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Mike Toliver

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Everything posted by Mike Toliver

  1. Mike Toliver

    What is Art?

    John's topic on women in art has already raised a number of interesting issues, many of which should have their own threads. One such seems to me to be the question I pose for this topic. I'm teaching in the aesthetics section of our western civilization and culture course right now. The title of this section is "You cal THAT art?" - a kind of send-up of many people's reactions to modern art. The alternative title is more traditional: "Why is art important?" It is abundantly clear that even the students interested in art have never encountered aesthetics before - and quite frankly they're encountering it right now from a biologist who's sole training in this area comes from a spouse who is an artist and art historian and discussions with my colleagues over the years. In the "women as artists" topic one of the contributors noted the difference between "modern art" - which she characterized as non-representational - and representational art. Many people want their paintings to look like something real. But the advent of photography (an art form in itself) pretty much takes away the need for representationalism unless the painter wants to make a particular kind of statement. I began the aesthetics unit by showing some Kandinsky and Franz Marc - two of the painters most responsible for the break from representation. I particularly focused on Marc's "Fate of the Animals" because to me, that is one of the greatest works of the 20th century. It is prescient - of WWI, of ecological destruction, of the fragmentation of our own lives. I think great art captures revolutionary moments before anyone else recognizes them as revolutionary moments. Picasso's cubist paintings did that, so did the impressionists, so did the expressionists. Jimi Hendrix did it at Woodstock when he played the "Star Spangled Banner". What do you think makes something "art"?
  2. Mike Toliver

    What is Art?

    I think aesthetics is more than a search for "beauty" - either that or we should define "beautiful" more broadly. Motel "art" can be "beautiful", I suppose, in that it's pleasing to look at, but, as you've argued, it has no feeling from its creator.
  3. Mike Toliver

    Scientific Publishing and the Web

    I'm editor of a scientific journal. We've just gone through a discussion about making papers that appear in our journal available on the web. Our conclusion was that we will make them available one year after publication. It is a matter of "self-interest" in a sense, because members of our society receive these publications as a large part of their dues - and why would they join the society if they could get our publications for free? So, it's not just the academic publishing industry that has some qualms about this. In principle, having papers immediately available seems like a good idea; but it also seems like a good idea to have viable scientific societies and there is often a conflict between those two ideas.
  4. Mike Toliver

    With God on its Side? Vietnam/Iraq

    Sorry, Tim - we lost in Vietnam. Not only that, but I think it takes a real convoluted line of reasoning to conclude that because we lost in Vietnam, we won the Cold War. If anything, our loss in 'Nam would have encouraged, not discouraged, Communist support of insurgencies. Nor can one reasonably argue that Soviet support of the North Vietnamese somehow strapped the USSR economically. We spent far more for far less result. Try as one might (and believe me, I've tried) one cannot extract any enduring value from our efforts in 'Nam. If our government had learned not to try and dictate to other countries what form of government they should have, THEN I would say we'd learned something from that experience and I could see some value for my personal sacrifice. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.
  5. Mike Toliver

    Bedford School

    Andy and John - I've been having a lot of trouble accessing the Forum using Internet Explorer. Netscape and Firefox work fine (I haven't tried Safari yet), but Internet Explorer won't let me in - or if it does there's no content visible. This is true for different computers using different ISP's. Thought you should know... Mike
  6. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    Gregory - I agree with your assessment - local circumstance and lawyers will determine much about what is taught in the science classroom. And don't you think that's a damn shame? Shouldn't what we teach in the science classroom be science?
  7. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    And it was precisely in answer to the "Argument from Design" - most recently (for Darwin) advanced by William Paley in his book "Natural Theology" - that Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. It is also why Intelligent Design is not science. Science is concerned solely with natural causation. Darwin answered the argument from design quite well, in the Origin. He even used the eye as an example, in a direct reference to Paley, who used the eye as Tim does - "it's too complicated". But Darwin showed that even incredible complex structures such as the eye can evolve in a step-by-step fashion. Teaching Intelligent Design in a science class makes as much sense as teaching Moby Dick in a math class.
  8. Mike Toliver

