Showing posts from May, 2014

Future Illusions

One of the odder things Freud ever wrote was his 1927 essay The Future of an Illusion, in which he applied the ideas of psychoanalysis to cultural behavior and defined religion as an obsessional neurosis.   Freud, of course, was a somewhat uncompromising non-believer whose ideas  prefigured (by nearly 50 years) Ernest Becker's terror management theory in The Denial of Death.
For Freud (and Becker) religious belief functioned to ward off the terror of our helplessness before uncontrollable natural forces and the inevitability of our own demise. It was a way of coping with the indifferent cruelty of the natural world.  Another non-believer, Richard Dawkins, once characterized nature as an endless horror show in which the "amount of suffering per year is... beyond all decent contemplation."  Dawkins put it this way: During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with …

Periodicity and Complexity

I try to get in at least a week on Driftless Area trout streams at the end of each academic year.  Just pack up the car, the gear and go.  It's as good a way as any to slough off a year's worth of  teaching, faculty politics and end-of-the-semester grade grubbing.  If you leave on a Sunday or Monday night, you can even find some solitude on the streams (go on a weekend and there's a few too many bait fishermen slugging down cans of shitty beer).

My May trip has even become something of a ritual. All winter I tie flies and itch to get out there.  I wait for the semester to creep to an end, sit through interminable faculty meetings and a bad graduation speech, and then... at last... the first fly-cast.  I was on a small catch and release stream called Ensign Hollow last week. Along a run there was an undercut bank that just whispered trout.  Slung an English pheasant tail into a seam along that bank and the rod tip instantly bent with the weight of a slender little 9" …

The Seeds of Ossian

I don't know if student plagiarism and cheating are worse now than they have ever been. You always have to be wary of the "shark attack effect," which occurs when a few high profile incidents lead people to believe that attacks are on the rise.  In reality, shark attacks are fairly uncommon and occur at about the same steady rate year after year.  So just because there's a spate of hand-wringing in the news about academic dishonesty (I mean, what's up with the Air Force Academy?), it doesn't necessarily mean today's students have hit new heights of immorality.  My hunch is that academic dishonesty is about what it's always been.

Yes, the internet made plagiarism easier, but it also made it easier to detect.  Perhaps 95 percent of the cases I deal with are crude cut-and-paste jobs that can be exposed in a few clicks.  Of course that leaves open the possibility that I'm just missing the more sophisticated cheats, but I don't think so.  The aim …