The Manliest Man

Professor of social work James W. Trent‘s forthcoming book, The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform, was recently selected as the lead book in the University of Massachusetts’s Spring/Summer 2012 catalog. The book, which focuses on the social reform efforts of Samuel G. Howe (1801-1876) in antebellum America, is scheduled for publication in July of 2012. An abstract of Trent’s work follows:

“A native of Boston and a physician by training, Samuel G. Howe (1801–1876) led a remarkable life. He was a veteran of the Greek War of Independence, a fervent abolitionist, and the founder of both the Perkins School for the Blind and the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Children. Married to Julia Ward Howe, author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” he counted among his friends Senator Charles Sumner, public school advocate Horace Mann, and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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Delivering Aid in Kenya

On Thursday, December 1, Mike Veatch, professor of mathematics and chair of the mathematics and computer science department, will be giving a talk on campus (KOSC 125 at 4:45 p.m.) about the “Spatial Distribution of  Aid Recipients in Kenya.”

In it he’ll explore how GiveDirect, a non-profit organization, recruits and delivers aid to residents of Kenya. The aid delivered is cash funds that are directly transferred to the recipients. The organization is able to operate with low overhead costs and has small transaction costs after recipients are identified. But recruiting recipients produces additional costs. The project studies where GiveDirect should deliver aid, and a model that was developed to minimize the recruitment costs while achieving the desired diversity and total number of locations visited will be discussed. (Former students Matt Forsstrom and Hang Yang worked with Veatch on the project.)

Voting by the Numbers

Yes, the presidential election season is upon us again, and that’s good news for assistant mathematics professor Karl-Dieter Crisman as he continues exploring several theories related to voting. In early January, he’ll be presenting a talk entitled, “Symmetry in Voting Theory: The Borda-Kemeny Spectrum and Beyond” in Boston at a special session of the American Mathematical Society joint meeting with the Mathematical Association of America, the largest annual mathematics meeting in the world. Below is an introduction of his talk (intended for nonspecialists):

“Why Math and Voting? One of the myriad applications of math is in aggregation of preferences. Economists, psychologists, and political scientists all need our tools to talk about this. In my city, we just elected new councilors-at-large, and of course, the primaries and caucuses for the next presidential race are almost upon us. So it’s always a hot topic for the public as well as undergrads. Plus, relatively elementary math yields big results.

Most American elections use one rule to aggregate our preferences – the plurality vote. If you get more first-place votes than anyone else, you win! But there are many other ways to aggregate voter preferences. This talk will discuss a surprising relation between two relatively prominent ones in voting theory circles.

(Arrow’s Theorem) There is no voting rule that satisfies all typical ideas of ‘fairness.’ However, much of the (non-mathematical) debate in voting theory revolves around whether certain axioms of fairness are really red herrings. So my talk focuses on two methods. In both, each voter lists all n candidates in her preferred order: 1.) The Borda Count: Points are assigned based on each ranking – say 0 for last, 1 for second-last, up to n − 1 for first. The candidate with the most total points wins. 2.) The Kemeny Rule: For each possible (full ranking) outcome, check for how many pairwise votes it disagrees with each voter’s ranking, and add up these disagreements. The (highest ranked candidate in the) ranking with the fewest points wins.”

“The Last of the Rowanberrys” or The Distinctions of Gordon College

When Provost Mark Sargent started preparing his fall presentation about Gordon’s distinctives, he wondered if he would be able to get the marketing jargon and agenda from the past decade out of his head.  He told the faculty and staff who gathered for the special faculty forum, that what “saved” him was reading Wendell Berry. By exploring five key areas of distinctions, Dr. Sargent described Gordon’s unique qualities, using his recent encounter with Berry’s story, “Are You All Right?” to help frame his perspective. The text of his speech is printed in full below:

The Last of the Rowanberrys, or The Distinctions of Gordon College  

By Mark Sargent

October 10, 2011

Not long ago the members of the Cabinet were in the President’s Office preparing for a conference call with the Board of Trustees, and we were scurrying around to insure that we had all the right papers and notes ready for the event, when we suddenly ventured onto one of the thornier philosophical topics we had faced in some time. Was it possible to taste the difference between Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi? While we are at it, why not add Pepsi One and some generic store brand to the mix. President Lindsay, like most of the others, seemed certain that he could identify the difference by taste.

