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Professors and students should be deeply troubled by the firing of professor Rick Mehta

The three things most troubling about Acadia University’s firing of psychology professor Rick Mehta are the secrecy surrounding Acadia’s decision, Acadia’s failure to address properly any valid complaint it might have received against Dr Mehta’s teaching, and Acadia’s attack on freedom of expression on campus. Because the firing is a personnel matter, Scott Roberts, a University spokesperson, declined to comment or “provide any elaboration” on Mehta’s dismissal ( Keeping the reasons secret is troubling because unless they have good information on how the university interprets its rules and evaluates complaints, professors at Acadia will not know just where the boundaries are.  Their ignorance and puzzlement will change their behaviour, making them more cautious and fearful in their teaching and talking. Good teaching, though, requires professors to be natural and unaffected, and able to take risks.  An insincere or mannered professor will not earn the trust of their students, and students need to trust their teacher if they are to investigate the world boldly and express their findings honestly. Acadia’s refusal to explain why Dr Mehta was fired also stymies the public’s ability to understand and have confidence in Acadia as an institution of higher learning. One reason for the secrecy might be to maintain the privacy of those who complained about Dr Mehta.  But surely Acadia could give its reasons and evidence without naming any names. Despite Acadia’s silence, it seems to be known that students and others complained to the administration at Acadia that Dr Mehta frequently went off topic in his classes and wasted class time, included material on tests that wasn’t covered in class, and on occasion was less than rigorous in his teaching.  It seems also to have been alleged that Dr Mehta was careless with the privacy of one or two students. Complaints such as these must be taken… Read More

Waiting for the Next Black Swan

[caption id="attachment_8109" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Gaming dice[/caption] I witnessed two events in my childhood which have affected how I have understood the world lifelong. The first happened when I was six, living in a house in Calgary, on a small dead end street, lined with poplar trees, close to the hill sloping down to the Bow River. It was May 9, 1945, VE-Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. As part of the celebration, a daredevil and decorated Calgary pilot twice flew his famous 'F-for-Freddie' Mosquito bomber right down our street, so low that the twin propellers chopped leaves off the treetops. It had been part of an equally amazing low flying display all around the city. I and every kid on the street were out under the poplars, thrilled to the marrow. But we were all devastated, only a day later, when we learned that the plane had crashed, killing the pilot and crew, due to one last deadly stunt tried just before landing. I learned more about this double event year by year (there is a fully detailed account at,freddie.html). By the time I was twelve and an avid reader, I knew that the Mosquito was one of the most brilliantly-designed, fast, and versatile aircraft of the war. I had also met a former Mosquito pilot, who told me that, while pilots loved the plane, landings were often nerve-wracking, as it landed 'very hot' at well over 100 mph. By my teens, I also reflected that the pilot might have been exhausted, perhaps – who could blame him? – nursing a hangover, or perhaps just caught by a deadly cross wind. But anyway, on what was to be one last daring flyover before landing, his plane clipped a pole on the ground,and immediately crashed,… Read More

The Second Iraq War in Current Mythology

Rob Reiner's new film, Shock and Awe, is not about the massive aerial attack with which the Bush administration launched its war on Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2003, but on how the war was portrayed at the time,, not only by the government, but by almost all American media, including the NY Times and Washington Post. Reiner contends that this portrayal was fundamentally dishonest. The heroes of his film are the editor of the Knight-Ridder newspaper combine, played by Reiner himself, and two of its reporters, who spent many months interviewing opponents of the war in its planning stages that they found inside the CIA and the Pentagon. Reviewers have not been much impressed by this attempted update of All the President's Men, but have accepted it as a it seriously as a virtuous hindsight reflection. But it is much more revealing as a distillation of common received ideas about the war and its portrayal, endlessly repeated in over a decade of visual 'docudramas'. The unstated assumptions found in these latter. Shock and Awe included, deserve closer examination, as they are likely to have a substantial effect on how the war is 'remembered', and may influence the way future ones are fought or avoided. The editorials and reports of major newspapers and press syndicates continued to be influential in the changing era of televised war, often giving direction to the TV coverage. But neither the newspaper people nor the follow-up movie makers have much admitted, bellicose or disillusioned fictionalizations aside, that even their most conscientious reporting has carried its own ideological freight, and frequent facile encapsulation as thumbs up or thumbs down, mostly the latter. Shock and Awe got some chilly reviews, but these still largely took for granted Reiner's explicit claim of pure truth-seeking. The Globe & Mail' was… Read More

