January 30th, 2006

[LINK] Two meditations of note

  • james_nicoll has recently speculated (1, 2) about the possibility that red dwarf stars might actually be fairly hospitable stars for living worlds, though low-mass ones. Mars and Titan (and the Galilean worlds?) may be more typical representatives of the galaxy's class of high-density planetary bodies than the Earth. This has obvious implications for the sorts of life that develop on these worlds.

  • jackwalker is currently undertaking an extended synopsis of Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Putnam's identification and analysis of social capital and its mutations is classic. jackwalker's useful synopsis is helping to bring out the potential causes for the trends identified by Putnam, and shortly, to suggest possible solutions.

[REVIEW] Casanova

The plot of the new film Casanova could well have been provocative as well as entertaining. Imagine if the ardent desire for seduction and companionship demonstrated by Heath Ledger's Giacomo Casanova had been merged with the articulate proto-feminism of Sienna Miller's Francesca Bruni somehow, perhaps by arguing that Casanova's techniques of individualized seduction could come to full fruition only if he could treat with a fully auonomous woman. The plot didn't do that, as it happens, the result being a film that looks nice and has some entertaining scenes but that doesn't hang together.

[BRIEF NOTE] Update on Weale

Anyone who was interested in the story of David Weale, the UPEI instructor who offered to give students in his over-large class a passing mark of 70% if they stopped attending in order to reduce crowding, may be interested to know that he has been dismissed from his position. A good thing too, I'd say. Humblebub at Island Musings says what I'm thinking now.

Yesterday we were considering the requirements for a new group of ‘hires’. "Well, I guess we can remove the university requirement”, someone said, "they might have been in Weale’s class or the other classes he (Weale) referred to".

David Weale has diminished the value of the product that his employers sells. He should be dismissed. Just as I would be dismissed if I willingly diminished the product that my employer sells.

Note that no one seems to be calling into question David Weale’s quality of instructing - that, by all reports is superb. The quality of teaching, is not the point in what seems to have become a very polarized and overemotional debate. Consider the pragmatic facts.

For the record, I disagree with Peter Rukavina's argument that any publicity is good publicity, at least in the end when the pros and cons of a publicized embarrassment are tabulated. Even if the argument does hold water--even if UPEI's reputation has been well-served by its portrayal as an academic institutuion with excessively large class sizes--does it therefore mean that nothing should be done? This is especially true when, in a recent interview for an article in The Globe and Mail, Weale was almost embarrassingly incoherent.

A self-described rabble-rouser, who admits that he likes to "mix it up," Prof. Weale appeared genuinely mystified by the widespread condemnation of his offer. He said the university and faculty association statements smelled of hypocrisy.

"It's optics," he said. "They just want to send out this message about how strict they are about standards, when, goddammit, I was the one who was fighting in that class for standards."

When asked whether what he did was wrong, he grew impatient, launching into a critique of "our so-called merit-based society," adding it rewards the privileged.

"I was saying to the students: 'This is an act of grace and it's a good thing in life to accept grace.' It's not a good thing to think that you have to earn everything, because that's an illusion."

Luck -- not effort -- plays the largest role in who succeeds in our society, he said.

"It's often because of good luck, the family they were born into, the genes they were born with. So when you establish a society totally of merit and credit, it just suits the privileged. And it always works against the underprivileged."

Was it fair to offer students a credit for no work? "Fair always depends on your perspective," he said. "Is it fair for students to do nothing in a class and get a credit? No, it is not fair. I'll admit that. Now, is it fair for students who have paid $450 and who want to learn about the content of the course to be jammed into a classroom that is greatly compromising the learning situation? Is that fair to them?"

Best to end it. Fear not, this won't harm Weale's career: He'll still have a proud record of describing and defending traditional Island values. Weale can coast on that. Arguably he has.