SCRAPS FROM THE
These are excerpts from a regular column in The Vector an informal,
unofficial, and unheralded publication I edited during my years
teaching at Lock Haven University. In response to overwhelming
demand (a couple of people at least) these are being archived here
for those strange people who enjoy wallowing in nostalgia.
Some of the references to then-current events may be puzzling, but
feel free to skip them, or relate them to more recent events of similar
nature (which can always be found). References to internal politics
at Lock Haven University may be easily transfered to situations at other
academic institutions. A few explanatory comments have been added in
Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 1987
Some tine has elapsed since the last issue of The Vector and your
editor has perceived an overwhelming mandate to get out another
Pres. Willis and his administration are eager to see another
issue. He didn't say so, of course, and I haven't asked, but I'm
confident that he would privately approve if asked. However, by
not asking, I am giving him deniability, and am sure that his
administration will be stronger because I didn't ask.
(I've got to start turning off the radio while writing this stuff,
at least until the Iran-Contra hearings are over.)
How many of you caught that nice pun which Secord slipped in during
his testimony? When the committee was trying to find out why some
of the money never reached the Contras,
someone asked what happened to a particular sum of privately
donated money. Secord responded, "That went to the Contras. It was
a Contra-bution, so to speak."
He stressed the pronounciation to emphasize the pun, but no
one laughed. Still, one must admire anyone who makes a pun like
that under those circumstances.
ON THE ROAD
Traveling from Pennsylvania to Iowa these last two summers
stimulated a few observations of no particular significance.
Beside a lane to a wooded area outside Logansport, Indiana, a sign
prompts amusement: "Back Acres Chiropractic Clinic."
In Ohio one sees "Carter's Lumber" yards. I suppose those neat
stacks of lumber behind the building are Carter's little lumber
Once into Iowa, business names take on a somewhat "disreputable"
tone: Sneaky Pete's restaurants are found in the Davenport area.
There's a "Little Bandit Lumber Co."
near Lisbon. "The Poor House Family Restaurant" is in Mount
[Maybe they could use this slogan: "Here's the
place to eat when those high priced restaurants drive you to the
The worst road on our route: Interstate 80 in Western PA. Beaten
to death by heavy trucks, the road surface and bridges were
undergoing extensive repair. They might as well begin from scratch.
Trucks often carry
signs indicating how much tax the vehicle pays, implying that they
pay their way. Ha! The difference between what they pay and the
true cost of repairing the damage they cause amounts
to a huge subsidy to the trucking industry. Maybe trucks should be
given their own highways, constructed of materials durable enough
to withstand such heavy traffic. Trucking companies
could buy the land for right-of-way, and maintain the roads
entirely from trucking revenue. No tax money would be needed, and
the customers would pay the true cost of the service.
Whoops, I almost forgot. That has been tried before. It was called
a "railroad." It wasn't a bad idea, either, though taxpayers
complained that railroads had to have government subsidies to stay
in business. This is
just another reminder that irrationality runs human affairs.
The most inconsiderate and dangerous drivers we encountered: those
on the relatively new interstate highway through Cedar Rapids,
The tedium of driving is relieved if one can pull in some classical
music on the car radio. Such good music abounds in Iowa, Illinois,
and Ohio, from a number of public radio and college radio stations.
But on the
roads through Indiana, too far south to receive Chicago FM
stations, the airwaves are polluted with country music and
broadcasts. One is reminded that this is the heart of the Bible
Belt, a vast intellectual wasteland.
KEEPING UP WITH THE NEWS
A surprising number of readers have said that they'd like to see
more commentary on news events in this column. One such response
would be enough to surprise me. Apparently The New York
Times is not enough for some people; they hunger for more. But
then, considering the superficial, simpleminded and narrow
treatment the media give to events, perhaps a dissenting and
skeptical view is needed.
Since the last issue of The Vector was so long ago, we've
accumulated a backlog of news items worthy of comment. They range
from the foolish to the ridiculous.
What are we to make of the press reports about those folks in
Fostoria, Ohio, who are driving out to stare in wonderment all
night at floodlit rust stains on a soybean oil storage tank? Their
minds and active imaginations saw in the stains an image of Christ
standing behind a small boy. One observer identified the boy as
"Buckwheat, from the Little Rascals movies." Another said that
the image "just reminds us that Jesus will come again." Newspaper
and TV reports I saw reported this event straight, as if it were
important news. It is important. It demonstrates again (if any
demonstration were needed) that most human beings are credulous
fools. The really frightening thing about this is that, in a
democracy, people with such shallow minds and distorted perceptions
are allowed to vote, and
their vote counts as much as that of rational people. I can
identify with the
souvenir hucksters who were selling coffee mugs, with a picture of
the apparition, to the assembled multitudes. Why not? Fools and
their money deserve to be parted.
