Curtis Dahlgren
Back to school: Both horror and hope at the U. of Wisconsin
By Curtis Dahlgren
May 26, 2009

"Global warming may not be such a new thing — or, at least, that's what some UW climatologists suspect. A study by Stephen Vavrus, John Kutzbach, and Gwenaelle Philippon of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies suggests warming didn't begin two or three centuries ago, with the advent of industrialization, but five to eight millenia ago . . Further, they hypothesize that this warming may have helped forestall an ice age."On Wisconsin, spring 2009

SENATOR GAYLORD NELSON MUST BE ROLLING OVER IN HIS GRAVE. The "nerve" of these climatologists not sticking to the story (don't they know that all the issues have been "settled" and the debate is over?); the industrial revolution started global "warming" and the Model T caused the Dust Bowl. The SUV is going to kill us all. Never mind North Korea — obesity and climate change are going to kill us. Obesity and climate change and dairy products. "Never mind" Iran.

MY COPY OF "ON WISCONSIN" ARRIVED JUST IN TIME. I had read Judie Brown's column on late-term abortions proposed for the UW hospital system, and I had virtually given up all hope for my "alma mater." But as soon as I saw the words on the cover, I knew that this issue was a big deal:

"Filmmaker Errol Morris '69 traces his obsession with sifting and winnowing to Wisconsin."

"Sifting and winnowing the truth" was the motto of the University of Wisconsin — and still is — although in the post- post-Christian world of modernist mores, "truth" is subjective (and therefore essentially non-existent except in the minds of the beholder) and so sifting has not exactly been a high priority lately!

Mr. Morris says that real-life murder mysteries taught him that "you can talk to five or six people about an event that they have all experienced, and the accounts are so radically different."

That epiphany, combined with a strong feeling that "there is a reality," helped define the person Morris is today, says Eric Goldscheider's article.

"People may be interested in avoiding [reality] or rearranging it, or obfuscating it, but it's there in the wings," Morris says.

"I've gone to considerable efforts to try to distinguish myself from postmodernism's [view of the] truth as being subjective . . . It's an interest that I developed in Wisconsin years ago."

To "obfuscate" means to "confuse or bewilder hopelessly," which brings us back to the issue of Global Warming. I hope that we hear more from climatologists who are interested in true Science, not propagandizing. The "On Wisconsin" news item was tucked into "News & notes; quick takes" on page 10 (in the fine print). I don't think the editors were trying to hide the news, but it certainly could have been given a more prominent place.

I was at the University of Wisconsin both before and after Errol Morris' time (60-61 and 70-71). Morris laughs about being rejected by every college he applied to, except Wisconsin.

"I thought being sent to the University of Wisconsin was some kind of punishment, but I found out otherwise. [The campus] had this odd, incendiary mixture — I often describe it as Wisconsin farm boys and girls and Jews from New York . . [and] Wisconsin had one of the best history departments in America."

And for an ex-farm boy such as myself, just seeing the motto of the U.W. on a sign at the bottom of Bascom Hill was enough to make memories forever, in spite of the Donna Shalala era's attempt to replace Academic freedom with Political Correctness and social engineering. As farm boys would say, there's more than one way to skin a skunk, and when one faction gets one-party control of a university or a nation, and free discussion if replaced by intimidation, something's rotten in Denmark, etc., etc.

By the way, the last page of the current "On Wisconsin" has a picture from a 1920 St. Patrick's Day parade in which the UW engineering department was mocking the "shyster lawyers." By 1925, the lawyers retaliated — in typical shyster fashion — by hurling rotten eggs at the engineers, and the parade was discontinued after a near-riot in 1938.

Speaking of shysters, er I mean lawyers, the country is going to have a debate soon on a proposed replacement for Justice Souter on the Supreme Court — assuming that really free debate will not be silenced by lawyers hurling accusations of "xenophobia" or other rotten eggs. The timing couldn't be more auspicious, with Mark Levin's "Liberty and Tyranny" topping the New York Times best-seller list for many weeks.

As I say, there is both horror and hope, even in Madison, Wisconsin these days. Even the letters to the editor page of "On Wisconsin" contains some interesting commentary. An alum from Irvine, California wrote:

"I wish to comment on UW psychology professor Janet Hyde's proclamation that it is her mission to change stereotypes and 'as a scientist, [she has] to challenge them with data.'

"Give me a break — I didn't know it was the role of a scientist to change the thinking of the populace. The role of a scientist is to perform research to solve the riddles of nature, and to have that research vetted by peers; changing the minds of the populace regarding so-called stereotypes is the role of politicians."

"Supposedly," I might add. Back in the olden, olden days, psychologists weren't really considered "scientists," and politicians weren't always a mixture of psychology and "Law," and they were more focussed on protecting the nation than on back-engineering the psychology of the people. In those days of yesteryear, the primary role of Education was teaching kids how to read and write, so that they could decide the issues for themselves - let the chips fall where they may.

magazine (June 2009) says that the number one reason for which people now become active in politics is not "to change the world" but "to protect themselves from the government." MAYBE THERE'S STILL "HOPE."


President Obama claims that he wants to be President of "all the people," but meanwhile the Congress continues to ram-rod unconstitutional stuff down our throats (and I haven't seen him veto any of it yet). We shall see what we shall see in due time, but today's main point is that, as Aristotle said, "All is flux."

The political premises of 2008 were not chiseled in stone. The winds of change could be shifting in the opposite direction — as evidenced by some of those words from "On Wisconsin" magazine! I suspect that the Prez has spent so much political capital by his steam-rolling tactics that outcome of this "debate" isn't set in stone either.

My closing quotation comes from Barbara Rowes' "The Book of Quotes":

"We were always subject to the pressure from the cause people. We reacted to every threat from women, or militants, or college groups. If I had it to do all over again, I'd learn to tell them to go to hell."
— Frank Mankiewitz (campaign director for George McGovern)

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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