the lighted doorway waiting for my watch to briefly line up its various numbers to 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 as the rest of the room was fixated on the band (or the walls, or themselves), I presumed no metaphysical significance at all in terms of some beginning about to occur in my life; rather, it was the convergence itself—the fleeting and rare alignment—that galvanized my interest. The sudden turn from 1999 to 2000 was a similar sort of significance in terms of numbers in a particular dating system. People did not need to presume the issuance of a new era or good luck to get excited at 11:59pm on December 31, 1999 about the next minute being so different. Yet was it? Something can be felt as significant even as it is known to be arbitrary, yet such significance can be easily relegated.
Admittedly, it was more difficult to get excited about New Years’ Eve in 2005 or even 2010, given the significance of 2000. Similarly, on 11/11/11, a sense of complacency could have set in regarding convergences of ones. The year 2011 alone contained an extraordinary number of them:
1:11:11 on 1/1/11     
11:11:11 on 1/1/11      
 1:11:11 on 1/11/11     
11:11:11 on 1/11/11     
 1:11:11 on 11/1/11       
11:11:11 on 11/1/11
1:11:11  on 11/11/11      
11:11:11 on 11/11/11 
However, how many of these did the average person observe? I myself completely missed 1:11pm on 11/11/11 even though I was fixated on 11:11am and 11:11pm. I must have been “out to lunch” at 1:11pm. Although it would be 100 years before 11/11/11 would happen again, it would be “only” 10 years and a few months before 2:22pm (forget 2:22am!) on 2/22/22. Technically speaking, missing a “2” (2/ rather than 22/) means that the multiplied power of the “2” will be somewhat less. Trinitarians will have reason to get excited over 3/3/33 at 3:33pm, which will be the day after Ash Wednesday in 2033. However, the number of 3’s is one less than the number of 2’s in 2/22/22. Barring significant life-extending advances in medical science, 11:11 on 11/11/11 in 2011 was the best it could get in terms of the number of numbers in a numeric date-time convergence for those adults who happened to witness that convergence.
That this topic holds any significance whatsoever is I suspect due to the propensity of the human mind to seek and admire order. In terms of symmetry alone, the eye naturally gravitates to 1111111111 rather than 1645564336. The gambling machine that has three windows with a variety of pictures spinning around, we are naturally astonished when the same picture is shown in all three windows. Even so, three lemons does not mean bad luck any more than three apples means good health in the coming year. 11/11/11 is not an alignment by chance, even if the Gregorian calendar itself need not have been adopted when it was. Even so, the planned or arranged alignment, being both of, is inherently pleasing to the eyes and holding significance to the mind, especially if the convergence is rare and fleeting. It is as though everything makes sense, but only for a moment and then it is past. In fact, it is this basic feature of the mind—that which I call the sense-making instinct—that is the basis and appeal of a leader’s vision to followers and an organization or society as a whole. The social reality that is formulated and preached is like a series of ones in a chaotic world of fractal order and disorder.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On the "Wedding of the Century": History Made or Manufactured?

In hyping the royal wedding of William and Kate in the E.U. state of Britain, the media even in other E.U. states applied the title, “The Wedding of the Century” in spite of the fact that the century was only in the second year of the second decade. It is rather presumptuous for people alive at such a time to claim so much for their time, and therefore for themselves. Lest our self-constructed bubble unexpectedly bursts, we might let some air out of our self-constructed balloon in a controlled manner such that our bloated egos can survive without too much bruising.

It is interesting how those of us who were adults in the last decade of the 20th century did not look back to any such weddings around 1911 that might have been labeled then as "the wedding of the century."  I do not even know if there were any such royal weddings back then that might qualify. Having seen the film, “The King’s Speech” a decade into the twenty-first century, I came to know a bit about the British royals of the late 1930s, but even then I could only draw a blank from Queen Victoria to the abdication made out of love. Even in terms of American rather than European history, the twentieth century begins for me at the end of World War I and takes off with the roaring twenties—that opening act ending with the ensuing economic drama in 1929. 

