Saturday, January 19, 2013

China Cornell College Preparatory Program VS Tufts

Recently, I've become interested in college preparation programs for young Chinese who are interested in studying in the United States or other western nations. For several reasons, there is a growing interest in such programs in both the United States and in China.  

For this reason, I recently learned a little bit about The China Cornell College Preparatory Program.

Details of this program can be seen at

Elsewhere I've mentioned that I have several criticisms of the Tufts University Preparation Program. Fortunately the Cornell program appears to have avoided many of these.

First, the Tufts program is separate from the academic portions of Tufts and run by a non-academic area of the Tufts administration. Students are recruited by for profit agents whose relationship with Tufts is both ambivalent and troublesome. They are recruited primarily, but not exclusively, from Wuhan Foreign Languages High School, a school, I've been told, which admits students mostly based on social connections (there is a test for admission although it is not an open test. You must be selected to take this test, and the selections are made by teachers based on connections, bribery, and, yes, academic ability) , thus tainting the program from the beginning. The manager of the Tufts program has no real credentials or background in either education or Chinese culture, and thus finds it difficult to understand the background of the students in his program, Nor is this program his only area of responsibility. Courses are separate from the other  Tufts courses and the bulk of the instructors in the program are not regular Tufts instructors nor do they have access to all the facilities at Tufts. No one in the Tufts program has a good command of the Chinese language or culture. (When I was involved one instructor had lived in China for a semester but did not like it. Some staff had visited, sometimes when administering the program. Two instructors had lived in Taiwan for a year.)

By contrast, the Cornell program is part of the regular university programs and not separate at all. The Chinese students are recruited from throughout China and selected by the Cornell staff themselves. The program management is the standard Cornell management. For the record, although this management is not necessarily versed in Chinese culture, they are experienced in educating students from around the world and have access to countless resources when referrals are necessary. (Cornell has been dealing with Chinese students since long before the May 5 movement of 1919. The Chinese vernacular language reform movement largely originated at Cornell.) The program description is available in Chinese in a manner that is controlled by the university itself.

It appears that the Cornell program has corrected many of the mistakes of the Tufts program.        

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dead Stuff: 18 Frozen Human Heads seized at Ohare Airport by Customs

Every once in a while, you develop a body of knowledge without ever really planning to do so. Suddenly people ask you questions and you find you know the answers. This has happened to me at least twice. Once back in my starving writer odd jobs days when I found work in the fitness industry staffing a gym, secondly when I got a call from an obscure television show called "Manswers" asking me what I knew about the sale of dead human bodies. The gym knowledge came about through reading gym magazines, something I did more to keep my interest in exercise up and myself going to the gym than to actually try and learn knowledge. The information on the sale of human bodies came from several obscure places, including writing a master's thesis that dealt with the history paleontology in China, spending time in the paleontology and art rooms in high school and graduate school and asking the question "Where did that skeleton come from anyway?" and occasionally from just reading on current events and pursuing interests relating to emergency medical services and so on.

Not only did I appear on Manswers with this interest but I also wrote on it for Paladin Press in their book, "Even More Dangerously Fun Stuff for Boys who Never Really Grew Up."

This story comes from EMS News, a free and very informative on-line newsletter aimed at emergency medical service personnel.

Seized Heads Headed for Cremation

The 18 frozen heads -- used in medical research -- were seized by customs officials at O'Hare International Airport.

CHICAGO (AP) - It sounded ghoulish enough: a shipment of 18 frozen human heads discovered and seized by customs officials during routine X-ray screening of cargo arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Turns out the heads were used for medical research in Italy and were being returned for cremation in Illinois. The holdup was due to a paperwork problem.

It just so happens such shipments are commonplace, and heads - quite a few of them - crisscross the globe via airplane and delivery truck.

"Just last week, we transported eight heads, unembalmed, to Rush University Medical Center for an ophthalmology program," said Paul Dudek, director of the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which supplies cadavers and body parts to medical schools in the state for training students.

His association sends about 450 whole cadavers to medical schools each year and also ships individual body parts, including about a dozen shipments of heads annually.

The heads are used for training in fields such as dentistry, ophthalmology and neurology, where they are used for Alzheimer's research. They are also used to train plastic surgeons and by students learning to perform facial reconstructions on accident and trauma victims, Dudek said.

Most cadavers are obtained through voluntary donation by people who designate a willingness to have their bodies benefit science upon their death, Dudek said.

The shipment to O'Hare was properly preserved, wrapped and labeled "human specimens," said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, which took hold of the shipment on Monday for storage in its morgue cooler while authorities continued to investigate the paperwork.

