Discussing Differences - Contributions



The Discussing Differences Online interest group examines the issues of unity and diversity within the U.S. and the world at large. In DDO culture, language, age, religion, gender, sexuality and diversity are examined in terms of peace, justice, common sense, and a well ordered society. 

This month we invite you to join us in exploring whether our diversity focus fairly considers political conservatism as a set of ideas worth taking seriously. Are we intellectually diverse? Or, do we, as Mark Lilla writes of American academe today, treat it as a pathology? Lilla, professor of humanities at Columbia University, writes:

"What's lacking...is recognition that conservative ideas are not symptoms of something allegedly 'deeper'—ignorance, fear, selfishness, maladjustment—but reflections of a certain way of looking at the human condition. There is a serious intellectual tradition here that deserves study, not for affirmative-action reasons but because it includes ideas that might have something to teach us about political life—or, to speak in a very old-fashioned way, because some of them might be true." Is he right? Are we capable of seeing what might be right about the Right? Or, are we blinded by our focus on "diversity?"

["Taking the Right Seriously" - September 11, 2009 (http://chronicle.com/article/Conservatism-on-the-Campus/48333)] 

August Discussion - 2009


Decision Making – Emotions and Biases 

Recent articles about Obama’s Supreme Court nominee provide grist for a good discussion on decision-making in general as well as in the Supreme Court. Our colleague, ...., has already responded and  opened up additional avenues (see following the first article). Thanks, .....   

The Empathy Issue (5/28/09)

"People with power tend to uphold the status quo or their personal convictions and feel that their emotions have nothing whatever to do with their position. (e.g. the justices who stopped the Florida recount in Bush v. Gore just happened to be Republicans, but they may have convinced themselves that they were impartial) Sometimes if legislators have a relative or friend who requires a change in the law, they'll change their position for a newfound empathy (e.g. Orin Hatch on stem cell research because of a child in his family with diabetes or Dick Cheney on tolerance for gays because of his gay daughter who is raising a child with her partner.) So empathy plays a role, but what a slow process that has to be.  There are also contradicting emotions at work.  (Justice Thomas is so revolted at the concept of affirmative action because he believes he got where he is solely through hard work. He can't bear to think otherwise) 

Would our discussion group like to suggest occasions in which empathy worked or didn't work on the judicial level?  ...."

"The Waves Minority Judges Always Make" … is a good companion piece to Brooks because it gives examples. [Rhee]

The Waves Minority Judges Always Make (5/30/09)  

June Discussion - 2009


"Muslim Identity and American Diversity."

Do Muslims in America today experience problems that are significantly different from those faced by other religious and ethnic groups? Are the attacks of September 11, 2001 having a lasting impact on how non-Muslims regard Islamic communities at home and around the world? The number of Muslim voters in the United States is growing. What effect will they have, if any, on the dynamics of American political life? What issues will be added to the national agenda? 

April Discussion - 2009

Internet Access

Should government assure that everyone has the equipment, services and training for ready access to the internet?  Is it in our common interest to see that Internet access is made available to all Americans, including the poor who, left to their own devices, would remain unconnected?

March Discussion - 2009


Having Religious Beliefs Correlates with Self Control?

The February discussion topic for Discussing Differences Online is drawn from the New York Times column copied below, which cites research to the effect that people with religious beliefs have more self-control and are more likely to succeed in keeping resolutions.  (The column, by John Tierney, appeared in the Dec 30 New York Times and in the Jan 18 St. Pete Times.  The full article reporting the research in Psychological Bulletin can be purchased at: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/135/1/69/)

You are welcome to take the discussion in any direction you want.  But some basic questions include:
         Do you find this research credible? 
         What do you think accounts for the correlations described?
         While the studies suggest that people have more self-control because they are religious, could the causality (if any) go in the other direction  -- that is, are people with good self-control be more likely to become religious? 

The Tierney Lab blog is also hosting a discussion of this research and is offering a prize for the best argument for or against the proposition that religious people tend to have better self-control.  It is not cheating to go on line to read the comments, but you might want to try to formulate your own reactions first. 

The Tierney blog also poses these additional questions from Dr. McCullough, one of the authors of the article reporting the conclusions:
1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

February Discussion - 2009


You and the Future of American Cars

The topic for January concerns the bail-out/ bridge loans/ structured bankruptcy suggestions for keeping American car companies (and their suppliers and agencies) in business.  I will be sending you the views of politicians and pundits.  As they come to you, you can respond with your vote. Which views do you prefer? 

In addition, we are seeing that Asian car manufacturers such as Toyota have suddenly begun to lose money for the first time in decades.  November sales for Toyota were down 34% compared to GM's decline of 41%. The foreign companies are well managed and have a non union work force but are in trouble too.  Last night I learned that Toyota has a job bank for its employees (something that drives GM critics wild) both here and in Japan.  When there is no work, they are carried by the company and come in to receive training, visit the work floor to offer suggestions!  Toyota did not expect their decline in sales.  One of their execs thought that the recession would just be "a sneeze" for them.   

When do you intend to buy a new car? Under what circumstances will it be a Ford, Chrysler or GM product?

If you now drive a car from a foreign company, tell us why.   

Note on my choice of articles: I'm trying for a range of the political spectrum and will use mainstream press. The first two will be from the Governor of Michigan and the Senator from Tennessee. Who gets your vote?  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Get away from it all and solve the American auto industry problem at you computer.

January Discussion - 2009


In the interest of split government...

Many of us prefer having one political party in the White House and the other having a majority in Congress.   Short of waiting for the Democrats to self-destruct, how might the Republican Party be rebuilt?   

The following article by David Broder is provided to help get us started.

Election should guide GOP's future (11/16/08)

December Discussion - 2008


Changing Concepts of Privacy.

There has always been some tension between personal privacy and the interests of society.  The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision rests on a supposed Constitutional right to privacy but remains controversial. 

Technology has opened whole new battlefields and forced us to make new tradeoffs. Facebook and You Tube have made private information and moments.  The Internet gives anyone instant online access to public records that used to require some expertise and time spent searching in archives.  Video monitoring of public places is increasing.  Cell phones broadcast your whereabouts.  GPS units track your movements.  Credit card information databases are vulnerable to loss and theft in wholesale quantities.  Businesses are able to track our travel and purchases in detail.  The government is now able to monitor communications on a much more massive scale. 

The following two articles provide a recent example where giving up personal privacy can provide vast benefit to society:

Harvard professor's project prompts research participants to post personal genome on Internet (10/20/08)

A molecular full monty (10/25-26/08)

November Discussion - 2008

The Discussing Differences Online (DDO) topic for October 2008 is the financial crisis  

Some of our mightiest financial institutions have collapsed.   In addition the number of home mortgage foreclosures across America continues to rise with no end in sight.   Today people in all walks of life are finding it difficult to access credit as doubt is cast on the value of collateral assets.   Erstwhile lenders simply don't want to make new loans because they're afraid they won't get their money back.   

Therefore last week the Treasury Department asked the U.S. Congress to authorize $700 billion to be committed over time to reduce risk and restore confidence in the system.  The House of Representatives responded  "No" on September 29.   The plan will be revised and reconsidered at the end of the week.  The world waits.     

Suggestions for discussion:  

What brought this on?   Floyd Norris wrote in a recent New York Times piece: "Already, liberals are blaming the de-regulation that began under Ronald Reagan for letting a financial system get out of control, and conservatives are pointing to market interventions by liberals — notably efforts to assure mortgage loans for the poor and minorities — as being the root cause of the mess. Conservatives are also pointing to accounting rules, which forced banks to write down the value of their loans, and to excesses by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage enterprises that have since been nationalized, whose troubles they have tried to tie to Democrats."     

Does the current crisis indicate we need to find a better way to handle our social and political differences? 

The Political nature of the Economic Crisis (9/30/08)

September Discussion - 2008


John McCain's Choice

It is September, and the topic for the month on our online discussion group, Discussing Differences, is ripped from the headlines: John McCain's surprise choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin in a plot twist never dared by "Northern Exposure."

Questions participants might want to address might include:

Why did he make this unusual selection?  What benefits did he see for his campaign?  Will she in fact aid or hurt his candidacy?  What does the decision say about McCain or about his view of the contest?  What new problems or opportunities does the selection pose for the Democratic ticket?  What does the selection say about the American system of selecting its top leaders?

September Discussion - 2008

Assets & Positive Trends - 2008/9

Disregarding Republicans and Democrats, Greens and Libertarians; forgetting even the candidates for president for the moment, what will a new US Administration have going for it (and us) in 2009?  