From the standpoint of 2011, it seems a tad bit early for us to be labeling anything in our time as definitive for the upcoming century.  From the standpoint of people who will be adults in the 2090s, people like me are like the people who were born around the time of (or just after) the war between the USA and CSA (wrongly called a civil war as the CSA was a separate country rather than a faction contending to take over the USA) and died of old age during the 1930s or at the time of WWII. Such people were practically forgotten to the people who were adults in the (American) States during the 1990s. That is to say, we who vaunt our events “of the century” will barely register to those people who will be in a position to look back on the century.  I suspect that they will look back to the people who will have been in their prime during the 2050s thru the 2070s.  

Those people who celebrate the coming of the next century will look back to celebrities similar to how I looked as far back as to Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. Even the jazz singer whose mami pierced the silent screen in 1929 is barely on my radar screen—as if the coming of sound in moving pictures was merely the start of the century (as though the previous three decades were projected silently on a blank screen).  

 I do not know much at all about the days of Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt--that is, before World War I. Similarly, adults alive in 2095 may barely know who George W. Bush and Barak Obama were and yet our world (at least in the U.S.) is dominated by discussion about those presidents.  

In the first few years of the second decade of the twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Standard Oil Trust to be unconstitutional--being in restraint of trade. At the end of the 1990s, the Glass-Steagal act separating investment and commercial banking was repealed without any hint of the progressive movement that had given rise to the Sherman Anti-trust Act. Corporations had long since won the day.

In 1913, U.S. constitutional amendments were ratified changing how U.S. Senators were to be chosen (state governments no longer being directly in the U.S. Government) and expanding how the U.S. Government could tax its citizens (at the expense of state taxes). By the end of that century, American federalism was nearly invisible—Washington D.C. having become the focal object in terms of policy.

In 1914, World War I began in Europe. In 2011, the last remaining American veteran of that war died. Memories of that war had long since faded—the Austrian-Hungarian Empire having been replaced by the Nazis and Japanese in the world’s collective consciousness.  I suspect that in 2095, 9/11 as “permanently etched in our memory” will no longer be so, just as December 7th had faded from "living in infamy" by 1995. Pearl Harbor was certainly eclipsed by 9/11. In 2011, Pearl Harbor is all but forgotten as Americans feel profound sympathy for the Japanese suffering in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami and cheer the death of Osama as justice.

From the standpoint my desk in 2011, I look out onto a vast field of time that is as of yet unknown and utterly undeveloped. I cannot even imagine what will go down in the 2030s or 2040s. That people not yet born and thus yet to be married will look back on that now-empty field as crowded gives me great pause as to the significance of my time and what claims I can properly make concerning events today. In a way, I feel like I am living in a time before time—before memories yet to be remembered even in the same century.

See related essay: "On the 'Wedding of the Century': Royalty as Natural or Exaggerated?"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Getting the Seasons Officially Wrong: A Case of a Category-Mistake

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post has not quite turned the corner with respect to spring, and the seasons in general. You see, “season” is used in two distinct though related ways in English. It can refer to four distinct weather/plant-life conditions or to the four parts of the earth’s orbit around the sun. Given the tilt of the Earth, the two are related but they do not occur together. While Achenbach acknowledges that the vernal equinox typically on March 21st “is a moment of time specified by the motion of the Earth around the sun,” he refers to this as the official start of the meteorological spring. In actuality it is not. In the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologists record data from December, January and February as winter and March, April and May as spring. So in March 2012, meteorologists could already conclude that the preceding winter had been the fourth warmest since the record-keeping began.

Consider the insanity in claiming on December 19th in the Northeast, the Northern Midwest, or on the Northern plains or further west that it is still fall. Yet even television weather people make the mistake of representing the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—as meteorological and botanical rather than astronomical in nature (to say nothing of the sheer stupidity in ignoring the obvious winter conditions of snow and ice). Meanwhile, still other people render the astronomical event as religious in nature. The ascendancy of the evergreen on the longest night is religious for those people even as it is botanical to others.

For my purposes here, it is sufficient to note that astronomy is distinct from  meteorology and botany. The latter two are relatively coincident as phenomena. To make meteorology and botany wait on an astronomical mark conflates different categories that do not cohere. It is not surprising that such thinking results in some rather obvious mistakes.

