Category: Commentary

Let Observation with extensive View,

Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;

Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,

And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;

Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,

O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,

Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,

To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;

As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,

Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.

How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,

Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,

How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,

When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.

Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart,

Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,

With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,

With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,

Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,

And restless Fire precipitates on Death.”

via Johnson, Vanity of Human Wishes, 1749.

— more —

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tortoisetales01Perhaps it’s a second childhood for me, but Mary B. Cooper, children’s writer and illustrator, has captured my full attention. “A Tale of Two Turtles” tells of two turtles, one thoroughly satisfied with his life and another, an unhappy misfit who finds happiness  — thanks to a little deception by the happy turtle.  The simple moral is profound and I shall not divulge it.  “A Tale of Two Turtles” is  out-of-print I believe, but available in used and rare book stores. Ohioans might be  especially lucky to find it.  I found it at prices like $115.  If my wife had not acquired the tale from Ms. Cooper back in our Ohio years, I would buy it this day at that price or higher.  This tale is worthy  the attention of Aesop himself.  It transcends its genre.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

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“When we talk about the future of higher education in the United States, let’s please focus our attention on where most higher ed happens. It’s not in Cambridge or South Bend or Ann Arbor. It’s in Kirksville, Mo.; Emporia, Kan.; Lafayette, La.; and Bridgewater, Mass.”

via Don’t forget regional state schools when it comes to higher ed and tech..

My alma mater is Ohio State and I dearly love her.  However, after those initial four years, I attended Idaho State, Kansas State, University of Missouri Kansas City, and Cal State Hayward.  There is a lot of attention being given to world class this and world class that.  I welcome this article about the also runs.  The Tortoise would see things that way.  One day a tortoise will learn to fly.


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UN flagWhy does the United Nations have such a bad reputation in America (or at least on Reddit)?

via Why does the United Nations have such a bad reputation in America (or at least on Reddit)? : NeutralPolitics.

In these days with Americans wanting to pull back from its global role and perhaps beginning a new era of isolationism, I cannot help but think about what we might realistically do in the world.  Our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have been failures.  Perhaps history will have another perspective.  And it seems  that when we look Putin and other autocrats  in the eyes, our rose-colored glasses get us into trouble.  We can’t be a global cop lest we go broke.  And yet, who but us can lead?  The UN has many, many problems, but perhaps we are better off with it than without it.  Being a Navy man, I do believe that those huge carriers tooling around he world are a Force for Peace.  Just cruising about matters.  That’s what Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet was about.   And yet . . . and yet we have to have a place where every nation is at the table — at least talking, even spouting off.  If we abolished the UN today, we would soon hear cries for its return — warts and all.  David Milliken

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In Katanga 1960

Certain people have  affected me profoundly.  For this reason I post a reflection on Dag Hammarskjöld(1905-1961).  Hammarskjold was the third secretary-general of the United Nations during the Cold War period. Prior to that he was secretary of the Bank of Sweden and under-secretary in the Ministry of Finance.  He earned a degree in the humanities and a doctorate in economics at Upsala University.  Highly privileged he was also highly humbled. Hammarskjold embodied the mind and spirit of scholar, diplomat, international leader, poet and mystic —  fundamentally Christian but well-versed in Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.   I believe he pursued the  One.

Hammarskjold opens his famous Markings with a quotation from Meister Eckhart(1260-1327):  “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”

I believe Hammarskjold used this quotation first because Eckhart was a soul mate and second because Markings is neither strictly an autobiography nor memoir. Markings is not a diary or journal either.  His markings are  trail marks through his poignant,  shaping experiences.  There is evidence that he also constantly changed his marks throughout his life.  This indicates a man constantly reflecting on  truth, truth in his  own intellectual and spiritual growth and his utter  commitment  to  international harmony.

I picture a little boy in school, his tongue licking his lips, diligently writing with a pencil and then with equal ardor erasing and correcting  his tablet.  He would have been someone dedicated to “getting it right” in all that he did personally and publicly.  He was less interested in recording events than in how his hike was evolving. Most likely he did not ever find “the true thing,” but I must believe he came very close.  I can see this avid hiker in Lapland earnestly making his way to the top,  finding many truths which he hoped would cohere into one Truth — all in the adventure of solving the Mystery. What a wonderful trail mate he would have been.


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“This argument ignores the fact that taxes on entrepreneurs and investors are already historically low, even after this year’s modest increases. And it ignores the assertions of many investors and entrepreneurs (like me) that they would work just as hard to build companies even if taxes were higher. But, more importantly, this argument perpetuates a myth that some well-off Americans use to justify today’s record inequality—the idea that rich people create jobs.”

via Rich people don’t create jobs..