Wise souls are advising us not to focus on what's wrong; to get out of our "funk" and get on with our business.  After all, there is no recovery for the world economy without one in the US.  There are few prospects of peace and stability without the US playing a role.

Using the Assets Approach to community development, what are the ASSETS a new administration will have to work with from 2009?  What are the POSITIVE TRENDS with which to maintain momentum?  

What's good about the US and the World in 2008-9? 

Unhappy America (7/24/08)

Life Is Good, So Why Do We Feel So Bad? (6/15/08)

August Discussion - 2008


Gun Ownership and Control

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." On June 26, 2008, the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision struck down the District of Columbia ban on the possession of hand guns. The rationale for this action was based on the majority opinion that protection under the Second Amendment applies to individuals as well as groups. 

The 'syllabus,' or preface, to the majority opinion of the Court reads in part: the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense within the home...the Amendment's prefatory clause announces purpose but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part the operative clause. The operative clause's text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms." 

For the full text of the Court decision, including the dissent, go to: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf  


1. All things considered was this a wise thing for the Court to do? What are some possible consequences? 
2. Does the ruling represent a fair and sound interpretation of the Second Amendment and other Constitutional principles? 
Or is it an example of judicial activism? 
3. Is this Supreme Court ruling likely to change the behavior--one way or another--of people who use
firearms to commit crimes and those who use firearms for self defense? 
4. Why are positions on gun control so often spelled out along conservative/liberal lines? What is there about this subject
that raises the hackles of so many Americans? 

July Discussion - 2008


The Rise of the Rest

Adapted from Fareed Zakaria’s new book The Post-American World, the following appeared in Newsweek Magazine.

The Rise of the Rest (5/12/08)

Does the world still need leadership from the US ?  Does the US wish to, or can it, lead in a Post-American World?

June Discussion - 2008 


Do animals have rights?   

Human beings have always regulated the way we treat non-human life forms. This task is embedded in the customs and traditions of every society and often includes the use of codified legal systems.         

Most of us are familiar with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Are there similar principles that should be applied to our relationships with animals?    Is it important to make distinctions between animals that are wild, those that are domesticated, and those of value to researchers working in the medical sciences?    Are there things we may do to mosquitos, rats, pigeons, and beef cattle that we must never be allowed to do to dogs, cats, fur seals, and chimpanzees?

The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, an animal lover, argued that rights come and go according to changes in government policies.   He thought the idea of universal rights grounded in nature was "nonsense upon stilts."    For a very different perspective on this issue visit the website of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

May Discussion - 2008


Religion and Politics

Since religion and politics are obviously entangled, in the United States, in Europe (Muslim vs. secular Christian), in Darfur (Muslim north vs. Christian/animist south), and in the middle east;

1) How do secular intellectuals (western-educated euro-Americans) learn to live in this world. 

2) What is the proper role for religion in politics, and how do we learn to live in a world where we must recognize that politics, economics, religion are intermixed.
How Far 

April Discussion - 2008


Should the "Gene Police" be allowed to go?

According to the Wall Street Journal article appended below, Britain is way ahead (ahead?) of other countries in exploitation of genetics technology for crime-solving.  They are also allowing the police to use such techniques as taking DNA from every person arrested for anything (as we take fingerprints), keeping the records forever, and "familiar searching", which means using the DNA data to find close relatives of a possible suspect (or even someone who is not a suspect yet) who can, without even knowing it, point to the perp of a major crime.  Some spectacular successes have been achieved.  The end of the article indicates there are technical uncertainties which might make some evidence inadmissible in countries with more picky courts, such as the USA.  For the sake of discussion, let's assume that in 10 or 15 years, these technical problems will have been overcome.

The Gene Police (2/23/08)


--  Does using DNA to find that a culprit is, say, Indian present any more of a civil liberties issue than a victim's saying the assailant was red-haired?
--  Could we trust the data system to keep secret some data on us that could lead to, for example, higher insurance rates or that could even disclose to us information that we may not wish to know, such as paternity or high probability of coming down with a dread disease in the future?
--  Talking to family members without disclosing the reasons is a common and accepted law enforcement practice.  Applying DNA data to "familial searching" may sound like dirty pool, but does it really present any new issues?
--  It sounds like in the future DNA technology may help provide an excellent assist to finding perpetrators of major crimes with much less probability of false positives than even eyewitness identification.  Doesn't the public good require that its development should be pushed aggressively?

March Discussion - 2008

Elections (2)

What ISSUES/POSITIONS and what QUALITIES/QUALIFICATIONS are most important to you in making your choice for president. Do you see any candidate who meets your criteria? Are you committed to one party, or would any particular combination of nominees for the two parties cause you to cross over to vote? Independent of your own preferences, what is your PREDICTION of how the race will go from here? 

February Discussion - 2008



A very small number of people in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are going to have a very big voice in framing the 2008 presidential election in the US. Is that fair and reasonable? 

Should voting in national and/or state elections be mandatory for all citizens? Would the quality of civic life in our society improve if casting a vote, like the payment of income taxes, were an obligation under law that had to be fulfilled?

January Discussion - 2008

A few good people
Individuals with grit can -- and do -- change history

A few good people (11/30/07)

Please comment on Victor Davis Hanson's premise:  "a few brave individuals can--and do--change history."  Those who say 'yes' can please offer examples.   Those who say 'no' please explain what makes the world change without deliberate turning point actions on the part of human beings.  

How well do the three examples Hanson gives support his premise?

December Discussion - 2007

University Ethics

The following is extracted from a Wall Street Journal article by Paul Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution and George Mason University.  Ethics 101 (10/8/07) asks whether, in light of the recent cases of Duke University and their lacrosse players and the University of California Board of Regents' withdrawal of the invitation for Lawrence Somers to speak, colleges and universities are doing enough to examine their own ethics.

Berkowitz thinks not.  

"What explains the neglect by our leading university ethics programs of a vital topic that so plainly falls under their purview? The major cause is probably routine thoughtlessness: Surrounded by like-minded souls and therefore protected from questions that might rock the boat, and from research projects that might call for scholarly retooling, it may never occur to many ethics professors that, no less than law, medicine, business and journalism, their profession too is worthy of systematic scrutiny."

Perhaps our answers to Berkowitz' questions (below) will shed more light on this important subject.

Is it proper for university disciplinary boards, often composed of faculty and administrators with no special knowledge of the law, to investigate student accusations of sexual assault by fellow students, which involve crimes for which perpetrators can go to jail for decades? 

Should universities have one set of rules and punishments for students who plagiarize or pay others to write their term papers, and another -- and lesser -- set for professors who plagiarize or pay others to write their articles and books, or should students and faculty be held to the same tough standards of intellectual integrity? 

How can universities respect both professors' academic freedom and students' right to be instructed in the diversity of opinions? 

What is the proper balance in hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions between the need for transparency and accountability and the need for confidentiality? 

What institutional arrangements give university trustees adequate independence from the administrators they review? 

Is it consistent with their mission for university presses to publish books whose facts and footnotes they do not check? 

In accordance with what principles may a university bar ROTC from campus because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy" concerning homosexuals, while inviting to campus a foreign leader whose country not only punishes private consensual homosexual sex but is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and who himself denies the Holocaust and threatens to obliterate the sovereign state of Israel? 

By exploring these and myriad other issues, our ethics programs would do more than fulfill their mandate. They would also vindicate liberal education by demonstrating the premium academicians place on ensuring that their own practice conforms to the proper principles. 

November Discussion - 2007

Elitism in elite colleges. 

The following op-ed piece appeared in the New York Times on September 24.  It is by Jerome Karabel, author of a book on the preponderance of the well-off and well-educated in admissions to
prestigious Ivy League colleges.  In this column he proposes that a small percentage (5-10%) of each class be selected by lottery.  Separately, there has been attention to the somewhat parallel phenomenon that immigrant blacks (or blacks from immigrant families) are overrepresented in college admissions, as compared with "American" blacks.  A key variable in admissions of blacks in the institutions examined was whether the applicant's father had an advanced degree. 

Question for discussion: Is it bad that the rich and well-educated dominate admissions to these prestigious places and that the poor and less well-educated get very short shrift?  Are selection criteria skewed to the disadvantage of lower-class applicants with high potential for success in college?  Would the lottery idea constitute an improvement?  Would it provide, as Karabel suggests, a useful controlled experiment in the value of current selection criteria?  Are elite blacks of immigrant origins displacing "African-Americans" and undermining the goals of affirmative action? Are any other issues or remedies available for these phenomena?  