    Bedford School

    I have had relative few problems using Mac OS X. however, posting long posts is a problem no matter what site one is visiting. Far better to type up such a post in a word processing program, and then copy paste into the reply section. Then, if it doesn't work, you've got a copy and can easily try again.
  9. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    Tim - I must have mis-interpreted your intent, as you seemed to be saying "my authority is bigger than your authority". As others have noted above, science is anti-authoritarian. Physics is the realm of the "big bang". I have read some about quantum mechanics and the big bang - enough to know that what physicists postulate as the beginning is a "singularity", which is a mathematical concept - and the closest thing to "supernatural" as science gets. In any case, organic evolution really doesn't care about the big bang. Organic evolution is all about how life evolved, not the Universe. Here's the deal: science never proves anything. When you talk about "proof", you must be referring to math, because science is not engaged in a search for proof. Science can never prove anything because scientists must make 3 assumptions about the Universe in order to do science. They are: 1). We can deduce natural law from observable effects of that law. Thus, science searches for NATURAL law - not supernatural beings. We MUST do so, because otherwise how would we make predictions? "Well, God wants things to fall towards the center of the Earth today, but tomorrow - who knows?" 2). Natural law works the same way through time and space. Again, our ability to predict is based on this assumption. Intelligent design advocates presume that at "sometime" natural law was superceded by supernatural law - the Designer. 3). Our senses give us accurate information about reality. This is why science is empirical and again points out why intelligent design is outside the realm of science. We are incapable of sensing the nature of the Designer. I'll read the readings you recommend as soon as you read the Origin of Species. It's not hard - I've read it at least 15 times.
  10. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    Sorry - I made a mistake. It was "only" 72 Nobel Laureates who opposed the teaching of creationism (more specifically, the so-called "balanced treatment" act). Here is the link to the amicus brief they signed: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/edwards-v-...rd/amicus1.html In case you're interested, Tim, this is the greatest number of Nobel Laureates to speak out on a public issue, ever. And since you wonder if any of us have every read the intelligent design literature, forgive me if I ask if you've ever read The Origin of Species? Or a basic college biology text?
  11. Mike Toliver

    With God on its Side? Vietnam/Iraq

    Last time I checked, Vietnam was still a Communist country. Some "win:!
  12. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    Tim - The last time Creationism reared its ugly head, 82 (EIGHTY-TWO) Nobel Laureates wrote against it. If you're interested in "authority" I did my Ph.D. on evolution - your physicist friend did his in physics. I have read much of the creationist and intelligent design stuff. It is not science and doesn't belong in a science classroom. It's this simple: If one posits a supernatural explanation for observable events, one is outside the realm of science.
  13. Mike Toliver

    History Project

    I'm willing to give it a shot.
  14. Mike Toliver

    Creationism and the Teaching of Science

    It is a mistake to contend that "Neo-Darwinism" attributes species formation to random mutation alone. Evolution, in its modern formulation, recognizes four main forces of change: mutation (a rather ineffective force, but the source of all genetic variation, including that possessed by symbionts such as mitochondria), natural selection, genetic drift and gene flow. As to our friend George, it really doesn't matter what teachers think. What will have the greatest impact on our science classrooms is what the average joe thinks - and right now the majority think like Bush. This is why we have school boards demanding that stickers be placed in text books noting that "Evolution is only a theory" or trying to force "Intelligent Design" into science classrooms. Science is losing the public relations battle, in part because of our refusal to engage the enemy.
  15. Mike Toliver

    Hiroshima: A War Crime?

    Of course the use of the atomic bomb was a war crime. I believe the Geneva Convention expressly forbids targeting the civilian population. However, targeting civilians didn't make us stand out in a crowd. Was it necessary? Read Richard Rhodes "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". It's pretty clear from his research that the Japanese militarists were far from ready to surrender and it was only the direct intervention by the emperor that stopped them from continuing the war. There was even an attempt to bomb the ship on which the Japanese surrender was signed on Sept. 2, 1945. Clearly, the use of the atomic bomb was the deciding factor in prompting Hirohito to finally pull the plug on the militarists. One can argue that the use of the A-bomb made it clear just how horrible a weapon it was, and by extension, prevented their use in other wars (Korea for example) later on. So far so good...
  16. Mike Toliver

    The Vietnam War: Was it Justified?

    As one of the "few" young people who volunteered for the war, and who had first-hand experience, and who has spent much time since the war evaluating what happened, I would have to agree with Raymond and not Tim. Certainly the communists were not kind to the supporters of the Saigon regime after the war, but the outcome was our fault. Playing the "what if" game, I have to say that the correct policy would have been to support Ho Chi Minh against the French in 1945. I certainly understand why we didn't, but if we're to learn anything from our involvement in Vietnam, we have to look at what we could have done differently. I fear that folks like me will be playing this game again in 40 years looking back on Iraq.
  17. Mike Toliver