Closer to home, in Pittston, Pa., we saw news reports of a family
claiming their house is infested with demons. The family wanted the
Catholic Church to send an exorcist. Apparently they didn't
consider calling in the Orkin or Ehrlich exterminators. No, this
was a job for Ghost Busters!
The family asked for "qualified investigators" to look into the
matter. I was not the least surprised to hear that Ed and Lorraine
Warren showed up to investigate this foolishness, nor was I
that Ed Warren immediately proclaimed that he felt "evil presences"
in the house. The Warrens have made quite a career as
self-proclaimed "psychic investigators" specializing in haunted houses.
Back in 1979 they appeared on the LHU campus with their spook-show
lecture on "The Amityville Horror." [See The Vector, 3, 2, March
1979.] At that time more responsible psychic investigators
had already concluded that the Amityville affair was Just a hoax.
[Conclusive evidence of the hoax came later.] But the Warrens, in
their amateurish and shoddy slide show, promoted the whole thing
as a genuine and important psychic phenomena. [Our students, in
their wisdom, paid the Warrens $1000 for this pathetic
performance.] So far
as I know the Warrens have never retracted their opinion of the
Amityville case, even though the hoax has now been fully exposed.
A BLOODY SHAME
And then there's the postal worker in Oklahoma who massacred his
co-workers. After such an event reporters invariably interview
people who knew the murderer, asking them what he was
like. Neighbors and other acquaintances said that they had noticed
this fellow was a little strange. Oddly enough no one in his
National Guard unit seemed to have noticed this. Perhaps a
pathological, murderous or outright crazy person is less likely to
be noticed in a military setting. There he can fit right in.
Perhaps the Postal Department needs a new slogan: Through sleet,
through show, through hail of bullets.... Actually, some of this
mail didn't go through; it was judged too bloody.
Bloody packages reminds me of the recent case of the UPS employees
who looked into some suspicious packages and found human heads,
ears, and other body parts. They didn't consider that
to be a normal shipment. Maybe they thought they were props for
the filming of a new movie. I suppose they first consulted their
manuals to see if there was any prohibition against shipping
GET A HIGHER EDUCATION, LEARN TO FLY
At a school near by one can receive graduate credits for a course
in flying (piloting small airplanes). The course has no
[We'll not name the school, to protect the guilty.] This is another
outrageous example of the corruption of standards in so-called
"higher" education. I must concede that this course does qualify
as a "higher" education than one which stays on the ground. We have
all taken some courses which "never got off the ground". That can't
be said of this course.
Last spring I got in the mail a poster from Maharishi University
in Fairfield, Iowa, announcing its graduate degree in Physics. I
fully expected it would happen. The faculty at
Maharishi U., following the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh yogi,
accept the notion that through meditation one may eventually
achieve "higher powers" which include bodily leviation, and
the ability to walk through walls. You might think that it would
be hard to find qualified persons for the faculty of an institution
which subscribed to such notions. Not so. Maharishi U. boasts a
faculty of which nearly all have doctorates from respectable
academic institutions. you'd think that such an institution might
have trouble getting accreditation. Wrong again. MIU is fully
accredited by Middle States. I can not think of a better example
to show that accreditation is a sham. The fact that some "bible
colleges" are accredited serves as further evidence.
A degree, even a graduate degree, is no guarantee that a person
hasn't got a few screws loose somewhere. A person can pass all of
the exams and requirements for a degree yet still
lack good judgment and common sense. We see many examples of people
who are highly accomplished and skilled in some area of human
and in some other area may be hopelessly addicted to some
foolishness or other.
FAITH, HYPE AND CHARITY
I'm really enjoying the continuing saga of the self-appointed and
self-righteous spokespersons for religion making fools of
themselves. The media have been giving them the
roasting they richly deserve.
Back when Rev. Oral Roberts announced that God would make him cash
in his chips if he didn't raise 4 million, I thought, "Well, we all
have to go sometime."