The New College Try (9/24/07)

October Discussion - 2007


Criminals and victims; rights and justice; individuals and society

Philip Lawrence, a popular school master with 4 small sons, was stabbed to death while trying to protect one of his pupils from attack.  The attacker, Learco Chindamo, was a 15 year old immigrant from Italy, the son of an Italian father and a Filipina mother who moved to Britain for a better life.  Chindamo is nearing the end of an 11 year sentence and has appealed to be extradited  in England.  The Home Office wants to extradite him to Italy, but the Asylum and Immigrants Tribunal has ruled that he must be released in England so as not to be denied his right to a normal family life.  He speaks only English and has no family left in Italy.  Philip's widow, Frances Lawrence, has protested "what about my family's rights?"

The story raises many issues:

What should be the rights of the victims?  Of criminals having served their time?

Should Chindano's immigrant status matter in this case?

What should be the priorities of government in similar cases?

Paul Vallely: Crime and punishment (8/22/07)

September Discussion - 2007


Should certain degrees cost more?

Students today at some state colleges and universities face price discrimination based on what they choose to study. Apparently the movement is growing. Is it fair and reasonable for colleges to charge more for those who major in some disciplines than in others? Should future engineers and economists (highly paid professors, lab fees) have to pay more for their education than those who pursue philosophy and literature?

Does HateSpeech Matter?

Legislation pending in the U.S. Congress would significantly broaden the application of the federal hate crimes law of 1969 (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:h.r.1592.rfs:)

In most countries around the world, including the United States , a person accused of a hate crime is held accountable for his motivation as well as his actions. Proponents argue that in the case of hate crimes thoughts and deeds are inseparable.

President George W. Bush has said he will veto this proposal if it receives final passage in Congress. Should he do so?  

Additional information --  

http://www.apa.org/releases/hate_crimes.html - (from the American Psychological Association)

July Discussion - 2007

Mitt Romney

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has limited experience in foreign affairs and matters of national security. His recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine (July/August 2007) tells us something about his thinking. 

Summary: Washington is as divided on foreign policy as it has been at any point in the last 50 years. As the "greatest generation" did before us, we must move beyond political camps to unite around bold actions in order to build a strong America and a safer world. We must strengthen our military and economy, achieve energy independence, reenergize civilian and interagency capabilities, and revitalize our alliances. 

(See complete article at: http://www.discussingdifferences.com/temp/cult3711.htm

Would a Romney administration provide an opportunity for change in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy? How is Romney substantially different from other Republican candidates? Will the Democrat nominee disagree with Romney's ideas? At the end of the day – and the George W. Bush administration – are we really going to as divided on foreign policy as Romney and others suggest? 

Comments on other aspects of Romney’s candidacy are welcome as well.

June Discussion - 2007

Baby Boomers

How will they transition into retirement?  Are Boomers values, attitudes, and expectations really so different from other generations?  Are Boomers a uniquely American phenomenon?  Will ASPEC and other retiree institutions be of interest to the Boomers?  How might they change?  

Suggested reading:   

May Discussion - 2007


Should Capital Punishment be Abolished?  







April Discussion - 2007

Discussing Differences Online - February 2007

The February topic for Discussing Differences Online is:  Civility vs. Free Speech: Is there a conflict?    Recently some participants in our forum complained of supposed curbs on expression of their opinions. What "rules" do you think should guide our discussions? 

To put this issue in a larger context, we turn to two thinkers of the past, one a philosopher, the other a practical man with a philosophical bent. 
 1.  John Stuart Mill in his essay "On Liberty" wrote:  "Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent."    http://www.constitution.org/jsm/liberty.htm

  2.  Benjamin Franklin and some of his friends formed a discussion group called the "Junto."  In Franklin's words "Our debates were to be...conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties."  
Any person to be qualified as a [Junto] member was to stand up and be asked the following questions:
  1. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
  2. Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Answer.  I do.
  3. Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
  4. Do you love truth for truth's sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes."      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junto 



For most of our lifetimes the virtue of tolerance has been an assumed part of the American national creed.  It is now being questioned by those who find it inadequate and who call for respect for others rather than simply tolerance of them.  Others, such as Stanley Fish in the article below, find it limited, hypocritical, and culture-bound.  Still others advocate "zero tolerance" for certain offenses and offenders.  What do you think tolerance means?  Is it simply another cloak for imposing Western morality on non-Western people?  Does it have a place in our pantheon of virtues?  Can we have tolerance for intolerant people and ideas? 

The Trouble With Tolerance (11/10/06)

January Discussion – Happy 2007!


Cuba - Next Steps?

Fidel Castro may soon be leaving the world's stage. Should the U.S. stay out of the succession process (as much as possible) and let the chips fall where they may? Or should we actively pursue a policy designed to shape the outcome of events? What should be the role of the U.S. Cuban exile community in this inevitable exercise?

We discussed some aspects of this in January, 2006: What should be role of ethnic groups [US] in the formation of U.S. foreign policy?

Discussion December, 2006


"Reid My Lips"

The "shoe-bomber", Richard Reid, was sentenced to life in prison in January 2003.  Since his is a case of a terrorist who has been handled by US courts of law, there should be some observations about the recently passed Military Commissions Act under which such cases may be handled going forward.

Given the perceived legitimacy of Reid's prosecution, what if he had been prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned under the new regimen?

Reid's case apparently lacked the risks of intelligence leaks inherent with those targeted by the new act, but what are the risks to society of having a court and penal system not subject to checks and balances from third party judges?

Is habeus corpus so foundational that we risk scuttling any expectation that wherever we are there is recourse to a general rule of law?  

Ruling by Judge William Young, US District Court (Richard Reid)

November Discussion, 2006



No one condones torture. In countries where torture is routinely practiced either by governments or other elements in society, the issue is handled by denial or redefinition of terms, e.g. euphemisms such preventive detention, aggressive interrogation, due punishment, etc. However, in the modern world are there circumstances that could justify the deliberate and unabashed use of torture? For example, police have captured a latter day Unibomber who boasts, with credibility, that his next device has been planted and is scheduled to detonate in twenty-four hours in a large urban center. If he is uncooperative, shouldn't every effort be made to obtain more information? Wouldn't it be irresponsible for the authorities NOT to include torture as a means of saving lives?    

Do unto your enemy (9/25/06)

Firing potent words, from a tank (9/25/06)

Discussion - October, 2006

Ethnic Profiling

Once again it's a contentious issue whether security screening should be guided by selective characteristics such as ethnic, racial, religious and/or other social features. Along with "stereotyping" and "categorizing," profiling has become another dirty word in our politically correct world. Yet we naturally use these tools for our own security. So why not for the security of our communities?  Do concerns of misuse and misapplication really offset the potential benefits?

Do profile; just don't tell (8/16/06)

Discussion dates Sep 4, second round Sep 18, 2006



What should America's policy be in the current crisis in the Middle East?

Is it in our interests to continue to "support our ally," Israel, in actions that are seen as disproportionate by most of the rest of the world? 

This is related to -- but not the same as -- the question of whether Israel's actions are justified and reasonable under the conditions it faces. Likewise, are the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah legitimate acts of war and in the interest of the Palestinian people?

Discussion dates August 7, second round Aug 21, 2006  


Linguistic Nationalism

Does America need a common--and official--language to meet the challenges of globalism in the 21st century ? If so, should that language be English? However, would pressures generated by a common language policy threaten cultural diversity and individual freedom in our liberal, democratic society?"

Discussion dates July 3rd, second round July 17, 2006  



Rape is back in the news with the Duke lacrosse team and the exotic dancer.  It is a highly charged subject.  Prosecution and conviction are relatively rare but can result in very severe sentences when successful.  In the following article, a hard-eyed Germaine Greer portrays our social and legal conception of rape as itself created and imposed by phallo-centric, patriarchal males.  She proposes abolishing the crime of rape and replacing it with a more inclusive definition of the crime of assault.  Do her ideas have merit?  Why or why not?  

    Germaine Greer: Rape (4/2/06)

Discussion dates June 5, second round June 19, 2006  



Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation recently wrote (see full text below):

"Advanced societies are growing more patriarchal, whether they like it or not. In addition to the greater fertility of conservative segments of society, the rollback of the welfare state forced by population aging and decline will give these elements an additional survival advantage, and therefore spur even higher fertility. As governments hand back functions they once appropriated from the family, notably support in old age, people will find that they need more children to insure their golden years, and they will seek to bind their children to them through inculcating traditional religious values akin to the Bible’s injunction to honor thy mother and father.