Copyright 2013 Courier, The (Findlay, OH)Distributed by Newsbank, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Designing College Preparation Programs for Chinese students

Chinese students are coming to study in the USA in increasing numbers.  They are also coming at younger ages with families and for-profit placement agents in China showing an increasing interest in prep schools and college preparatory programs. Therefore an increasing number of institutions, both college and secondary, are exploring the possibility of creating programs aimed at taking students from China and preparing them for higher education in the USA.

What follows is a rough proposal on how to create such a program and make it effective.
It is based on the author’s life experiences, readings,  educational experiences in the USA, Taiwan and China, including time spent working in the Tufts University University Preparatory Program. It freely borrows from the strengths of that program while correcting its flaws.

Many essentials, such as housing and exact academic curriculum of the students, have been left undiscussed. Although clearly important, this document is intended to  just provide some rough guidelines and a framework for designing an effective program to take young Chinese students and prepare them for further study in the USA.

Although the program is intended for Chinese students, whenever possible, the Chinese students should be integrated with non-Chinese peers. This is to naturally reduce use of their first language in the classroom and while working on projects. Although these peers could also be Asian, especially as there is a great interest in this sort of program among students from not just China, but also South Korea and Vietnam as well as elsewhere, there is no need for them to be Asian. In some cases, they can even be American students from the same institution although the strengths and weaknesses of this would have to be carefully considered.  

Chinese students are often placed in programs by for-profit agents. Whenever possible the use and role of these agents should be reduced or eliminated. When present, their role should be clearly defined and an eye kept on how they represent the program and interact with the students. At Tufts many problems, including ethical, logistical and problems relating to health and maintenance of the students, can be directly linked to the strong yet often undefined role of Chinese agents in the program.

The students should have a mixture of classes where they are integrated and not integrated into their host academic community. These classes should have very different feels and styles to them. Some classes will be segregated and specifically designed to teach the students how to adjust to social and academic life in the USA. In these classes, the students should receive an underlying message from the teachers of “You are special. We will take care of you. If you have a problem we will spend a lot of time to fix it and make sure you are okay.”

By contrast they should have other classes where they are integrated with other students from the host academic community. These classes could be selected based on the student’s academic interests. In these classes the students should receive an underlying message of “You are not special. Do your work and meet minimum academic expectations or you will be failed in this class.” This is a harsh message but one Chinese students need to receive as the academic demands of American colleges and universities are generally much more harsh and strict than of those in China. (In China, admission to university study is difficult, but once in the academic demands are actually often much, more lax than in the USA.)

It is not necessary that the instructors of these non-segregated classes be aware that the students are in a a special program. The purpose of having dual styles of classes is so that the students in the program both feel safe and always know where they can go for help, while simultaneously learning that college life in the USA is not easy, not all instructors are comforting and that their actions or lack of actions in school will have real academic consequences.

Instructors and teachers in the segregated classes do not have to be experts in Chinese culture, although they should have some orientation and training in Chinese culture and the general sorts of strengths, weaknesses and special needs that Chinese students tend to have prior to being placed in the classroom. Such orientation sessions should be “closed door” sessions designed for maximum effectiveness rather than political correctness.  There should be periodic “review” and “discussion” sessions where students can ask questions about Chinese culture and student behavior with people more experienced than themselves as well as to discuss them among themselves. Again, these should be closed door sessions and teachers should be encouraged to ask questions of the sort, “Is this student strange or am I seeing something cultural that I do not understand?”  

Since the program is for high school age students, it should include realistic, well-thought out, legally sound yet mild punishments for normal teenage misbehavior. (i.e. throwing paper in class, forgetting homework or necessary materials, minor cheating, rude language, and so on.) If the word "punishments" makes you uncomfortable please feel free to replace it with "consequences." The important thing is that the students learn that what is said is meant and realize that if they don't meet certain expectations, for instance coming to class on time,  then there will be consequences or punishments. I will leave the exact design of such punishments to the administrators of the program but they need be nothing fancy or different than what is normally given to American high school students who misbehave. (Detentions and time in quiet study hall were the norm when I was in high school.)  These punishments should be able to be easily and quickly administered as necessary. (The Tufts program lacks these and instead punishment and discipline are complex, delayed and often overly harsh and not suited for normal teenage offenses.)

Students should have forced exposure to American food and culture and be expected to eat a variety of healthy, American foods that are new to them (i.e. not just pizza and hamburgers) at least once or twice a week and to do so in an environment where they learn the names of the foods they are eating and exposed to as well as the socially acceptable ways to consume them.

