Links roundup, 9.22

An interesting take on Charles de Gaulle here. Like the author of the story, I had a mostly negative opinion of de Gaulle that apparently deserves some revision. I loved this line from de Gaulle: “The spirit of Europe does not lie in coal and steel and tariffs and money. No, the spirit of Europe is the Europe of Dante and of Goethe and of Chateaubriand.”

Worth reading Benedict’s Westminster Hall speech. He explores this very basic question: Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?” His view of the place of religion in the public square:
“According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.”

Reason on her own can fall into distortion, just as religion without reason can become excessively sectarian and fundamentalist. Athens and Jerusalem need each other. This was really the primary point of his entire visit to Britain.

I also got a kick out of his jab at the “too big to fail” corporate bailouts in America and Europe. Let me quote him at some length:

“But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed ‘too big to fail’. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: Here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly ‘too big to fail’.”

Shifting gears, the role of athletics in college is receiving new attention. Pomo philosopher Mark Taylor has just published a new book called Crisis on Campus, which offers (judging from the mixed reviews I have read) a bold plan for reforming higher education in America. His proposals include abolishing tenure, requiring more teaching (moving focus away from what I see as the research-mad orientation of the modern university), and getting more courses online. And he also proposes shutting down all athletic programs immediately, calling them a “luxury we can no longer afford”. An article in Newsweek this week also makes an argument against college athletics.
To just focus on the athletics question, I am torn on this issue. The main argument for big time college athletics is that it drives alumni giving and is a recruiting tool for new students. But does this really make up for the huge expenditures? (I read the other day that Indiana University spends $200,000 a year just uniform their football team). Sometimes this seems true. I recently read an article (cannot find it) that claimed Notre Dame has funneled tens of millions of dollars into academic funds from their athletic programs (primarily, I would think, a function of the huge NBC football contract). But I also recall a Princeton study which claimed that there really is no correlation between athletic success and alumni donations. Anecdotally, the success or failure of my alma mater’s athletic programs are has absolutely no bearing on my support for the school (though I went to a 1000 student small liberal arts college called Cornell College, and no one goes to those schools for the sports. In fact, I could not even tell you a single thing about any of the athletic programs).
How does Utah State shake out on this? How much do we spend a year on our athletics (coaching, travel, facilities, etc)? And how much do we bring in? Has anyone managed to quantify this? And is it possible to quantify the amount of alumni dollars brought in thanks to our athletic programs?

On a lighter note, Runners World Magazine sorts out myth from legend regarding the story of the marathon origin. The verdict of scholars they spoke with” Pheidippides probably really existed. And people did run messages between city states. Herodotus does report a Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta and back to deliver some messages. And he probably did run a lot of that 280 mile round trip (probably took 5 days). But it is highly unlikely that he ran from Marathon to Athens, since there was a good road there and messengers would have taken a horse. Since he likely did not run that route, it is even less likely that he died after doing so.

Final thought: My wife and I, like so many, got a KitchenAid mixer when we were married. KitchenAid mixers are really an American icon and they have the well-deserved reputation of being very well made. They are the sorts of things that can be passed down through generations. But rumors surfaced over the last few years that KA had degraded their product. I have even used them as an example in my Business Ethics courses as a case of planned obsolescence. That is, a case where a company intentionally lowers the quality of a product in order to force customers to re-purchase. This is not uncommon, and in my view not even always ethically wrong. Do you want your iPod to cost $50 more so that it lasts ten years? No. In three years the technology will have improved such that you want to upgrade anyway.
But mixer technology has not changed much. My mixer looks just like my grandma’s. But there were rumors that KA started to replace metal gears and parts with plastic ones in order to shorten the lifespan of the product. The idea is that the mixer would last 10-15 years, people would be happy with that (after all, how many things in your home are 15 years old?), and would buy a new one. Anyway, ours broke recently. We took it to the local KitchenKneads store (great store) to sort it out. Just the right day too. The KitchenAid reps were there. I am happy to report that claims about plastic parts are false, they never intentionally degraded their products (so I have been wrong to use them as an example of planned obsolescence). Turns out their reputation did take a hit because of the particular model we have since it had all sorts of problems. In fact, that model was discontinued (so ours cannot be fixed). But talk about service – they are simply replacing, at no charge to us, our 9 year old mixer with a brand new top of the line model! I think that is just incredible, and I am now a confirmed KitchenAid fan for life.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
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