I argue that the same sort of cognitive flaw takes place in comparing a state in one empire-scale union (e.g., France) with another entire empire-scale union (e.g., the U.S.). The respective unions’ states are equivalent both in scale and politically in being semi-sovereign. Citizens in California could just as well say, “In California we do X (that really could be just about anything), while in the E.U. you do Y.” This statement seems strange on both sides of the pond, yet no one bats an eyelid at: “In the Netherlands we do X, while in the U.S. you do Y.” The asymmetry is based on European states’ rights (i.e., the antifederalist movement in American terms) and (frankly) American ignorance at America’s expense. So too, there is ignorance in a meteorologist announcing changes in the weather seasons based on astronomical bench-marks in the Earth’s orbit even as meteorologists do not use those bench-marks in recording data.

I suppose it is in reaction to the meteorologists’ inexcusable carelessness in conflating meteorology and astronomy (they are meteorologists, after all) that I note the beginning of a season by the actual shift in weather conditions. That is, I go from the empirical conditions on the ground. March of 2012 was warm even for spring across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. A day or two into the warmth, I naturally started referring spring having arrived. Sure, winter could have returned and then it would have been winter for those days, so the seasons can refer to particular weather conditions (being meteorological). Yet the seasons can also refer to more long-standing clusters of botanical/meteorological conditions. In that March, as soon as the flowers and buds were visible, that only added to my determination to say to folks, “Well, spring has arrived”—meaning on a more long-standing basis than just a warm spell. No one even put up a fight—even as the weather folks on television were still marveling that spring was still weeks away. They just made themselves out to be stubborn idiots, frankly. When they finally “celebrated” the arrival of the astronomical event of there being no tilt in the Earth’s relationship to the sun as if the event were meteorological, the weather “personalities” resembled people who get to a party hours late and announce that the party has officially begun. People at the party obviously know it has been going on for hours, and naturally look confused and ask the host, “who invited those idiots.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any good to talk to a television set; the talking heads keep right on going, completely sure of themselves.

In March of 2012 in many of the northern republics of the U.S., it would have been crazy not to refer to the conditions on the ground, which included daffodils and even tulips flowering and bushes and even trees budding, as spring. Insisting that weeks in the 70s and even 80s are still winter just points to the fault in using the names of the weather/plant seasons to refer to the astronomical quadrants of the Earth’s orbit. There is no “spring” in outer space. If anything, it is a perpetual winter, though even this analogy fails. Furthermore, spring arrives at different times in North America, depending on how far north one happens to be. It really is a regional affair.

The standardization of record-keeping (e.g., spring as March, April and May) is entirely reasonable, but the category mistake with astronomy goes too far, cognitively/logically as well as empirically. Sticking to such a mistake even while making such obvious blunders (such as that 80 degrees with flowers blooming is still winter, or 25 degrees with snow is still fall) is a strange choice that suggests a certain mentality, given that the weather person could simply stay mum on the issue rather than say something that can easily be anticipated as looking stupid. Why even announce that it is still winter while standing outside in shorts among flowers? Why go to the trouble of announcing a category mistake as if it were valid? I suspect that part of the answer is an over-valuing on things being official. Besides the artificiality in such hypertrophy, the mentality involves the flaw of denial. “It doesn’t matter whether it is pouring outside, if there is no rain in my gauge it is not raining.” In a way, this is a version of lying. Refusing to admit an empirical observation on account of an ideological value one holds (excessively), one is willing to lie.

It is not as if the meteorological and astronomical change together. At the very least, the distinctly astronomical nature of the vernal equinox in March (when the earth has no tilt relative to the sun—which happens also at the equinox in September) should be specified rather than implying that the matter is meteorological in nature. Even though the days are getting longer in March (an astronomical matter), it takes time for the air to warm. Accordingly, the meteorological and botanical are not coincident with the astronomical. Treating an astronomical event as if it were meteorological is thus an error; it is at the very least misleading. To willingly mislead just to be official is the sordid mentality that perpetuates this ongoing category mistake.

Joel Achenbach, “A Warm, and Official, Embrace of Spring,” The Washington Post, March 20, 2012.