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father."

If true, will this new reality change the direction that the Human Rights movement has followed for nearly sixty years? What are the implications for feminists movements in the industrial world? What will a return of patriarchy mean to the efforts of those who seek gender justice and fairness in relationships between the sexes?                                                  

The Return of Patriarchy (3-4/06)

Discussion dates May 1, second round May 15, 2006  


S. Africa, Apartheid, The Struggle and the “New” S. Africa  

S.Africa has gone through a most remarkable transformation since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the African National Congress was legitimized.  They negotiated an all-new constitution, held their first free election of all citizens (Nelson Mandela as President in 1994) and held another free election in 1999 (Thabo Mbecki).  

The “struggle” was successful, first, because young black students of the 70s rioted and gave up their education (600 lost their lives in Soweto alone) and, second, the ANC embarked on violent opposition from exile.  International sanctions played an important role as well, and apparently the “Sullivan Principles” were a tipping point for international support and sanctions that helped make all this happen.  

Rev. Leon Sullivan, a Baptist minister in Philadelphia , was the first corporate director of a USA Fortune 500 company – General Motors – and he used his position to mobilize a campaign to dismantle Apartheid in S. Africa .  

The Sullivan Principles are more general, as you will read below.  Created as a general corporate guide to ethical strategies, in 1999 they were adopted by the United Nations as “The Global Sullivan Principles”.  Leon Sullivan died in 2001.  

One S. African friend said he’d initially opposed such interference from outside (Jesse Helms, especially), at least until he became involved in a Chamber of Commerce tour in the 80s to solicit support among European countries.  There he was convinced otherwise and upon return he and the others commenced working for change.  Re-reading the Sullivan Principles now, he says, they seem almost innocuous.  “ S. Africa ’s new constitution likely has more human rights protections than any other in the world”.  

Another friend who had responsibility for S. African operations said his US company simply leased all its operations to Angl0-American Corporation, S. Africa’s largest company, then continued to distribute their products without missing a step.  Otherwise, they would have had to lay off thousands!  Presumably the lease was easily terminated after the struggle.   

A third friend was responsible for investing pension assets and company reserves for her company.  After disinvesting from many companies, she felt S. Africa was being singled out unreasonably.  

When is outside influence appropriate to affect change in democratic countries?  Should businesses agitate for social change? 

The Global Sullivan Principles

About Leon H. Sullivan

Personal experiences are especially welcomed!

Discussion dates April 3, second round Apr 17, 2006


Nigeria, Bolivia, Venezuela, etc. – Should the profits from natural resources be shared by all the people? 

We owe thanks to .... and .... for helping develop our topic for March. The following correspondence neatly frames some issues; also see below a recent article on the situation in Nigeria.  

....: "Should the profits from natural resources be shared by all the people?" Look at the demonstrations in Bolivia over sending their natural gas to US (I didn't hear any discussion of proceeds), African nations with enormous wealth in oil, diamonds, etc where there are millions dying of poverty, hunger and disease, and now Iraq with it's tremendous oil reserves and arguments about who will share in the profits. I don't know any answers, but thought some of those who do might consider the subject. Does nationalization of railroads, oil industry, etc, assure that all will share. Or is it only the stockholders.
....: I think we have to be clear what we mean by "all the people." My own interpretation of this (it may not be yours) is "the inhabitants of the countries in which the natural resources are located."  If we are to accept this as a premise, then it follows that the countries concerned, i.e their governments, should own the physical assets, be responsible for their sale, and distribute the profits for the benefit of their population at large. 

Alas, this Utopian ideal seldom seems to work in practice. History tells us that governments - all governments - tend to be venal and corrupt. The buck may not stop in their offices, but the money certainly does. I think Venezuela is about the only country which passes on a reasonable percentage of its natural resource proceeds to the poor - and thereby incurs the wrath of the U.S., which doesn't believe in such things! 

In practice, most governments in developing countries seem to find themselves at the mercy of multi-national corporations. These can provide the capital for efficient exploitation of natural resources (good), but export the profits to their shareholders in the developed world (bad). The ordinary people in these countries tend to see little benefit from what should be rightfully theirs.  
I think what is needed is an international law prescribing that a major percentage of the profits from the exploitation of natural resources be returned to the country concerned. This money should not go to the governments (who would only steal it, as they do so much foreign aid) but be used by the corporations themselves to improve the education, health facilities and infrastructure of the countries concerned. Such operations should be monitored and audited by the UN. (Not ideal, but I can't think of anyone else who could do it.)
....: This topic remains on the front page--Nigeria's elections and near-civil war, rich keep oil money, so many poor. And a recent propaganda that we should boycott Citgo because it is owned by Venezuela, where Chavez says he will bury us, and he is distributing oil profits to poor, but opposing propaganda says buy Venezuela to avoid supporting Saudis.  What are the details on distribution of Iraqi oil money?  

Nigeria's civil war: Into the heart of darkness (3/3/06)

Discussion dates March 6, second round Mar 20, 2006

Assisted Suicide  

Can we get behind the political divide on this issue?  Most of us know situations this has been used or considered.  Is this really a slippery slope?  Or, is it like other policies that can be employed wisely and seldom abused?   

Finally, and unavoidably, is it that we’re living in an aging society that accents this issue, or are the political and cultural fault lines in the US really driving it?  

A question of life and death (and God) (1/31/06)

When society celebrates suicide (1/23/06)  

Discussion dates Feb 6, second round Feb 20, 2006

What should be role of ethnic groups in the formation of U.S. foreign policy?    

Since 1945 special ethnic groups have exercised a major influence in defining the role America plays on the world stage. Over the years, Jews, Hispanics, Greeks, Asians, Arabs, and African-Americans are just a few of those who effectively have added their special concerns for international issues to the domestic political dialogue of all Americans. It is no secret that government officials and our politicians de facto have considered the desires of ethnic groups before they decided what to do with respect to Israel, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, trade and immigration policies, and apartheid in South Africa, etc. 

The following draft article by Eric Uslaner  from the lead-up to the 2004 presidential election provides some background.

Cracks in the Armor? Interest Groups and Foreign Policy (??/04)
1.  Do the disparate and sometimes conflicting overseas agendas of ethnic groups within America weaken our ability to function in the world?  
2. Is the extension of U.S. ethnic politics to problems beyond our borders an inevitable and healthy part of a process that is bringing us to a better understanding of how to get along in the international community? 
3. Are the operations of ethnic groups in the international arena a normal aspect of globalization? 

Discussion dates Jan 2, second round Jan 16, 2006

Ethnic Flight

Probably all of us would agree that an ideal American neighborhood has a diversity of races, ethnic backgrounds, incomes, etc., etc.  However, it is difficult to cite more than a handful of examples of such a phenomenon that have survived very long.  Why is that?

Simply a diversity of races roughly equal to that in the general population would be a happy compromise for many, but even that ideal seems difficult to achieve.  The phenomenon of "white flight" seems irresistible.  We recently received citations to an article about white flight in Silicon Valley towns.  Because of the perceived superior performance in schools of the incoming ethnic group (Asian), people were transferring their kids and even moving out (The New White Flight).

An interesting article (The new science of artificial societies) discusses a mathematical analysis indicating that fully integrated neighborhoods are inherently unstable if there is any degree of preference to have a neighbor or two like yourself.  

Some of you may remember Marv Atkins' presentation "Computer Simulation of Sociology" in 2003, in which he demonstrated this process. Some basic questions remain:   

--  What steps can or should society (government, NGO's, etc.) take to reduce or eliminate "ethnic flight"?  

--  Can this be accomplished without a degree of intrusiveness that the public won't accept?  

--  How important is it anyway?  To society as a whole?  To individuals on either side of the instability?  

--  Are there lessons to be learned from our military bases, where thousands of families live peacefully in fully integrated neighborhoods?

Discussion dates Dec 5, second round Dec 19, 2005

What are the fundamentals for a successful society?

We’ve read before the article on how destructive no-fault divorce might be for maintaining stable societies.

Why No-Fault Divorce Is Our Most Dangerous Social Experiment (5/05)

More recently, there’s the following article along the same lines:

Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality

Is heterosexual marriage fundamental to achieving/maintaining a successful society?

Prager (second article) rejects homosexuality as part of rejecting any non-marital sex.  For him the male sexual drive run rampant is the greatest risk to society.  He says it has in so many ancient societies.

1)  Is he correct in seeing that Judaism's firm rejection of all non-marital sexual behavior is "revolutionary" in world history? 