SEND ORAL TO HEAVEN IN '87|
Bumper stickers appeared in Oklahoma with the slogan "Send Oral to
Heaven in '87,"
along with a "no dollars" symbol. Other bumper
stickers simply said: L.O.R.D.
Translation: Let Oral Roberts Die.
Donald Kaul, writing in
The Cedar Rapids (Iowa)
Gazette [Jan 18, 1987] had a
There's a chancejust a chance, mind youthat the Rev.
Mr. Roberts is not sincere, that he is instead a shameless hustler
who's trying to bilk his supporters out of a quick 4 1/2 mil. I
know how to find out.
Later, on March 30, 1987, Kaul writes a follow-up:
Do not send your money to Roberts. Send it to me. If he doesn't
raise the money and he dies, we'll know he was a man of honor and
I will personally
see to it that his beloved medical students get their money. If
Roberts doesn't die, however, that means that either he or God was
being less than candid with us, in which case I will return the
...A number of people responded with dollar bills.
Well, Oral got the money so I guess I should send the contributions
back. The thing is, what with postage, handling charges and the
cost of fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by my daughter,
the money is gone. As a matter of fact, the original contributors
owe me 35 cents more apiece.
I've been following the Rev. Oral's career since the 1940s and
'50s, before he had a prayer tower, a hospital and a university,
when he was traveling around the country healing
people in his circus tent. (He bragged that his tent was larger
than that of the Ringling Bros. Circus.) He doesn't have to do it
that way now; he has a hospital with ordinary, university-trained
doctors to do the healing, using methods derived from science, not
religion. Maybe Oral has lost the "healing touch", but he still
knows how to make a "touch".
Send it in cash, will you?
Even in his revival-tent days, Oral said that he got messages
directly from God. I also remember the news reports that during one
of his snake-oil medicine shows,
a big wind came out of the sky and blew his tent down and ripped
it to pieces. I thought that maybe God was trying to send him a
direct message. But he rallied support and
soon raised enough money to buy a bigger tent. So, the recent
events leave me with a feeling of seeing a rerun of a bad movie.
With his $1.3 million check to Roberts, dog-track owner Jerry
Collins gave a bit of good advice: "I think he needs psychiatric
treatment". Indeed, what can one say of someone
who has a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus, and has a physical
wrestling match with Satan? (Roberts had to call his wife for help
with the Devil, who fled when she came on the scene.)
THE JIM AND TAMMY SHOW:
LUST, GREED, AND CORRUPTIONIN THE NAME OF GOD
And what can we say about the tangled mess Tammy and Jimmy Baker
got themselves into?
As a male, I admit to a smidgen of sympathy for Jimmy B. It
probably isn't easy being married to someone who has the look and
intelligence of a escapee dummy from a wax
museum. Worse yet, she achieves that image deliberately.
Have you seen those "I ran into Tammy Faye at the Mall" T-shirts?
The shirt has on its front a smudged and smeared reverse image of
Tammy's face done in colorful mascara, lipstick, etc.
Jerry Falwell has been trying to come off as a reasonable diplomat
and peacemaker in this whole sordid affair. He has handled
his press conferences rather well, but did let himself slip
when reporters' questions (on PBS) led him to comment on
Gary Hart and Donna Rice. Unfortunately I didn't record
Jerry's exact response, but it was something to the effect that if
Hart was alone with her that weekend and didn't make sexual
advances, then he should 'be examined'. I guess that comment shows
rather clearly the warp of Falwell's mind.
Have you noticed how often the religious people most zealous in
combatting "sin" and "immorality" seem to have the dirtiest minds?
They can barely restrain the lust in their hearts, and
it sometimes overfloweth from their mouths. I suspect that the
reason they seem to be such crusaders against what they consider
to be sinful is that they imagine everyone else has the
same intensity of lustful and lewd thoughts as they do, but are
less able to control them. Maybe not. More sex crimes are committed
by religious persons than by non-religious ones.
At Lock Haven University we have an "academic convocation" to mark
the start of the school year. A distinguished speaker is invited,
and some of these speakers are well worth hearing.
LHU is to be commended for bringing such people to enrich the
academic climate and expose us to diverse ideas. The convocation
includes a procession of faculty in academic caps
I wonder if the event would have any less value if the faculty in
attendance were dressed in the same way they dress when teaching
classes? Is the experience more intellectually enriching for the
students if they see their profs attending in costume? Might not
the speaker have time to expose the audience to even more ideas if
some of the alloted
time were not wasted on solemn processions, elaborate
introductions, and other ceremonial matters? The speaker would get
the same pay either way.
