The Misuse of Money

I see that David Rockefeller has pledged to give $100 million to Harvard University, a university that has an endowment of $28 billion and that spends only an infinitesimal part of this endowment (rumored to be about 5%) while it earns interest in the double digits (close to 17% in 2006). Education is surely a worthy cause and I’d be the last to suggest that education is not the place for philanthropy. And I think it’s a good thing that a large part of this $ will go to cultural studies. But couldn’t that money have been better spent on colleges and other educational institutions that really need it? Does a university with an endowment of $28 billion really need another $100 million? I think not. And I think that donations like this should not be viewed positively (as does the press and, I fear, the general public) but rather as the poor use of money that it is.


Political Lies

The other day I was talking with a friend from college and the conversation turned to politics. After she told me who she’d be voting for, I asked if the lying about various things didn’t bother her. Her response: They all lie. And I got to thinking, yes, they all do lie and the problem is that we’ve come to accept lying as part of standard political discourse, with explanations so inane that we wouldn’t accept them from a student. But, because all politicians lie, we’ve come to discount the lies as unimportant, as standard practice, as something all politicians do. Something is wrong here.

Communication Not Bullets

Why is Jimmy Carter getting so much flak? His mission, it seems to me, is to achieve peace in an area that has seen none in the last 50 years. And he is intent on using communication instead of bullets to achieve this peace. To those who would argue that we should not communicate with those with whom we disagree, I would ask: Isn’t this a better way to resolve differences than killing people? And hasn’t Iraq taught us that military action before talking about it—in this case with those with whom we disagreed as well as with our allies—can only spell disaster? One letter to the editor of the New York Times (4/23/08) put it this way: “It is with one’s enemies, after all—not preferred interlocutors—that treaties ending wars must be made.” It’s one of the most obvious statements that can be made about conflict resolution and yet, it’s denied and Carter is made to look like the enemy. Carter is trying to save lives and make life better for both Israelis and Palestinians and he’s trying to use communication instead of military action.
I can only surmise that those who do not want to resolve matters through communication, prefer to resolve them by killing those with whom they disagree. Is this the kind of world we want—where military action is the only alternative considered? To both Israelis and Palestinians: Sit down and talk (and don't get up until a resolution is achieved) unless you want to continue this senseless and horrendous war, where nobody wins and everyone loses. Surprising as this may seem, communication is preferable to war. Communication not bullets.


The Divorce Ring

You learn the strangest things in the strangest places. Although I try to keep up with nonverbal communication, an article in a recent Dear Abby column taught me something I didn't know about--the Divorce Ring.
Apparently some women, after divorce, wear a "divorce ring" on their right hand. As I think about it, the ring seems to have lots of advantages and communicates a variety of useful messages: I'm divorced. I'm not ashamed of being divorced; there is no stigma. I want others to know I'm divorced. I'm available for a possible relationship. And it provides what some people have called "free information"--information that another person can use to start up a conversation. It serves the same purpose as wearing a "save the whales" button or carrying a textbook on campus--it gives another person an easy way to open up a conversation with you--I like your "save the whales" message; it would be nice if more people were concerned or I see your taking Interpersonal Communication--my favorite course :-)
At the same time, it makes a useful (and often overlooked) point about relationships and that is that not all relationships should last and, in some cases, it's a good thing when relationships break up. And there is no reason to not celebrate the breakup of a bad relationship; it seems on a par with celebrating the start of a good relationship. From what I gather, men do not wear divorce rings; they should.



Here is an example of ghostwriting taken to the (perhaps) most unethical extreme one might imagine. If true--even partly--we're all in big trouble.


Stereotyping in Cartoons, etc.

In searching for new cartoons for an upcoming revision, I was struck by the number of cartoons stereotyping men and making them look stupid, boorish, or incredibly selfish. One cartoon that made this especially clear was a New Yorker cartoon where 2 women are talking in the hallway of an apartment house. The one with a suitcase says: “I’m going away for the weekend. Would you mind feeding my husband?” Why do the media (and it’s not only cartoons; television commercials are the worst, I suspect) persist in making men look so grossly incompetent? I don’t find the cartoon funny (well, maybe a little, a very little), only insulting.
When I took General Semantics, Harry Weinberg—one of the greatest teachers I ever had—had us do a scrapbook of misevaluations (fact inference confusion, allness, indiscrimination, intensional orientation, static evaluation, and polarization—the kinds of distortions that I (and probably most others) discuss in the chapter on verbal messages—and which had to come from different media—so there had to be a certain number of cartoons, a certain number of news items, and so on. I would think that a similar project could be built around cultural distortions—stereotyping, ethnocentrism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, racism, insensitivity in communication between people with and without hearing, speech, physical, or visual impairments—from the various media. It would be a good exercise in cultural awareness and in media literacy.