July 2, 2008
God Save The Queen
God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter thine enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.
Britannia Rules The Waves
When Britain first at Heav’n's command
Arose from out the azure main;
Arose, arose, arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
July 2, 2008
July 2, 2008
America has 3,800 animal shelters, but only 1,500 for battered women. Puppies are blameless and easy to care for; people are more complicated. Allison Schrager, an economist, examines our inclination to help animals over our own species …
A woman who fundraises for a charity dedicated to helping battered women  recently told me about her challenges raising money. Called the Retreat, the charity is located in East Hampton, a posh beach community, full of people who make philanthropy a part of their financial and social lives. Yet she struggles to find donors. In response to her requests, she often hears, “Well, no one I would know would be a victim of domestic violence. Besides, I already give money to the animal rescue charity.” The animal rescue charity is one of the best endowed in the area.
I find many things troubling with this statement. First, contrary to popular perception, domestic abuse occurs in all socio-economic groups . The assumption that such violence afflicts only the poor or deserving is both fatuous and misguided. That potential donors admitted that they would prefer to help animals over battered women also reveals some odd instincts in the realm of empathy and philanthropy. Granted, we often say things we don’t mean when being solicited for money. Yet the donations given to animal rescue could instead support a charity that helps people. If we value people more than animals can we ever justify giving to an animal-welfare charity?
Peter Singer , a philosopher, stated the case for animal welfare in his 1975 book Animal Liberation . A utilitarian, Singer believed that because animals have the ability to feel pain, we have a moral obligation to minimise animal abuse. We can not say, given an equal amount of suffering, a human should take priority over an animal. But because humans are capable of a higher state of consciousness, we have the capacity to suffer in a more profound way. Thus, Singer concludes that human suffering should take priority over animals:
Within these limits we could still hold that, for instance, it is worse to kill a normal adult human, with a capacity for self-awareness, and the ability to plan for the future and have meaningful relationships with others, than it is to kill a mouse…
Singer believes we have an obligation to minimise world-wide suffering. His argument, taken to the extreme, suggests all our time and energy should be devoted to this pursuit. Of course if we spent all our resources helping everyone in need we would all be poor and negligent of our own families. In order to maintain our ability to help others, we can only donate a limited amount of our resources. As an economist, the question that interests me is: what is the most effective way to minimise suffering given our financial and time constraints? These constraints mean we must make choices.
It turns out that the preference for charities that help animals over people is hardly unique to this one posh community. In 1874 in New York, the definition of child abuse was rather vague, while the parameters of animal abuse were clearly understood. This became apparent in the historic case of Mary Ellen Wilson , a battered girl. At that time few resources were available to help children like Mary Ellen. Ultimately Etta Wheeler, a concerned Methodist mission worker who regularly visited the area, went to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for help. According to the American Humane Association:
Etta Wheeler continued her efforts to rescue Mary Ellen and, after much deliberation, turned to Henry Bergh, a leader of the animal humane movement in the United States and founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). It was Ms Wheeler’s niece who convinced her to contact Mr Bergh by stating, “You are so troubled over that abused child, why not go to Mr. Bergh? She is a little animal surely.”
This disparity persists today. According to Susan Weitzman , author of the book “Not to People like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages”, the United States has 3,800 animal shelters, but only 1,500 shelters for battered women. She has founded and now directs the Weitzman Center,  dedicated to helping “upscale” victims of domestic abuse.
Perhaps we prefer helping animals because we believe they have a greater need. People often think a battered woman is free to leave her situation, while animals are physically prevented from leaving. Humans are easier to blame for their circumstances. Because we do not grant animals the same freedoms, we also do not assign them the same level of responsibility for their situation.
Also, helping battered animals is easier than helping battered people. Men and women need more resources to get back on their feet, and our ability to experience profound suffering makes our pain harder to alleviate. Suppose it takes the same amount of resources to save a battered woman as it does 100 puppies: if the ultimate goal of charitable giving is to ease world suffering, some will argue that it makes sense to help the puppies over the woman.