2)  Is he correct is regarding the male sexual drive as potentially dangerous?  That it needs to be "forced" into the marital corral, as it were? 

3)  Are newer forms of relationships (such as gay marriage and non-marital cohabitation) dangerous to the long-term health of society, as Prager states?  Do no-fault divorce, and divorce in general, consequently weaken society?  What are the relationships between divorce and newer forms of relationship, if any?

5)  Prager may be wrong in claiming that homosexuality is a "chosen preference."  That doesn't accord with the accounts of most gays.  But, will social acceptance of homosexuality really lead to a return of the sexual practices of the ancient world? 

6)  Is he correct in saying that celibacy is anti-life and, hence, a sin?

Discussion dates Nov 7, second round Nov 21, 2005


Stereotype “threat”, stereotype “lift” 

I attended a lecture recently (Stanford Alumni) in which Claude Steele presented.  He is, I think, Director of the Phychology Dept at Stanford University .  He and a team of researchers have been working on social identities and their connections with behaviors and capabilities.   Following are some of my notes:  

People behave according to a unique combination of identities – age, sex, profession, political ideology.  As they meet with certain contingencies – society’s readiness to judge and treat people based on their identities – people will respond with both a comfort/discomfort level.  Their performance will also be affected by stereotype “threats” – negatively – and stereotype “lifts” – positively.  

Being black and male may be threatening in the American south.  Being Asian may be uplifting when competing in information technology at a university.  

Steele mentioned several lab exercises they used to document these patterns: 

Black and white male college athletes in a putting (golf) game:  1) When told just before the game that athletes do well in this test, blacks did better than whites. 2) When told that athletic ability doesn’t matter, white athletes did better. 
3) When told that strategy was involved, white athletes did a lot better. 

    1) Presumably, black athletes accept the stereotype that they have natural abilities in athletics. Some white athletes believe that as well. 
    2) Both black and white athletes believe in racial differences in athletic abilities.
    3) Apparently whites and blacks accept that strategy involves intelligence, and that blacks have less strategic capabilities. 

They also did a number of stressful mental exercises of mixed sexes and mixed ethnic background using high achiever college students. The natural “lift” should come from whites, women, Asian, etc. However, the researchers were able to manipulate the results by framing the test in the beginning. When told that natural intelligence didn’t help in the test, women and Asians didn’t do as well as expected and men did better. 
Of course these were highly controlled experiments, and there are many others that I’ve forgotten.  The following is a publication with Steele as co-author. 

Colorblindness as a Barrier to Inclusion: Assimilation and Nonimmigrant Minorities (9/22/00)

Has anyone experienced something like this, either threat or life?  Something different?  Are these factors in “birds flock together”?  

Discussion dates Oct 3, second round Oct 17, 2005.

U.S. Public Policy

Eckerd/ASPEC’s own Donna Oglesby has written a new paper for presentation August 31st at the American Political Science Association Washington. 

She has also kindly agreed for me to share it with Discussing Differences as our topic for September!

Her paper is about how the US should seriously revitalize how we communicate our policies to the rest of the world.  Her view is that our influence has declined as much for poor communications as for the results of policy or implementation.  She traces current policy back 10-15 years to document that it’s not just Republicans and Neo-Cons, but also liberals and Democrats who’ve brought us where we are.  The paper also echoes her former call for the US (us) to engage with the rest of the world in the messy process of politics - dialogue and compromise.

A Pox on Both Your Houses (8/31/05)  

Discussion dates are: Sep 5, second round Sep 19, 2005


Suicide Bombings: 

Not just the results of impoverishment and marginalization, but what?  What extreme factors (perceived and otherwise) cause educated, middle class young men (and a few women), young fathers and mothers, to commit such extreme acts against the “other”?  Are these different from self-immolation protestors of the 60s?  Are they responding to different motivations and/or do they have different strategies?  

In this context, I recently re-read Discussing Differences conversations during September 2001.  We were discussing Donna Oglesby’s article on globalization as suicide pilots struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (subs/global09-2001.htm).  It was helpful for me then to have a forum to speak out and to share with others. 

The following are selected from US and UK newspapers.  Additional articles may be found by clicking on the Discussion Dates line below.    

Europe juggles freedom and security (7/27/05)

Western Terrorists Have Roots in Earlier Colonialism (7/21/05)

Can we rid the world of this cult of death and destruction? (7/22/05)

This is a turning point: we have to fly the flag for Britishness again (7/14/05)

A little religion, laced with compromise, goes a long way. Only madmen live by purity (7/16/05)

The strategic logic of suicide terrorism and how to defeat it (6/29/05)

Discussion dates are: Aug 1, second round Aug 15, 2005

Class in America (USA)

Americans have always rejected the European notions of class as inherited status (the exception to this has been in race), though we may have some tinges of this in such things as privileged admission to education in elite colleges.

We have always had economic class, based on wealth and power. We have believed that the gap between the rich and the poor would be small, and growing smaller.

We have believed in economic mobility, the ability of anyone to rise in economic condition, based on merit.

Recent studies show that the gap between rich and poor has been getting increasingly larger.

The following Times articles raise several questions:

Do we have class divisions in America? Are they becoming more prevalent?

Do we still have economic mobility in America, and is it based on merit? Are opportunities for upward mobility more or less possible today?

Do we have a kind of class warfare in America, as some politicians insist? If so, have the rich won?

Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide (5/15/05)

Class and the American Dream (5/30/05)

Life at the Top in America Isn't Just Better, It's Longer (5/16/05)

Discussion dates are: July 4, second round July 18, 2005


The Traditional Family  

- C.K. Chesterton once remarked that the family is the indispensable building block of society and society's most important bulwark against tyranny.  Is that true?  Is the family the building block of society and does it protect against tyranny?  If so, how? 

- Some traditionally religious people are claiming that non-traditional family arrangements actually undermine society.  Is that true?  If so, why?   

- Traditionally, marriage was a contract which could be broken only with great difficulty.  Nowadays, the attitudes towards the "breakability" of marriage seem to have changed.  Is this progress, or devolution?  Are liberalized attitudes towards marriage and divorce responsible for the rise in non-traditional family arrangements, particularly co-habiting couples with children?

- There may be a serious conflict between church and state brewing over homosexual "marriage" and efforts to bring about the social acceptance of homosexuality.  Is this avoidable?  How?

Discussion dates are: June 6, second round June 20, 2005


Language Requirements

WHEREAS: the security of the United States now more than ever depends on how well we respond to the challenges that come from the values, attitudes, and expectations of people from other cultures; and, because language skills are critical to understanding how we can effectively meet these challenges;  
THEREFORE:  by law it shall be mandatory that any person who holds a key public office demonstrate basic proficiency in at least two modern languages, one of which must be English.  This general policy shall apply to office holders at the federal, state, and local levels of government, and shall apply to all language designated positions whether filled by election or by appointment.

(Our format has been modified in a way that we hope will promote a balance between our tradition of openness and the virtues of a well focused discussion.)  



The 1998 lynching of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas; three thousand dead on 9/11; genocide in Yugoslavia; the massacres in Darfur; the 1982 slaughter of refugees at Sabra and Shatila; the theocratic tyranny in Iran; the killing fields in Cambodia; and Muslim violence in the streets of Europe are but a few examples that prove intolerance is alive and well around the world.  

Can intolerance be eliminated from the modern world or is it an inescapable part of human nature?  Do we threaten free expression if we try to suppress intolerance using the rules of right reason, educational indoctrination, and strict law enforcement?  Isn't intolerance a by-product that comes with the benefits of diversity?  Yet at the end of the day, how can we live in a well ordered society when behavior some people condemn as intolerant and unacceptable is considered by others to be the legitimate pursuit of justice?

What are the limits of tolerance?

Putting the fear of God into Holland (2/27/05)   

Discussion dates Apr 4, second round April 18, 2005 


Why not focus on SIMILARITIES? 

Do we study differences because they’re more “fun”? Is it just that differences are easier to spot? 

The media shower us with calamities, violence, and aberrant behavior, but are we doing the same by Discussing Differences?  
When most of us are really right or left of center, does Discussing Differences necessarily drive the extremes? How might we assure balance? Are we polarized or "in balance" after the 2004 Election? 

There was a mushrooming of Catholic discussion groups after Vatican 2, when Catholics were trying to be more sensitive to people of other faiths. Leaders of that time insisted we look for similarities among the religions and emphasize those rather than differences. Is that so naive in a post-9/11 world?

Discussion dates Mar 7, second round March 21, 2005

US & Europe: What should we have learned?