I find it incredible that we have faculty members who really like
the academic processions and proudly wear their musty and motheaten
gowns, to put on a show for students and their parents. One wonders
what is lacking in their lives that they require rituals to bolster
their egos. We even have administrators who take this symbolism so
seriously that they would like to make faculty and student
attendance mandatory at such events! There are faculty who would,
like sheep, say "Great idea!"
I say let's dispense with such foolish play-acting; let's cut out
the mystical mumble-jumble; let's put an end to pompous
circumstances and get down to the business of real education.
One might hope that faculty members, who have had the benefits of
higher education, would have also risen above the intellectual
level and the mindless passions of the rest of society. Alas; many
have not. I even know some professors who would go to a baseball
or football game and cheer enthusiastically for one team or the
other as if it really mattered which team won! There may even be
professors who got up early to watch the TV coverage of the royal
wedding of Prince Whatshisname to Miss Whoeveritwas. No; that
example is too extreme; I can't imagine any faculty colleagues,
even those I least respect, who would do that.
This year's academic convocation speaker is Rocky Bleier. Who!??
Someone informed me that about 8 years ago Mr. Bleier was a player
for the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Football, I suppose, though
I haven't checked it out.) If he has any other claims to fame, they
have not been mentioned in the advance announcements of this event.
A memo from Dr. Willis, our LHU president, says that this
convocation will "boldly and firmly restate the principal mission
of this university, which is to promote academic growth."
Brave words! A memo from the faculty marshals for this event says
that the convocation sets the "academic tone for the year", and
serves to "let students know that we, as faculty, regard academic
work as the prime mission of this institution". In view of these
laudable aims, I wonder why a speaker wasn't chosen who is
primarily known and respected for his or her academic or
intellectual accomplishments, or someone whose lifetime
accomplishments are the result having received a quality academic
I wouldn't presume to judge in advance what Mr. Bleier will say in
his speech. His words might be inspiring. It just seems to me that
if our aim is to set the academic tone for the year, we might find
a speaker who has made important contributions to the world of
I've been at LHU long enough to remember when we had such
speakers here. I recall hearing Jacob Bronowski, Bernard
Feld, Eugene Wigner and Norman Thomas speak on our
campus. Perhaps the intellectual giants were too busy with other
matters to come here this year. It could be that their fees are too
It may even be that there are too few of them to go
We note in passing that one of our nearby institutions of
higher education, Lycoming College, has a publication of a higher
dimension than The Vector. It is The Tensor. This
little newsletter was perpetrated by its Editor, physics major
Tania Slawecki (gesundheit!), who, it would appear, also typed and
drew cartoons for it.
Tania devised a new wrinkle on the
labeling of irregular publications of this
sort. One issue was designated the "Feb-Mar-Apr-May-June-July
Another was labeled simply "31 October"
(the "Halloween edition", of course).
We haven't yet figured out why the
"New year Edition" carried the date "25
January 1986," except for the fact
that many issues are dated the 25 of a
month. Maybe that's the only day the
printing machine operates at
We are tempted to borrow Tania's good excuse for a tardy issue:
"I assume no responsibility for the delay as I was merely being
extremely productive during that time period..."
The first issue of The Tensor placed the blame squarely on us.
Our rival, Lock Haven University, has been publishing its
informative, humorous and zany The Vector for a number of years
now. We are all familiar with the relevance of vectors to physics:
even so, 1 thought it a rather stagnant mathematical
concept to employ. The TENSOR however, is
Dynamic! A tensor can operate on one vector and Transform it into
What have we wrought? These days everything seems to lead to a
We've seen it happen with movies. We have Star Treck
I. II, III, and IV, and who knows where it will end? Soon we'll
see Friday the 13th, part XIII. First The Vector,
then The Tensor, and onward to higher dimensionality!
Tania has graduated now, and The Tensor,
now in its third year, is
being edited by Dr. David G. Fisher.
Some readers asked why there was blank space at the bottom of page
19 of June 1986 issue. They thought they might be missing
speculated that we might have censored a good joke. Tsk! Tsk! The
explanation is very simple. That was just, a VECTOR space.
Return to Uncle Don's Notebook Archives
Return to Donald Simanek's front page.