So I asked Jerry Logan, our academic programs coordinator, if he would conduct a taste test this past week among the visitors to our office. We found what many studies have confirmed: That virtually everyone had a very strong preference among the five choices. Before they took a sip, they generally knew what drink they would buy if they saw these choices in the store. And yet only 13 percent were successful in picking that flavor simply by taste. You would have better odds if you rolled dice.

What this implies, of course, is a triumph of marketing. The actual distinctions between colas are relatively slight: this one has a few more milligrams of corn syrup or artificial sweetener than that one. But most all of us who have spent any time watching television have absorbed certain images associated with each drink. We may not fully realize how effectively Coca Cola has targeted Coke Zero at men and Diet Coke at women, feeding the absurd notion that a sweetener that comprises less than 1 percent of the volume defines the boundary line between genders and gender roles.

I tell you this to confess why I shuddered some when I was first asked to describe the distinctions of Gordon College. For the last ten years, when I have been engaged in earnest discussions about distinctions at Gordon, it has usually been part of a quest for that Holy Grail of sales: a market differential. In one respect, the term “distinction” should refer less to something precise than to something quite generic: we refer sometimes to a person of distinction as one with integrity, wisdom, perhaps even a gray-haired eminence.

To be fair, I am not fully discounting the need to find themes in our marketing that enable us to recruit students and to define our product. But I will confess to having listened to too many consultants and advisors on branding: Too many people who have pressed us to define our “brand” or our “brand promise” and then be sure that we conform our academic and co-curricular programs to match in order to secure our customer. Or too many advisors have told us to define reality by our marketing jargon. When I suggested to one marketer that MIT might quarrel with a tagline proclaiming Gordon now to be “New England’s best science college,” I was told I needed “aspiration.”

So I started thinking about this presentation about Gordon’s distinctions fearing that I would not get the marketing jargon and agenda out of my head.  What saved me, you might say, was reading Wendell Berry. Continue reading

The Color of Sound?

Are a person’s eyes the only way to see color? That’s one of many sensory related questions assistant professor of philosophy Brian Glenney has been exploring for the past several years in his scholarship and research, using color sonification sensory substitution devices (SSD) to test his theories. Next month at a conference in Scotland on sensory worlds, Dr. Glenney will present some of his findings. His abstract below describes the highlights of  his talk:

Hearing Real Colors with Adaptive Technologies

By Brian Glenney

“African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) have a tetrachromat visual system with a fourth pigment sensitive to ultraviolet wavelengths (Bennett and Cuthill 1994). So, trichromat humans cannot be expected to share the same color categories as their feathered friends. For one, parrots perceive more colors.  Two, this fourth band of wavelengths influences how all colors are perceived by parrots (Shepard 1997). For instance, it influences their categorization of colors at the opposite end of the spectrum, of red and orange colors, like the color of a ripe grapefruit (Pepperberg 1999). So, physiological differences suggest that color perception is better for parrots than humans and if not better, at least different. It is therefore prima facie unreasonable to think that the parrot and the human both see “real” colors, or colors that represent real color properties of objects.

The physiological details need not derail color realism across species as it may be argued that ecological differences—differences in how species respond to their environment with respect to different action potentials evolved out of their distinctive ecological niche—primarily influence a species’ color categories (Matthen 2005). For instance, the color of a ripe grapefruit for a parrot might be the color of an unripe grapefruit for a human. So, the real color of a ripe grapefruit might be a point of irresolvable contention in a debate with parrot, for both physiological and ecological reasons. That is, unless real color is just a label for what’s ecologically relevant to a species, a view advocated by Mohan Matthen’s (2005) called “Pluralistic Realism.”