When we witness human suffering in our own communities, the pain affects us more directly. It is easier to empathise with victims of a situation that could have just as easily befallen ourselves. That may explain why countries with more homogenous populations also tend to have more generous welfare states . Believing abuse is the domain of faceless, unfortunate others makes choosing animals–which are equally unknown yet undeniably blameless–seem fairly reasonable. Yet this overlooks and underestimates the less visible suffering that may be taking place just down the street, or in the next town.
Of course it is better to give to animal charities than not at all. Human suffering is more complicated, in every way, and helping people takes more commitment and patience. But if you choose animals over people because of a naive belief that a particular brand of human pain has not infiltrated your own community, you may want to reconsider.
July 2, 2008
There is something particularly offensive to me in the forging of academic credentials. It compromises and devalues scholarship and the effort that it takes to earn authentic academic recognition. In some ways it is more troubling even than counterfeiting currency, which has less personal integrity on the line.
A rightfully earned degree demonstrates not only that one has completed a tour of academy duty, by passing the necessary courses, but also shows that a person has the grit to master subjects that grow increasingly more difficult as the effort progresses. Someone earning an honest diploma jumps through the required hoops; buying an unearned degree allows someone to display a piece of paper without actual gravitas, substance or knowledge. It is fraud.
Years ago when I was a lawyer for Boston University, I was part of a group of university attorneys that took action against a group of term-paper writing companies located in Beantown. There were half a dozen or more, supplying documents on request from students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate courses given by universities in the metropolitan area. Since the papers served to support the granting of degrees, which were later used to gain admission to professional schools (like law and medicine), and subsequently made it possible for people to get licenses to practice, the argument made was that the term-paper companies were assisting people in the “uttering of false documents.” The court agreed, took action, and for a while business fell off. But over time, of course, the companies returned under new names with new addresses and with today’s electronic capacities this sort of fraud continues.
I’ve been troubled by diploma mills for a long time and recall a few years ago opening The Economist and seeing a small advertisement offering for sale a degree from George Washington University. George Washington University! I couldn’t wait to get on the telephone to the general counsel; he immediately took remedial steps. The ad (and the degree granter?) disappeared. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder and worry about it.
This week The New York Times reports on the Federal government’s three year investigation into the scam perpetrated by a couple from the State of Washington who have been selling false credentials under the names of 120 fictitious universities and several real ones (including phony transcripts, letters of recommendation, and complete files). The government’s work ended with guilty pleas by the pair for mail and wire fraud. The exact number of bogus degrees put into the market by this couple and others is not known, nor do we know the full extent of the number of false-degree mills that exist. The estimates by investigators range from 100,000 to 200,000 degrees sold each year. Each year!
People search out these phony degrees for lots of reasons. I’ll wager some folks just like to game the system while others find it easier to buy a diploma than earn one. For some, the credential is simply a document that one must pick up to gain entry into the world of work and to them it doesn’t represent any level of personal achievement. Like a medallion on a New York taxicab, the diploma is seen as merely a license to get a job. Perhaps this type of fraud is a contributing factor in why it is so difficult for graduates of our fully accredited colleges and universities to find employment.
The subject of diploma mills has been on the national agenda with greater or lesser vigor for years. I recall a long discussion on this topic at an ACE meeting I attended some years ago and a report on the subject calling for action, but it is apparent not much follow-up ensued.
Senator Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican, was particularly interested in this subject in 2004. After learning that hundreds of federal employees have been “students” at several unaccredited California schools thought to be diploma mills (tuition paid by the U.S. government!), she set out to investigate further. Apparently, Senator Collins recently proved her point by receiving a pseudo bachelor’s of science degree in biology and a master’s of science degree in medical technology. Thanks to a GAO investigation into the bogus credentials purchased from diploma mills, we now have exposed these operations. On the house side, Representative Tom David, a Virginia Republican, also asked the GAO to look into this matter.
“Postsecondary degrees are the keys to opening doors to the private sector job market and to federal agencies. It’s time to figure out whether we need to change the locks so that diploma mill degree holders are no longer allowed to compete with unfairly with the men and women have worked hard to earn legitimate degrees,” said Collins. “What’s more, taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for these bogus credentials and degrees.”
“Public trust in government is a key pillar of our democracy,” said Davis. “There is no place for diploma mill degree holders to work in our government, especially when we are talking about homeland security. We must and will get to the bottom of this situation.”