    FDR and Pearl Harbor

    Not borne out by the facts. The Japanese diplomats in Washington missed their deadline because of their own difficulties in translating and transcribing the diplomatic message from Tokyo. Again, not borne out by the facts. It is true that some of Yamamoto's staff wanted to invade, but Yamamoto did not, and the Japanese task force did not have an invasion force along. When none of the carriers were found, the task force commander (who was not a proponent of the attack in the first place) decided to forego a search for them and a second attack, despite contrary advice from most of his staff (Yamamoto was not along, and could not have "forced" the commander to be more aggressive). The aircraft carriers had perfectly legitimate reasons for being out of the harbor, which had nothing to do with Roosevelt. Again, the historical record does not support the idea that Roosevelt (or any other American) knew where the attack would take place
  18. Mike Toliver

    FDR and Pearl Harbor

    An excellent source on this is Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept, which thoroughly debunks the "Roosevelt knew" crowd. Prange spent many years researching the attack (the book was published in 1981, after his death) and interviewed the surviving principles on both sides in addition to examining classified documents to which others did not have access. His work was a multivolume treatise, which was distilled down to a single volume by two of his students. I consider his work among the finest examples of historical research. He also did a great job with Miracle at Midway.
  19. Mike Toliver

    Is there, or is there not a God?

    It is clear that no one can prove or disprove God's existence. It is a matter of personal faith - or lack of faith, if you wish. As an evolutionary biologist, it pains me to see a scientific theory derided because some people of faith have so little faith that they demand science support their particular world view. I, personally, believe there is a God, but that God is (to me) not a Christian god, or Allah, or Yaweh. If you had to put me in a category, I would fit best with the pagans in believing that all things have a Spirit. When I die, I believe my body will rot. My spirit will live on, for awhile, in the memories of my family and friends. There is, to me, no Heaven or Hell - unless we make them ourselves. Mostly, we make Hell - and we often do that to force others to believe as we do.
  20. Mike Toliver

    Terrorist Attack on London

    John (and all the rest of the "Brits) - Please accept my heartfelt sympathy. "an eye for an eye makes the world blind" Mike
  21. Mike Toliver

    Who would you like to share a pint with

    McNamara is the most public of figures, and while he has admitted mistakes, he doesn't seem to understand what his mistakes were. Watch the Fog of War. As to the generals, in the early days many of the Joint Chiefs opposed our entry into 'Nam. Those opposing chiefs were largely "retired" and the ones who remained were faced with a policy they had to support if they wanted to remain in the service. That certainly doesn't excuse them - but since they didn't set policy, our pint would be fairly dull. I want to ream the policy makers. Now, Michael Moore and Karl Rove and Tim? That would be worth the price of admission!
  22. Mike Toliver

    Greatest American

    My list might look something like this: 1). Abraham Lincoln 2). Thomas Jefferson (sorry, Pat, I don't agree. Otherwise, how would Bill Clinton wind up on the list?) 3). Martin Luther King, Jr. 4). The suffregettes (Margaret Sanger, et al) 5). Georgia O'Keefe 6) Jackson Pollock 7). Malcolm X 8). Mark Twain 9). Kurt Vonnegut 10). Albert Einstein (ok, naturalized American...) In my opinion, celebrities and sports figures don't belong on such a list. I might make an exception for Charlie Chaplin. I can't think of a single sports figure who deserves such listing.
  23. Mike Toliver

    Who would you like to share a pint with

    Does it have to be just one? I'd sit down with my buddy Chuck Darwin and see what he thinks of life in general. I'd love to have a pint with Meryl Streep. Albert Einstein would probably be fun, too. And I'd sit across from Robert Strange McNamara and grill his sorry ass - but it wouldn't be a pleasant pint.
  24. Mike Toliver

    Sex and Sex Discrimination

    It seems to me the question one must ask is "what is the power imbalance?" In the cases John cites, the woman abused a teacher-pupil relationship, which was an abuse of power. However, was the power imbalance in this case the same as the power imbalance in the case of the male? I would say "no" - and it relates to the physical imbalance between males and females. In the first case, the female abused her power, but beyond the seductive nature I doubt there was any potential physical threat. In the second, the male may not have evinced any physical threat, but that threat was always present, simply because he is a male and larger and stronger than his victim. The difference in sentences seems justified on that basis.
  25. Mike Toliver

    Should girls wear skirts in school?

    What Ulrike writes makes a lot of sense - especially since it comes from the students themselves. My teenage daughter fortunately isn't quite so captivated by the lastest crap in fashion - and her mom is VERY good at spotting huge bargains at the thrift stores. But the pressure is very intense to spend outrageous amounts of money to "look good" (often times looking like a "sexworker"). Uniforms of some sort aren't necessarily a bad idea....
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