The central question I would like to raise in this paper is whether the perception of real color might include stimuli from any sensory system whose input was within the visible and near-visible spectrum.  For instance, might color content be processed by an auditory system with color receptors? For instance, might subjects wearing a color sonification sensory substitution device (SSD) that processes color content using the auditory system hear real color much like a parrot or a human sees real color? To argue “yes” is to advocate “Radical Pluralistic Realism.”  What makes it radical is that, unlike Matthen’s view, color content can be processed by a visual system that did not evolve out of processes relevant to an ecological niche.”

Oil and Coral

Assistant professor of biology Walter Cho recently returned from St. Petersburg, FL, where he was a participant in the  Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Principal Investigator One Year Update Workshop, sponsored by the National Science and Technology Council’s Sub-Committee on Ocean Science and Technology. Along with his colleague Timothy Shank from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Walter presented his research on the effects of the oil spill on coral communities in the Gulf of Mexico. The abstract of the presentation is below:

“Deep-water coral communities are thought to be vulnerable to disturbance due to their low rates of colonization, growth, and the high levels of host-specificity for associated invertebrates. A major concern resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the vulnerability of these deep-water coral communities to the oil spill. Research cruises in 2008 and 2009 established a comparative baseline for changes in benthic community structure. Research cruises in 2010 and 2011 returned to some of the sites visited prior to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and also explored new areas that may host deep-water coral communities. We assessed the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coral-associated invertebrates (including ophiuroids, crabs, shrimp, barnacles) and the level of genetic connectivity between populations in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the North Atlantic.”

Three Types of Forgiveness: From Outrage to Freedom

This past summer, Dr. Judith Oleson, associate professor of sociology and social work and coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies Minor, had an opportunity to stay in the old Jewish quarters of Krakow, Poland. She then visited the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, where nearly the entire Jewish population of Europe was extinguished. As a result, the Holocaust became more real to Oleson, as did the need to explore the the importance of forgiveness in her work on reconciliation studies. She has also been studying Rwandan reconciliation efforts after the genocide; Oleson referred to both in a chapel talk she gave to Gordon students Monday, October 31. Below is the text of her talk.

“The Kingdom is Like Those Who Can Forgive, Because They Have Been Forgiven”—Based on Matthew 18: 23- 35

By Judith Oleson

The kingdom of Heaven is like a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants.  Jesus tells this parable with great detail.   It is quite dramatic.  The servant owes a lot of money (10,000 bags of gold in fact) to the king. He cannot pay up, so he, his wife and children and all he had will be sold.   The servant falls on his knees and begs, “Be patient with me” and makes a promise “I will pay back everything.”  The king takes pity on him and cancels the entire debt.   This is amazing, who would cancel a debt of 10.0000 bags of gold?  But we know the story does not end here – the servant goes out and finds a fellow servant, one of his peers who owed him only 100 silver coins.  He grabs him, chokes him and demands payment.  When the fellow servant says be patient with me, and I will pay it back, the first servant refuses to be patient, and has him thrown in prison until he could pay back the debt.   Then this is the best part I think – “when the other servants saw what happened they were outraged, and whet back and told the king all that had happened.

Now there is a lot of outrage today about debt.  The Tea party has been outraged about government debt, congress is outraged that the banks have been forgiven their debt, but did not pass on their savings to consumers, the occupy wall street is movement is outraged that the 99 percent is indebted to the 1 percent.   Our economy in the U.S. has been based on spending, credit, and more credit.   As a country that has ignored our personal and collective debt for years, we are starting to wake up.  We see the destruction of the abuses of our economic system and we are outraged.  But what is this relationship between debt, forgiveness and the kingdom of heaven? Continue reading

Salem: Coming to Peace with The Witch City

Just in time for Halloween weekend, Kristina Stevick, artistic director of Gordon’s History Alive! considers (in her recent Faith + Ideas = column) how the spooky, zany holiday shouldn’t be the only thing Salem, Massachusetts, is known for. (Her editorial column was also reprinted in The Salem News.)