"What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."   (G.W.F.Hegel 1770-1831)

One could argue that the Continent actually has - at long last - learned the lesson of the futility of war by forming the European Union. This is not perfect, goodness knows, but there can be no denying that it has made war between its members virtually impossible. Since many of them had been at each other's throats for a thousand years, that is no mean achievement!  

The Europeans have learned from history. My concern is that America is failing to do so. One would have thought that the Vietnam experience, coupled with that of the French in Indo-China and the British in many parts of the world, would have taught them a number of lessons:

1. That empire-building by force is ruinously expensive and ultimately bound to fail.
2. That people do not like being occupied by a foreign power, especially when that power kills large numbers of innocent civilians in the name of its own particular political philosophy. The Nazis, you will remember, discovered this. The Israelis are still doing so.   
3. That modern systems of communication now make it impossible to conceal what is being done.
4. That while super-power status brings with it enormous diplomatic influence, that influence must be even-handed if it is to succeed.  Here, of course, I am referring to the unswerving support for Israel which is rendering any just settlement in the Middle East impossible.  
5. That the rape of natural resources brings about long-term calamity.
6. That super-powers who go broke do not remain super-powers for very long: vide the British and the Russians. 

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts.  I would not be in favour of including religion in this discussion subject, although it can be argued historically that it has been behind more death and destruction than any other single cause except, perhaps, greed.   My reason is that our discussants show a passion for talking about religion, and given the opportunity will talk about nothing else.   Let's talk politics for a change.

The following articles may provide additional context.  

The Widening Atlantic (1-2/05)

From America's heartland: Europe drops out of the picture (12/28/04)

2 dreams about the future (12/3/04)

Discussion Dates: Feb 7, second round, February 21, 2005

What is "liberal"  education?

Do colleges and universities need a faculty with a strong liberal core in order to provide a "liberal education?" Maybe that's a joke? Or, what does "liberalism" mean in the 21st century?

If the statistics quoted in the following articles are accurate, how might the political leanings of faculty affect dialogue and debate on campuses?  What about the likelihood for groupthink without effective dissent?  What protects dissenters?  Should dissent be "created" and institutionalized in some way?


Academia, Stuck To the Left (11/28/04)

Discussion Dates: Jan 3, second round, January 17, 2005


Moral values!  

Culture wars!  Behaving badly!  Aren’t these mostly descriptive of forces within the upper classes?  Is conservative backlash the response of the “non-elite”?  Are young people really so morally rootless?  

Do we really live in “anything goes” societies?  Are there excesses that foretell the pendulum swinging toward more “traditional” values?  

Why are “liberal”, “conservative”, “multinational”, “nationalism”, “relativism”, “fundamentalism”, “diversity” such verbal cudgels in the debate?

Bad boys never go out of style (12/1/04)

Today's scatological behavior a broken window of our civilization (12/1/04)

Principals freaked out by students' dance, dress (11/28/04)

Prepared for everything but a life in reality (11/19/04)

District backs Character Counts (10/12/04)

Discussion Dates: Dec 6, second round, December 20, 2004


What’s “coming due” from economic and social decisions of our time?

USA Today - "One nation, under debt": The long-term economic health of the United States is threatened by $53 trillion in government debts and liabilities that start to come due in four years when baby boomers begin to retire.

Committee for Economic Development - "Invest in Kids...”: Fiscal sustainability however will require reaching an intergenerational compromise on entitlements. The priority senior citizens attach to children suggests that investments in youth human capital for reasons of future competitiveness and growth may also be a starting point for building the intergenerational compromise needed to assure fiscal sustainability.

Some think a solution to the economic coming due is small government, less regulation and low taxes on business and the rich.  USA Today offers others. 

Aging societies throughout the developed world will present end of life care issues.  What care issues will be involved?  What care will we need to say no to?  Will society have to face "term limits" on the amount of care we can afford to give?

The Committee for Economic Development suggests a solution is for older generations to transfer their benefits to the very young.  Are there signs already an emerging “intergenerational compromise”?  

Also, what may be coming due on the social side?  Higher education, birth control, abortion, secularization, working women all expanded during our lifetimes.   What’s “coming due” from those trends?

Discussion Dates: Nov 1, second round, November 15, 2004 

Culture Wars and the 2004 Presidential (USA) Election?

Swift Boats And Old Wounds (8/24/04)

Olympic Games Reflect Sacrifice (8/20/04)

Definitions of Culture Wars? (6-8/04)

Why are we still fighting the battles of the 60's?  Of Vietnam?  

Are these irreconcilable values?  Are there irreconcilable values in the history and governance of our country?  

What are the values that inspire our place in the world?  Do these resolve or engender conflicts with our allies and other nations?  Are our values out of sync with the rest of the world?  

Discussion Dates: Sep 6, second round, September 20, 2004


Women and power

At the Democratic Convention, Teresa Heinz Kerry painfully reminded all of us that there is still discrimination among the sexes. Women are opinionated rather than informed; women's ideas are tolerated rather than sought out.

Women in business are often well represented at entry level, but inroads at higher levels are not much better than they were 20+ years ago.  Women are equally prevalent in most professions, including government, but the same is true.  Look at representation in the U.S. Senate and House, for example!

If women constitute a majority of students in undergraduate and graduate study, and if women are proving more successful in academic performance, and new hirings are flush with these over-achieving women, what happens to them within the power structure that forestalls increasing numbers vying for the top?

        Sex-bias suit takes aim at accounting firm's culture (7/28/04)

Discussion Dates: Aug 2, second round, August 16, 2004


Diversity: What works?  What doesn't?  

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal Ethnic Diversity Doesn't Blend In Kids' Lives (6/18/04) discusses conclusions of a new study of American adolescents and their ethnic and racial differences.  It may be noted that the study was performed by Viacom, Inc. for the specific purpose of presenting accurate results useful for making money.  They conclude that, despite sharing a pop culture infused with a variety of ethnic influences, the most ethnically diverse generation of American kids ever is growing up in homogeneous enclaves where they don't have contact with peers of other ethnicities, despite the fact that the U.S. is more diverse than ever.  These ethnic groups differ widely in their feelings and activities, as might be expected, but the interesting thing is that the all seem comfortable with the situation.  An Asian-American researcher is quoted as saying, "There is a cultural comfort level when you're surrounded by people just like you."   And the study states that black children who live in mainly black communities reported feeling more secure than African-American children who live in ethnically mixed environments. 
 This study seems to raise a number of really leading questions about diversity-- 
  • What is wrong with the picture presented by this study?  It sounds like birds of a feather are still flocking together at the adolescent level, but it also sounds like they are comfortable with their own groups and with their relations with other groups.  Is this really diversity in action?
  • Should we have a social policy that attempts to promote mixing these groups?  If so, should the objective be to meld the groups (Great American Melting Pot) or to form ever smaller cells that largely retain their identity?  The Melting Pot concept has a lot of validity in American history; what would be the benefit of the latter approach?
  • If we are not satisfied with these ethnic cells, how hard should we try to push a social policy whose objective would be to break up or mix up these groups?  What limits on individual freedom are tolerable?  Don't events of the last 50 years indicate that the public wants the government to defend their streets and sometimes fund their financial shortfalls but otherwise leave them alone?

Discussion Dates: July 5, second round, July 19

Brown v. the Board of Education 

The relevance of the Brown v. Board of Ed. decision is still very much with us.  Related issues are:

1. What was the real significance of this decision? 
2. As many historians argue, did the decision actually delay and set back the process of integration, especially in the South? 
3. Was the Brown decision really the key factor in ending school segregation, or were the other social/political/economic forces at work since WWII really more significant? 
4. Will the "No Child Left Behind" program lead to a new wave of resegregation of the nation's schools?

Discussion Dates: June 7, second round, June 21




This past Christmas season the town of Glenview, IL experienced a conflict over "separation of church and state." The Fire Dept had a Christmas tree plus a Santa Claus inside the station. The town government responded to the objections of some residents and forced the Fire Dept to remove any Christmas decorations, engendering a bitter reaction from Christians.

Is there a "culture war" going on in the US? What exactly is a "culture war?" What is it based on?

Is the above incident part of a culture war? Has the phrase "separation of church and state" been taken so far that it is coded language for the culture war?

Are there two diametrically opposing sides? Or, are there many different sides which sometimes join and sometimes oppose each other? Most importantly, is there common ground which can be found between the opposing sides which can satisfy both sides?

Or, in the final analysis, is it a winner take all fight about control of the culture? Is the culture war simply a new version of the centuries old divisions among Jews, Christians and Muslims?