While you are cheering Russia’s World Cup 2018

Photo: Poster by the Ukrainian artist Andriy Yermolenko, who created a series of powerful posters dedicated to 2018 FIFA World Cup hosted by Russia   Soccer is the world's game. Soccer transcends our cultural and ethnic differences, language barriers and economic status. Soccer unites us and promotes peace. Not surprising, it is the most popular sport and the FIFA World Cup is the biggest and most watched sports event on the planet. As billions of viewers are glued to their screens cheering their favourite teams and feeling a tremendous sense of pride and passion, families of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 victims outpour their grief before the World Cup 2018 in an open letter to the Russian people: "[...] a shadow hangs over this event. We are painfully aware of the dark irony that the Russian leaders who will profess to welcome the world with open arms, are those who are chiefly to blame for shattering our world. And that it is these same leaders who have persistently sought to hide the truth, and who have evaded responsibility ever since that dreadful day in July 2014." Their children, partners, parents, brothers, and sisters were among 298 people who were blown out of the sky four years ago on July 17, 2014 with a BUK-TELAR missile system that came from Russia’s 53rd Anti-aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit in the Russian army. Despite mounting evidence, Russia continues to deny involvement carrying out a “vile and deceitful campaign” of disinformation. Russia’s leaders also cover up their ongoing crimes against Ukraine, Syria, other countries and against their own citizens both in the territory of Russia and overseas.   Photo: Stepan Chubenko, a teenage goalkeeper before being murdered in the occupied territory of Ukraine   Like many teenagers, the 16-year-old Ukrainian high school student Stepan Chubenko was a goalkeeper of Kramatorsk's “Avangard” youth… Read More

The Mortgaged Decade: 1998-2008 and the Long Hangover

Angelo Mozilo (left) and Alan Greenspan (right)   On July 11, 2008, Countrywide Financial, a huge California mortgage broker, bankrupted. It was one of many financial industry blowups of that disastrous year. Bear Stearns had already collapsed in March, nearly bringing down its largest Wall Street investment banking rivals, even Goldman Sachs, and by fall epidemic devastation required multi-billion dollar government bailouts. But Countrywide, and its once-admired but henceforward reviled CEO, Angelo Mozil0, perfectly incarnated the financial folly and hubris of the whole preceding ten years. Countless books and TV documentaries about the 2008 Crash have since appeared, full of explanations and accusations. The best ones have identified most of the proximate causes of the disaster, all including the proliferating 'subprime' mortgages and complex derivatives based on them. But most were deficient in providing historical context. The most dubious claim, made by many academic economists and governmental authorities, was that 'no one had seen this coming'. In reality, lots of people had, including me, with a 2003 Policy Options article, 'Risky Business and Rocket Science', about dodgy 'mathematical' models to justify many dazzling baubles. I drew on my studies in the history of science, but also on more personal experience. Ever since 1980, I had spent breaks from academia working with a financial research consulting firm. I had learned on the job, interviewing financial executives and synthesizing their opinions and plans, but also using familiarity with mathematical statistics, and doing much reading, year after year, on all aspects of the money business. I started in 1980-82 , interviewing institutional investors, the administrators of tens of billions of dollars held in Canadian trust, insurance, and pension funds; in later years, I analyzed similar information from institutions worldwide. These big investors made up the 'Buy Side' of Bay Street and Wall Street.… Read More

The Left’s long march through our classrooms: can it ever be reversed?

When I started teaching in the late 1960s there were still unresolved issues between “traditional teachers” and “progressive educators”. Traditional teachers usually held academic degrees in particular disciplines; like history, literature, math or chemistry. Progressives typically held degrees in “education”.   With regard to the curriculum, the two camps differed over the relative importance of “what to teach” and “how to teach.” The traditionalists focused on the content of the lesson. Progressives professed to be interested in how students learn. Traditionalists commonly used direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressives sought to organize “cooperative learning experiences” that were to produce “critical thinking” skills.   Over the years, serious academics on both sides of the political spectrum, claimed that progressive teaching practices dumbed down the curriculum and emptied the content of the humanities. For whatever reason, academic standards over the last half century tumbled faster than a Soviet gymnast on steroids and the spirit of open-ended, rational inquiry sunk to an all time low. Over the same period political consciousness among students rose to 18th century revolutionary levels. Teachers' unions became more radical and more partisan. We aligned with left-wing political parties from which we won higher salaries. We sought graduate degrees from progressive education faculties; which qualified us for even higher salaries and influential positions in the educational establishment. By the end of the 1970s we had transformed teaching from a low-paying, rather prestigious, “vocation” to a relatively well-paid, adversarial “mission”.   The 20th century progressive education movement was inspired by the thinking of American philosopher, John Dewey. Dewey was, in large measure, a disciple of Marx, and his own disciples co-opted our schools throughout the radical decades of the last century. His so-called “pragmatism” and “activity methods” captured the imagination of educational theorists at Columbia University; and throughout my own… Read More
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