By Kristina Stevick  Salem, Massachusetts, where I work, is a city with a complicated personality. She absorbs the historians, artists, college students, ministers, preservationists, Wiccans, psychics, and mediums who live here, and beckons about a million visitors per year.

Halloween (October 31) to locals is not a day, but a “season,” and during the other four, Salem is still “Witch City.” The broom-straddling hag, vixen, or sweetie—depending on your perspective—is the official emblem of cop and high school athlete alike. Though Salem is also a world-class destination for art and culture, a stunning seaside community and a showplace of antique architecture, the witch on the broom has practically jabbed the Sumatran pepper trader off the city seal.

I imagine John Winthrop, the Massachusetts Bay Company’s first governor, might be surprised. When he admonished the migrating English colonists to be “a city on a hill, the eyes of all the world upon [them],” his sermon outlined how their New Jerusalem could be A Model of Christian Charity:

Read the rest of her recent Faith +Ideas= column here.

The Virtues of French Cheese

Written exclusively by Gordon faculty members and administrators, Faith + Ideas = is a regular column exploring relevant issues and intellectual interests for our community as well as the broader culture. Several weeks ago, professor of French Damon Di Mauro enlightened readers on the virtues of French cheese…and how those virtues speak to the magic of higher learning.

The subject came up again in my language class the other day, as it invariably does at least once a year: “Why does France have 350 different kinds of cheese?”

Somehow, in the American popular imagination, this seeming superfluous profusion of fromage is emblematic of French frivolity, as farcical as their frou-frou fashion or fickle foreign affairs. After the classroom snickers subside, I find myself casting a forlorn eye on my charges, gently breaking the news to them that, alas, alas, they’ve been deprived, for they’ve probably never tasted “real cheese” before.

They stare back at me as if I’ve just told them they’re depraved, not deprived, but I affirm that nothing could be truer (i.e. the deprived part). Now, French cheese is made with raw milk—the sine qua non for superior quality, anything less would be sacrilege—which explains its complexity and depth of flavor.

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Light + Plexiglass + Titania = Water Purification Possibilities

These are good days for the field of chemistry. With October 16-22 designated  National Chemistry Week by the American Chemistry Society, and 2011 declared the International Year of Chemistry, Gordon’s chemistry department is in good company with both its enthusiasm and research. And for Gordon’s newest member of the chemistry department, associate professor Joel Boyd, the United Nation’s emphasis on water purification is in line with his own work. Boyd’s research involves the photocatalytic purification of water. In this process, light is used to activate a photocatalyst, such as titanium dioxide, in order to remove or destroy organic, inorganic, and microbiological contaminants in water. Students working with Boyd have presented their research at conferences, published their work in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and even applied for two U.S. patents in recent years. Their research means turning inexpensive and ordinary materials available at the hardware store into water treatment technologies with possibilities for developing countries. Of his research he writes:

“Photocatalytic water purification has proven to be successful in the laboratory, but many obstacles oppose common applications in the field.  In order to leave the laboratory, existing materials must be refined in a number of ways.  Maximum photocatalytic activity requires nanoscale photocatalysts, which makes post-use removal of the photocatalyst problematic at best since such small particles are very difficult to filter out.  For this reason, various photocatalyst deposition techniques have been implemented to adhere the photocatalyst to larger materials.  Students in my research group devised one such approach to solvent deposit titania on polymeric support materials.  An ideal photocatalyst-support composite material would possess a long working lifetime, and have a large surface area for maximum activity . . . Fundamental investigation into the effect of crosslink density on both photocatalyst adhesion strength and photocatalytic stability is essential for ongoing development of photocatalyst-polymer composite materials, and is the subject of ongoing research by students in my research group at Gordon.”