In the past several years, about 20 states have enacted laws to deal with this type of trafficking. But the federal government seems to be tossing the responsibility for action back and forth between the Department of Education and the Justice Department. And the Times’ report claims that Congress is “moving cautiously, almost hesitantly.” Somehow they seem stumped to come up with a definition of diploma mills — asking what is ‘little or no’ coursework. In bureaucratic fashion, there is a bill to create a task force to recommend ways to handle these “diploma factories.” What do you think should be done?
July 2, 2008
July 2, 2008
From The First Post: Inject some intelligence into the race debate.
Racists and their critics alike are guilty of generalising about race.
I am taking part this week in a debate on race and intelligence at the Science Museum, nine months after the Nobel Laureate James Watson was banned from speaking there, thanks to some incendiary comments he made about race and intelligence. “I am inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa,” he told the Sunday Times. “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours whereas all the testing says not really.”
Censure was swift and universal. Watson was stripped of his chancellorship of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor laboratory in New York. The Science Museum cancelled his lecture because Watson’s comments had “gone beyond the point of acceptable debate”.
The row over Watson’s comments illustrates how much is wrong with the current debate about race. Watson got his
facts in a double helix. There are certainly real genetic differences between human populations. And the scientific study of these differences can help unravel the roots of disease, develop new medicines, unpick the details of deep human history and perhaps even tell us something about the nature of intelligence.
But such genetic differences are not the same as racial differences. The kinds of populations that are useful for scientific research are very different from the kinds of populations we call “races”.
We know, for instance, that sickle cell anaemia is a black disease. Except that it isn’t. Sickle cell is a disease of populations originating from areas with high incidence of malaria. Some of these populations are black, some are not. The sickle cell gene is found in equatorial Africa; in parts of southern Europe; in southern Turkey; in parts of the Middle East; and in much of central India.
Most people, however, know that African Americans suffer disproportionately from the trait. And, given popular ideas about race, most people automatically assume that
what applies to black Americans also applies to all blacks and only to blacks. It is the social imagination, not the biological reality, of race that turns sickle cell into a black disease.
Racial thinking divides human beings into a small set of discrete groups, often defined by skin colour or appearance, views each group as possessing a fixed set of traits and abilities and regards the differences between these groups as the defining feature of humanity. All these beliefs run counter to scientific views of population differences.
But if Watson’s ideas of race were warped, so were the arguments of many of his critics. For the Science Museum, Watson went “beyond the point of acceptable debate”. Really? Two years ago, the then Harvard chancellor Larry Summers caused outrage by suggesting in a speech that evolved brain differences, rather than gender discrimination, may explain why men dominate science.
The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker was asked whether Summers’s comments had put him beyond the pale of legitimate academic discourse. “Good grief,” Pinker exclaimed. “Shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigour? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.”
The irony is that racial talk today is as likely to come out of the mouths of liberal anti-racists as of reactionary racial scientists. The affirmation of difference, which once was at the heart of racial science, has become a key plank of the anti-racist outlook. The celebration of difference, respect for pluralism, avowal of identity politics – these have come to be regarded as the hallmarks of a progressive, anti-racist outlook.
The paradoxical result is that old arguments about race have become recycled through new ideas about culture and identity.
It is often difficult these days to distinguish between racists and anti-racists. One of James Watson’s fiercest critics was the Ghanaian writer and broadcaster Cameron Duodu. After condemning the media for giving space to Watson’s “malignant racism”, Duodu dismissed the claim that Africans are less intelligent on the grounds that for life
in Africa “you do not need a high IQ – such as found in tests devised by Westerners”.
“Africa may look dismal today to the likes of Professor James Watson,” Duodu suggested, but only because “the Western way of life has been imposed on Africans”. According to Duodu, “It is quite stupid to expect total efficiency from a people who are being torn in two directions at the same time – between an inherited, ancient culture, and a modern, imported one.”
Africans are different… Modernity is alien to them… They don’t need a high IQ for the kind of lives they lead… Even Watson might have blanched at describing Africans in this fashion and had he done so, he would have faced an even greater firestorm of protest.
Race is not a rational, scientific category. But anti-racism has become an irrational, anti-scientific philosophy that paradoxically keeps the racial pot bubbling. We need to confront both.