Time was when I was younger and believed that there are certain political “leaders,”  who mostly told the truth.  Today I’m a wiser man and while I still do believe that many politicians are not exactly liars  They do not,  however,  consistently  tell the whole truth — just as many sales people do not.  That’s why caveat emptor is wisdom.  Voters and consumers alike must be smart buyers through comparison shopping, reading reviews and asking around.  That’s why education is so important.

Nothing is more slippery than language and that fact enhances the slipperiness of politicians in touting their own interest.  Perhaps it was in the interest of Obama to leave unsaid many things about the ACA.  Perhaps it was in the interest of Republicans to claim voluntary dis-employment as job loss and not noting that voluntarily dropping of jobs opens up opportunities for the unemployed.  No politician as  no sales person is obligated to mouth  the pitch of the competition.  Ford salespeople may  know that GM uses better whatsamajigs in its engines than does Chevy.  Promoters are smart to leave such discoveries up to the consumer.  Besides so much is a matter of opinion between multiple choices.  Better the monkey is on your back and not mine.  To each his own pitch.

And so, while it may be true that some  really rich folks are creating new jobs by investing in new enterprise directly or through investments, that creation is only a percentage.  Is it a tithe, one percent or 20 %.  Besides, if high taxes are throttling business, why is business so good in New York?  Planetary experience with human nature leads me to believe that some other percentage goes into casino gambling.  True, going to the casino supports dealers, bartenders and servers, but this investment is not like investing in a new computer parts factory where value is really added to raw material.

The attached article reminds us that most of what we hear, really and truthfully is not likely to be wholly true.

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I like the new WordPress 3.8. I live in Kansas City so Charlie Parker has some significance for me. Now, that I have “Parker” everything is up to date in Kansas City.

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Mom, friends, educators, students: We don’t have to assign papers, and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure. The baccalaureate is the new high-school diploma: abjectly necessary for any decent job in the cosmos. As such, students and their parents view college as professional training, an unpleasant necessity en route to that all-important “piece of paper.” Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utter waste of their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers. It’s time to declare unconditional defeat.

Most students enter college barely able to string three sentences together—and they leave it that way, too. With protracted effort and a rhapsodically engaged instructor, some may learn to craft a clunky but competent essay somewhere along the way. But who cares? My fellow humanists insist valiantly that (among other more elevated reasons) writing humanities papers leads to the crafting of sharp argumentative skills, and thus a lifetime of success in a number of fields in which we have no relevant experience. But my friends who actually work in such fields assure me that most of their colleagues are borderline-illiterate. After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook Friendster profile bragged “i don’t read” (sic), and look at him. — MORE —


via College papers: Students hate writing them. Professors hate grading them. Let’s stop assigning them..


A long time ago I used to sit and grade  “essays” in English comp.  I looked forward to reading the work of maybe 10% of my students.  Then there were the ones with promise and commensurate willingness to improve.  They were welcome challenges. The rest I dreaded.  As a teaching assistant I dreaded the rest of the hopeless ones.  But I slogged on through twenty or so papers because I believed that English composition was important and fundamental to making logical minds. The ability to write even the five paragraph essay, an extended definition or a cause-effect exposition seemed important to preserve civility and good citizenship in a democratic republic.  How can you vote if you don’t know when a politician bombards you with oversimplified causes and argumentum ad hominem.

Truth is you know and “argument to the man” when someone attacks the person instead of his mistaken ideas.  It seems natural to know it.  Who cares what it’s called?

I do, but that is me.  I also believe life is richer having read a little  Shakespeare.  In the case of The Bard,  I have no doubt that millions can live beautiful, productive lives without ever having met Hamlet.  My thing is not for everyone.

I have also known high school friends who never darkened an English professor’s office and can apply fine logic to life and letters.  It seems a natural act to sense the illogical.  Or they had excellent high school teachers.

At the same time it is a very sad day when college students debunk the essay and surf the Internet to plagiarize and thus circumvent  essential mental discipline.  But I guess no one misses what he has never known — the delight of learning, often just for the hell of it.

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“I still teach, and do so with a veteran’s pride in what I know and what I hope I can give. My classrooms are, I hope, bright and sunny places where we can spend good time with Joyce’s Ulysses or Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. But I know what some of my students sense, that what we do now faces an array of problems, any one of which might prove surmountable, but which together amount to an enervating spectacle. Fewer and fewer undergraduates are showing up in classrooms, mine and everyone else’s; the pleasure of undergraduate reading is everywhere blighted by worries about money and career; university administrators are more likely to classify “literary types” as budgetary liabilities than as assets; the disciplines we teach are in a free fall, as ideology, ethnicity, theory, gender, sexuality, and old-fashioned “close reading” spin away from any center of professional consensus about joint purposes; and the youngest would-be professionals, shrinking in number, stare at diminished job prospects.

