Thursday, May 26, 2016

What More Can An Auto Do?

Last week we acquired a new family auto equipped with every bell and whistle available. We marveled at all the gadgets showing us what's behind, beside, and closing in on the vehicle plus buttons to let us make a phone call or show the route to anywhere in North America.

Upon discovering that the outside mirrors automatically tilt in the right direction to show the curb when parallel parking, I remarked that there can't be anything else car makers can add to enhance new models, at least until we make the jump to driverless robots.

Wrong. Our old car had a navigation system with voice directions. "In a quarter mile, turn left," it would advise. How can you improve on that?

Our new system says, "In a quarter mile, please turn left."  This can be improved further. Next year's model may say, ". . . pretty please turn left" as auto civility marches onward.

Friday, May 13, 2016

UW Punished Sexist with Co-ed Monument

Some strange things have been known to happen in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, sometimes referred to as "Berkeley East." Pranksters and student rebels have long called the campus home.

I thought I'd heard about all the weird happenings at my alma mater until a recent newsletter explained how a sexist university president continues to get his comeuppance to this day.

Paul Chadbourne, the newsletter says, was an inspiring leader and teacher who helped the university thrive after the Civil War. However, his activities did not extend to supporting equality for women. He was notorious for opposing co-education at Wisconsin. A "normal school" to train teachers opened on campus in 1863 and 76 women were enrolled. However, that's as far as Chadbourne was willing to go. The normal school was segregated; only women could attend, and they were not allowed to take other UW classes.

Chadbourne died in 1883 before co-ed proponents completely reversed the institution's policies, but his name lives on at UW in a strange way. Dean Edward Birge apparently was one of Chadbourne's major adversaries. In 1897, the school opened Ladies Hall, its first women's dormitory,  Birge insisted it be renamed for President Chadbourne. He said, "I thought it was only fair that Dr. Chadbourne's contumacy (stubborn perverseness) regarding co-education should be punished by attaching his name to a building which turned out to be one of the main supports of co-education."

The original Chadbourne Hall looked somewhat like this when I passed it on the way to classes. 

The original Chadbourne Hall stood until 1957. I trudged past it many times for four years oblivious to its history. It was a weather-beaten building, not in the best repair, and about the time I graduated it was demolished and replaced by a modern structure carrying the same name.

My, how things have changed. Although male students outnumbered women (except for World War II years) at UW until 1995, enrollment has been near 50-50 since then. Women have been successful students in every discipline. Chadbourne Hall, known to students as "The Chad," how houses male and female students as well as UW classrooms where courses are open to all.

Paul Chadbourne might turn over in his grave.  If he did, he could possibly catch a glimpse of a towering continuing monument to his perversity.

The University of Wisconsin's monument to Paul Chadbourne now is modern and co-educational.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Oh, To Be Like Mom

'Tis Mothers Day, causing me to reflect a bit on my Mom. She was an orphan raised by a wealthy timber baron family shortly before the turn of the last century. The family treated her well, but never adopted her. After she finished high school, she was sent to a business school so she would have skills needed to support herself.

She didn't need the the training for long before Dad wooed and won her, but she made outstanding use of her talents throughout her life. She served as leader of her small church congregation for more than 20 years. She was the first woman elected to serve on the community's Board of Education, and the first woman to be chosen board president. Somehow, Mom found time to help promote just about every good cause that came along.

At the same time, Mom made sacrifices large and small to be sure my sister and I valued education and completed college, although helping us through years of higher education put a severe financial strain on the family.

Mom lived well into her eighties. In all the time I knew her, I never heard her say a disparaging word about another human being. She was an over achiever who was calm and cheerful in all she did. Wouldn't the world be wonderful if everyone lived their life that way?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Presidential Campaigns--the Bad and the Ugly

My borrowed title statement actually starts with "The Good," but since George Washington's initial presidency, and possibly Dwight Eisenhower's runs for office in the 1950s (it was hard not to "like Ike"), it has been difficult to find a lot of goodness and civility in contests for our chief executive office.

Many pundits now are saying a Trump-Clinton contest will set a record for nastiness. Possibly, but history gives us any number of unpleasant campaigns for comparison.

As "father of our country" and military hero, Washington was extremely popular. He was swept into office for two terms without serious opposition. He belonged to no political party, and in fact often cautioned Americans about the evils of parties. After Washington declined to run for a third term, parties appeared, and sure enough the mud-slinging began.

In early elections, proxies carried on the nastiness. Candidates did not campaign at all. They quietly let potential supporters know they were available for nomination. Gaining that, they sat back and let rabid supporters define platforms and frequently slander opponents in media and by starting whispering campaigns.

Jefferson:Some bad with the good?

Describing the change in "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," historian Jon Meacham said, "However different in form presidential contests were, one feature has been constant from the beginning: They have been rife with attacks and counterattacks."

The 1800 campaign pitting President John Adams against Vice President Jefferson provides a standard for nastiness that Trump-Clinton may find hard to top.  We hear every Fourth of July about the wonderful friendship between the two founding fathers, both of whom died on the same Independence Day after exchanging hundreds of cordial letters throughout the last years of their lives.

We seldom are reminded that the men who sat side-by-side while Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence was being reviewed and adopted, and who worked closely together as diplomats in Europe, were so antagonized by statements during the 1800 presidential campaign that they refused to speak to each other for more than a decade.

In the campaign, Adams' supporters characterized Jefferson as a cowardly weakling. They also branded him an atheist, a very serious charge at the time. The atheist assertion was a complete falsehood.  Jefferson's surrogates fired back with charges that Adams was an overbearing monarchist who sought to establish a "King's Army" to keep the American people in line (sound familiar, Mr. Obama?). They criticized Adams' character in detail, and very little of that criticism has survived the scrutiny of historians.

Although Jefferson eventually achieved great popularity as a president who championed individual rights and freedom and engineered the Louisiana Purchase, a huge land acquisition that was key to making America "great," he was not immune from criticism while in office. One critic published a scathing report of Jefferson's sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings. That bit of nastiness, denied for years by Jefferson admirers, now is accepted as fact by most modern historians.

Among thousands of documents preserved by Jefferson was this brief letter from an anonymous writer in 1808: "You are the damdest fool that God put life into."

So it goes in American political life.

Will the Trump-Clinton contest be the nastiest ever? I think it is far too early to reach that conclusion. However, there is absolutely no doubt that Donald Trump is the nastiest individual ever to become the nominee of one of our major parties.  He exhibits a whole lot of "bad and ugly" and very little "good."