What has the Mel Gibson movie shown us about ourselves and the cultural divide? Is the Movie an act of "interreligious aggression" as Charles Krauthammer has charged, or is it a rebellion against the code of secularism enforced by Hollywood? Are blatantly Christian-themed works of art legitimate? Or are they propaganda?

Discussion Dates: May 3, second round, May 14



What should we do about poverty in the world, and why? 

Following are three takes on the subject to help stimulate thinking.  We would like to consider world poverty in itself rather than as an aspect of globalization, which may be either a cause or cure.  

Universal Values More Important Than Ever: Annan (12/12/03)

Globalization Must Be Harnessed to Benefit Rich and Poor Alike (2/24/04)

A Question of Justice? (3/11/04)

Discussion Dates: April 5, second round, April 19

Bonuses and Challenges for an Aging Population

Differences among people create opportunities and challenges, which change often accentuates.  

The developed world’s aging populations will dramatically affect all the dimensions usually tracked in diversity: age, gender, disability, culture, religion, sexuality and language. 

The following NY Times article covers most of these, but there are many others to help flesh out the topic.  

Life in the Age of Old, Old Age ( 2/22/04 )  

·        What about families?  Will parents’ and grandparents’ additional healthy years enhance family relations?

·        How about communities?  Will towns and cities identify and capitalize on the benefits of having more healthy         aged citizens?

·        What about us?  Will we use these years productively?  

Discussion Dates: March 1, second round, March 15

Trust and Social Capital


The ability of individuals and groups to welcome strangers is strongly dependent on the "amount" of trust in a society and how well our communities produce, pool and employ social capital are strong components in how receptive individuals and groups are to strangers. Two recent papers from the ENGIME workshop entitled: "Civic Engagement , Trust , and Inequality" by Eric Uslaner and "Immigrant Integration and the Role of Social Capital" by David May are good works on the topics.

  • literature suggests that "trust" has been declining in most of the developed world. Do you feel that is correct? What evidence of this have you seen or experienced?

  • The authors believe that social capital is mostly produced in social interaction, and more social capital is produced in interactions with people not like us. Is that consistent with your experience? Why do most of live in communities with people just like ourselves?

  • What experiences can you cite in which you trusted generally? When have you consciously used social capital to accomplish something? 

You may see other papers from the ENGIME workshops at www.feem.it/engime/ 


Discussing dates: February 2, second round Feb 16, 2004


The New Immigrant Experience


Most prominent by the numbers are new arrivals from Mexico and Central America .  But exotic refugees from Sudan and Afghanistan and highly skilled professionals from India and China are also notable in the mix.  

  • How does the current immigrant experience compare with the past?

  • What advice might our foreign-born predecessors offer immigrants today?  What advice to their USA-born progeny?

  • What in the current cultural , economic and political environment may be different for immigrants today?  For USA-born citizens?

  • How might current waves of immigration change the USA differently? 

National Farm Worker Ministry Board Meeting (12/03)

The new racism? ( 9/5/03 )

The Green-Card Troops (8?/03)

Discussing dates: January 5, second round Jan 19, 2004

President Bush's speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, November 6, 2003: "A forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East".

President Bush made a major policy speech, which so far has attracted relatively little notice, at the 20th Anniversary dinner of the National Endowment for Democracy.  

The full text is at http://www.ned.org/events/anniversary/oct1603-Bush.html.  

In the first part of the speech, he celebrated the advance of democracy and freedom through the world-- from about 40 democracies in 1970 to 120 now-- and emphasized America's contribution to that achievement.  In the second part, he emphasized that lack of freedom in some countries in the Middle East imperils the rest of the world.   He proclaimed a new national policy-- a "forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East". 

  • Is this policy, as Bush claims, a legitimate extension of US policy for much of the last century--  Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, FDR's Four Freedoms, and Reagan's foretelling at Westminster in 1982 of the collapse of communism?
  • Are American aims, while seeming nobly inspired, getting ever more intrusive?   Will American initiatives be seen by other countries as pre-emptive actions expanding American hegemony?
  • Bush tries hard to emphasize he is not criticizing Islam per se,  but will it be possible to avoid the overtones of religious conflict?
  • Wilson's 14 Points largely collapsed, the Four Freedoms provided lots of good words and posters, and the public supported Reagan's stand because they perceived a terrible threat and it was a Cold War and not a Hot one.  Can the Bush "forward strategy" muster enough public support  for long enough to have an impact?
  • The politics of the forward strategy could get confusing-- liberals love to see expanding freedom but are often reticent about military action, while conservatives like to stay out of other countries' business but are more comfortable with military action that appears to help the USA.  Will a "Forward Strategy" increase our present high level of division or be a unifying force?

Discussing dates: December 1, second round Dec 14, 2003


The November topic is sparked by George Meese who recently asked some ASPEC members:  

           “What is the appropriate role for religion in the academic life of a liberal arts college?”

Prof. Meese is an Eckerd College professor and a key member of one of the Eckerd strategic planning committees.

Should the "role" of religion be limited to religious studies, i.e. academic courses such as comparative religion and the sociology, psychology, political science of religion?

In addition, might the "role" of religion include the opportunity to experience “the beliefs and practices” of religion by respectful attendance and study, along with believers and devout practitioners, at Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and other services?

At Eckerd College must the covenant with the Presbyterian Church influence in any way what we consider to be appropriate? What should be the role of new Center for Spiritual Life at Eckerd?

In previous Discussing Differences sessions the College's covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church was discussed in detail.  See:  January 2003 and August 2001.  These discussions yielded some thought which may still apply.

In addition, we have the following articles:

Religion in Intellectual Discourse 11/23-24/99  
Is Faith Fungible? 8/01/01  
The Future of Secularization Theory 01/02/03

Discussion dates: November 3, second round Nov 17, 2003


Headlines from the recent World Trade Organization negotiations: CANCUN COLLAPSE – HALFHEARTED – YOUR JOB NEXT?

This is being pitched as the battle between the Haves and Have Nots , wealthy nations versus poor ones , rich greedy people versus needy ones.  Is it so???

The day that the 3rd World bucked the WTO ( 9/28/03 )
Attempt to balance competing needs fails ( 9/28/03 )
The bottom line doesn't recognize national boundaries
( 9/28/03 )
Notes from the recent Chicago Conference on the Global Economy (9/15-16/03)

·        Is this the end of the only global organization regulating trade?

·        Will the UN be next?

·        How should we regulate ourselves in a global world?

Discussion dates October 6 , second round October 20 , 2003

Special Topic: EC Honor Code
- September 2003



The following link "Many Faces...One Vision" is about the diversity policy of a LESS diverse workforce.  NCOA is composed of mostly white, male, US - educated, PhD-level scientists.  They were directed to develop "managing diversity" as a new strategic mission upon the commencement of Secretary Ron Brown's administration in 1994.  

As the largest agency within the Commerce Department, NOAA had quite a distinct culture and is said to have NOT welcomed this initiative.  "Show me how diversity helps the fish..." was the catchphrase to have circulated in their halls!  

Nevertheless, NOAA's resulting policy is widely cited as exemplary for content and measurable results.  And testimony indicates that promoting "human" diversity may be widely accepted among NOAA's staff and even embraced by key managers.

            "Many Faces….One Vision" Managing Diversity at NOAA 

            NOAA: Managing Diversity

  • What might less diverse organizations gain from a managing diversity policy?
  • EEO dictates an "EEO Policy", for legal liability, but why are "managing diversity" programs are beneficial?
  • Can inclusiveness (the term currently preferred to "diversity") be instilled and then "managed" in an organization?

Discussion September 1, second round September 15, 2003


Special Topic: Gay Marriage - August 2003



The Columbine High School shootings provided impetus for educators to teach “character” in schools.  A popular one , the “Six Pillars of Character” , is outlined in selections below.  

Columbine was about a lot of things , but to our subject - Discussing Differences - they include: “integration” issues among whites in middleclass society , social exclusion , intolerance of differences , poor self-esteem , lack of mediation skills , etc.  

Should schools teach “character”?  What values can we agree on?  How can something like this work?

Discussion August 4, second round August 18, 2003



Attention has recently been drawn to the discrepancy in belief and church attendance between the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world.   

Much of the world is entering into the world of John Lennon's "Imagine" ("living for today, . . . nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too").  

Although segments of our society ( USA ) are involved, even leading, in this trend, we as a nation are lagging and seen as a bit peculiar by the rest for our outdated adherence to God and Country. 