It would be a pleasure to map a way out of this academic dead end. First, several of my colleagues around the country have called for a return to the aesthetic wellsprings of literature, the rock-solid fact, often neglected, that it can indeed amuse, delight, and educate. They urge the teaching of English, or French, or Russian literature, and the like, in terms of the intrinsic value of the works themselves, in all their range and multiplicity, as well-crafted and appealing artifacts of human wisdom. Second, we should redefine our own standards for granting tenure, placing more emphasis on the classroom and less on published research, and we should prepare to contest our decisions with administrators whose science-based model is not an appropriate means of evaluation. Released from the obligation to deliver research results in the form of little-read monographs and articles, humanists could then resolve to spend their time teaching what they love to students glad to learn. If they wanted to publish, they could do so—at almost no cost—on the Internet, and like-minded colleagues could rapidly share the results of such research and speculation. Most important, the luxury of reading could be welcomed back. I want to believe in what they say.

I have also wanted to believe that English and American literature constitutes a subject of study that is historically coherent and shaped by the intrinsic design of its own making. The causes giving it that shape can be analyzed, as can the merit and integrity of each of the achievements within it. And students, without whose energetic presence the study will wither, can be attracted to an activity—partly aesthetic and partly detective-like—in which they can participate along with teachers who bring enthusiasm to the work at hand. Like young scientists teaming together with older scientists at the same workbench, they can be made to feel that what they are doing makes sense, is shared by others, and will result in knowledge worth having. Perhaps they, the youngest generation, can labor with their teachers in putting together the house that has forfeited its sense of order. If they do, they can graduate with the knowledge that they possess something: a fundamental awareness of how a certain powerful literature was created over time, how its parts fit together, and how the process of creation has been renewed and changed through the centuries.

Some of their detective work could involve topics of great current interest—the role of race or gender or sexuality in the making of a work. But the focus would or should be on the books, not on the theories they can be made to support. English departments need not refight the Western culture wars. But they need to fight their own book wars. They must agree on which texts to teach and argue out the choices and the principles of making them if they are to claim the respect due a department of study.”  — more —

via The American Scholar: The Decline of the English Department – William M. Chace.

My time in graduate school and the  “profession of English literature” ended in 1973  — during the peak years of English departments.  I had left business.  At three universities I made up an English major, earned my M.A., and  completed course work for the Ph.D.   (See “Ph.D. -R.I.P” ) in The Tortoise Factor.    I have not found a better summary of the context of my days  in the humanities than Chace’s essay — nor the passion of a more committed professor.  So much of what he says, I felt in those days — particularly the degradation of the teaching of English composition.    Over forty years there has been no appreciable change in the “profession of English.”   Something precious is being lost with the decline of the humanities in the University —, much of it explainable in the passage of time for the reasons Chace cites.  But much of it is due to the dereliction of duty by a self-serving profession that let the precious slide away. Even a Graduate Teaching Assistant could see it then and many of us did.  There were of course a few like Professor Chace.  I just never met any.

I will just refer to the film, “The Paper Chase” to capture the essence of the time and Chace’s essay.  Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., a law professor played by John Houseman told his first year law students, “You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds.  You come in here with a skull full of mush and ;  if you survive, leave, thinking like a lawyer.”

In all those six years as a striker in the “profession of English literature,” I never heard nor met a professor who felt any obligation to train the mind.  They were dedicated to their own minds and careers. There was no effort to teach or even mentor “thinking like a professor.”  And, of course, there was nothing like the bar exam for assessing one’s knowledge in breadth and depth.  But then the law is a profession.  Undoubtedly we were expected to teach ourselves literature and criticism.  Indeed, it was sink or swim.  And every teacher had his own swimming pool. The Sixties and Seventies were anarchic.   Many of our heads were full of mush; indeed, it was the style.  Universities could not control it all.   There was no center to hold.  There still isn’t. Thank you Professor Chace.

David Milliken


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“Halfway through my sixth decade, I’ve made a wonderful discovery about aging: You get to keep growing.” — more —

via Life in the Middle Ages: A New Blog by Connie Schultz.  C. Tobin Tortoise approves and recommends this blog — especially to those who often think life ends before death  or those who fall into despondency.

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