     ·        Is religion a positive or a negative for the U.S. ?  Or both?  The EU?

·        Is religion in some way essential to the success of a society? 

·        Can an ethical society exist without religion?

Discussion July 7, second round July 21, 2003



In the developed world today, should undocumented immigrants have citizen’s rights? 

Don’t we expect that all people who live around us – documented and not – have civic obligations?   Which rights, then?  Which not?

Discussion June 2, second round June 16, 2003



1) Is it important that the military services “look like America”?
2) Will use of the military services for social engineering - integration, gender equality, etc. - be detrimental to national        defense?
3) Should we put women in ground combat? Does anyone care?
4) What about  “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a policy on sexuality?

Discussion May 5, second round May 19, 2003

After Iraq what will be the future of international cooperation? What represents the best prospects for human rights and maintaining individual freedom?

a) a rejuvenated United Nations?
b) regional arrangements such as the European Union, NAFTA, the Arab League?
c) indirect, ad hoc governance through NGOs such as the International Red Cross, UNESCO, WTO, CARE, WHO, Al- Qaeda, OPEC, Oxfam, and the world Council of Churches?
d) the resurgence of Realpolitik an the nation state system?

Discussion April 7, second round April 21, 2003


Challenge to America -  Which points in our history have presented the greatest threat to civil liberties and the American way of life? 

   a) the work of the U.S. Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s  
   b) the Presidency of Richard Nixon
   c) the U.S. Justice Department and the recent USA Patriot Acts
   d)  Al Qaeda, Inc.

All of the above?   None of the above?   Something other?

Discussion March 3, second round March 17, 2003


Cultural Globalizm - Have the popular media presented a distorted view of America, and if so, what are its effects? 

In a previous discussion (Presbyterian Covenant and Religious Diversity At Eckerd College - Guest Contribution  - Discussions of 8/6/01 and 8/20/01), the college's covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church was discussed in detail.  

We now have a new President who plans a renewal of the college's Covenant, the current draft of which is Draft of the Covenant between Eckerd College and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2002.

  • What are the issues for Christians?  non-Christians?  Non-religious?  Parents?  students?  supporters?  st. Petersburg community?
  • Does the Covenant Statement encourage or discourage religious diversity?  Is that important in this context?
  • Does such a covenant relationship result in the college community becoming more ethical, globally aware, socially responsible, etc.? Why? 

You may also refer to related selections from Eckerd's Website as of  12/21/02.

Contributions - January 6, Second Round January 20, 2003


We have a guest contributor! Kristine Crane was one of the speakers at the conference COMMUNICATIONS ACROSS CULTURES IN MULTICULTURAL CITIES, The Hague, Nov 7-9, 2002.

"The city as an arena for the expression of multiple identities in the age of globalisation and migration" by Kristine Crane (see: www.discussingdifferences.com/KristineCrane.rtf)

Kristine's work puts in context many hot issues of today - multiculturalism, immigration, globalization, affirmative action, toleration and pluralism. The examples she uses, most from the USA, are thought-provoking.

December 2, Second Round December 16, 2002


Knowledge-based industries, the digital age of communications and the global economy seemingly combine to accentuate the gap between the haves and have-nots. The digital divide, rote versus creative learning, etc.

Is this a crisis, or just an adjustment? How serious is it?

How might the haves perceive the benefits of intervention and subsidy to reduce differences in education, health and security?

November 4, Second Round November 18, 2002

- In 1789 the U.S. Constitution specified, inter alia, that the federal government shall establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. 

 Today do globalization, modern terrorism, and a large U.S. presence in the world compel us to redefine our traditional ideas of "justice" and "the common defense"  TO APPLY FOR OTHERS?   If so, should this cause us to open up such a process to international cooperation? 
Regardless of how we answer those questions we still should expect that all use of military force by the U.S. (or any other nation) would be compatible with the moral imperatives of Just War. 
Who defines  Just War?  Who renders effective judgment on questions of Just War?   By what authority?   

Could the developing crisis with Iraq give us an opportunity to begin answering these questions?

October 7,  Second Round October 21, 2002


In fact are different world views tearing apart the traditional Western world? Is there still sufficient common ground to sustain meaningful US/Europe relationships?

September 2, Second Round September 16, 2002

RULES OF "DEBATE" for the Discussing Differences Online (DDO) interest group.

From recent experiences with 'ASPECchat', now may be a good time to consider what we've learned and what we can do to improve the quality of on-line discussions within DDO and, if appropriate, the ASPEC community at large.

DDO discussions are lively and spirited, and we always solicit diverse views.  Yet for some people email correspondence can seem abrupt, snide, dismissive and even discourteous.   Therefore, help us learn how we can retain the strength and immediacy of email while still being respectful and inclusive of everyone's opinions.

Summer 2002

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION:  MEANS TO AN END.   If an educational institution (University of Michigan law school, Eckerd College) rightfully decides there is a compelling need for greater diversity on campus, to what extent is it fair to pursue that goal by including race as a factor when selecting students through the competitive admissions process?

June 3, Second Round June 17, 2002  

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE:  Should we limit therapy to only that which is thought to be proved scientifically or should we move into more "art" without statistically derived information and traditional analysis?    Is it time for the AMA, the FDA, and the insurance companies to take a flexible, more diverse approach to health care?

May 6, Second Round May 20, 2002

SCHOOL VOUCHERS:  -- Good for everyone, or will the poor be left behind?   Will voucher programs improve the quality of all schools?  Or will vouchers ultimately destroy the tradition of public education in America?

April 2nd, Second Round April 15, 2002

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS:  Are they the same?  Should there be limits?   Should Professor Sami Al-Arian of USF be fired?  If so, how do we protect research and speech on unpopular or minority views?   Does tenure matter?"

Mar 4, Second Round  Mar 18, 2002

THE PLIGHT OF YOUNG MALES: How real? How different from the problems of young women in the modern world?

Feb 4, Second Round and Feb 18, 2002


Jan 7, Second Round Jan 21, 2002

OUR PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG:  Do security needs from September 11 require greater regulation of private enterprise and new social restrictions on America's search for a country "with liberty and justice for all."?

Dec 3, Forum Dec 12,  Second round Dec 17, 2001

ART vs. ART:    Are some art forms more important than others?  Literature, music, dance, folk art, fine arts, and, in modern times, film and photography have been used around the world to satisfy our constant urge to express the deepest realities of life.

 What can be said about the RELATIVE WORTH worth of Wagnerian opera; rap music; the Vietnam memorial in Washington; the Taj Mahal; the writings of Jack Kerouac; the films of Spike Lee; the Satanic Verses of Salman Rushdie; the poems of Emily Dickinson; the musical "Hair;" ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan; Martha Graham; Japanese Noh?   Other works or hybrid genre?  
Bonus question:   How should  UNESCO approach the preservation of art and culture around the world?  Discussions of Nov 5 and 19, 2001

21ST CENTURY GLOBALIZATION: Will the rich, and occasionally troublesome, cultural boundaries between humans be erased?  Guest Contribution  - Discussions of 9/3/01, 9/17/01, 10/1/01 and 10/15/01

Presbyterian Covenant and Religious Diversity At Eckerd College - Guest Contribution  - Discussions of 8/6/01 and 8/20/01

Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Church and Culture - First Presbyterian Church:  Discussions May 14 and May 28, 2001

Art, etiquette and diversity - Should We Set Limits?  April 2 and 16; Lewis House Panel April 9

Does Religious Diversity Encourage Cynicism and Apathy, Feb 19 and Mar 5, 2001

Western Heritage in a Global Context, Jan 8 and 22, 2001

Follow-up Discussion from Nov 28 Meetings - Dec 11, 2000

Meetings November 28, 2000 - Lewis House
"Prepared" Remarks
 - Handout - Racial Profiling
 - Handout - Religious Diversity

Nationalism & Diversity, Oct 16 and 30, 2000

Thoughts that are stimulated by the recent New York Times series, "How Race is Lived in America" - Sept 4 and Sept 18, 2000

Immigration -  What values come under pressure, what policies need change and what outcomes might be desirable? - July 24 and Aug 7, 2000

College Admissions: Guest Contributor - Our views about assuring access for qualified minorities - June 12 and 26, 2000

Racial Profiling May 15, 2000

Religious Diversity at ASPEC?  At Eckerd College? April 17 and May 1, 2000

"The Changing Face of America" - ASPEC Forum Presentation, February 2, 2000

What are some limitations to diversity in groups?  

What is the case FOR promoting diversity in groups?

Introductory Statements