Students should also be required to participate in at least one out of class, integrated activity each semester and required to write a paper on what they gained or learned from this experience as well as any difficulties they had. Administrators should expect some resistance to this from Chinese parents who often feel that the time spent on outside activities could better be spent on studying and rote memorization of items such as SAT vocabulary. However, by building up this sort of activity not only are students developing important social and English language skills, they are also building up a better college application. Activities could include sports, clubs and volunteer activities. (Students should not just be pushed towards the Asian-American club, a problem at Tufts that showed both a misunderstanding of students’ needs but also of Asian-American identity.)

There should be someone in the program who speaks Chinese and understands Chinese culture. They should have input into designing activities and events for the students. They should also have input into judging how much “hand-holding” and guidance the students need before or during their attendance or participation in events at the host academic institution. One of their roles will be to provide students with orientations on how to act at events, such as a major school sports event, for example, before they attend. This person should also be able to serve as an emergency translator for visiting  parents. If this person is Chinese, they should be kept away from the grading processes to avoid any appearance of favoritism or corruption.

Eating Chinese food as a group is an important part of Chinese bonding and culture. All students and employees of the program should be encouraged to attend a Chinese style dinner twice a month, once at lunch and once in the evening. This food may be either purchased,  cooked b students and teachers or come from any source people wish. If as, the year goes on, students wish to experiment with non-Chinese food they may do so, but this should not be seen as a time to force students to eat new foods. (That times is elsewhere.) This is intended as a time to make students feel happy and health and to encourage bonding among program participants at all levels.      

This document should not be considered complete. It is a work in progress and intended instead as a flexible set of guidelines that should be used when creating programs intended to orient young Chinese students for study in the USA. All points are open to discussion. If there are questions please do not hesitate to contact the author using the above contact information.

The Physics of UFOs --Skeptic Magazine

Dar Skeptic Society people,

Greetings! Back in the 1990s, I was very involved in skepticism as an officer in a local group, an author of a couple books, and a minor contributor to your publication and others. Then, for many reasons, burn-out set in and I left to do other things.
Recently I went down to  a bookstore and, after ten years away, decided to pick up a copy of Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer and Fortean Times to see how I’d respond and what was the state of skepticism these days.  Although overall Skeptic looked quite good and interesting, my attention somehow focused on the article, “The Physics of UFOs,” by Michael K. Gainer, on page 46.
After reading the article I had some concerns as to the accuracy of its conclusions, which I found over-reaching, and to the role and dangers that such over-reaching conclusions have in the field of skepticism.
First, let me summarize the article. The author, a physicist, is seeking to determine if it is possible to construct an interstellar spacecraft that fits the description of reported UFOs.
Although I have several problems with some of the minor assumptions he makes in the article, for the moment let’s focus on his key arguments.
He assumes such a craft should be capable of making a 10 light year round trip to a new destination and back to its home system in approximately 20 (Earth) years time each way. Although he never explicitly states it, he also assumes that the laws of physics as currently understood will not be violated. (i.e. no “hyper-warp-jump-faster-than-light-drives”). Fair enough. He states that the spacecraft should be accelerated at a rate of 10 meters per second squared and that, at this rate of acceleration, it will require 174 (Earth) days to achieve a speed of half the speed of light. This would take a great deal of power, therefore he states  that “the only source that can supply energy of this magnitude is thermonuclear nuclear fusion.”
He then explains that the energy from the thermonuclear fusion would have to be directed rearward as “a constrained unidirectional particle beam.”
He then concludes that “There is no possible material construction that can constrain and direct the thermal and blast energy of the nuclear fusion rate required for interstellar travel. Consequently, I conclude that alien spacecraft cannot exist.”
In otherwards, if I understand correctly, what he is saying is that an interstellar spacecraft must use thermonuclear power as its power source and because there is no possible material that could contain and direct thermonuclear power into a propulsion beam, spaceflight is impossible.  (Actually this key idea could and probably really should have been the focus of the article itself. It begs a fuller explanation. )
To a non-physicist such as myself, the obvious questions are “Why is such a material impossible?” and “Why is thermonuclear power the only feasible power source?”  I cannot imagine that many people will be swayed by the article as written. In fact, arguably, it comes across almost as a “claim to authority” i.e. perhaps much of the premise of the article is “Listen to me. I’m a physicist.”
Obviously, the problem with this style of argument to settle the issue is that not all physicists agree with the premises.
To check this, I consulted with Carl Frederick, a retired physics professor and hard science fiction writer who regularly contributes to “Analog Science Fiction /Science Fact.” (A publication that, until recently, was edited by Stanley Schmidt,  a third PhD physicist. For the record, no one claims that all stories in Analog are scientifically sound in all ways, (i.e. time travel stories), but part of the “game” of being an Analog contributor is to know exactly when, how and why one is breaking scientific laws and to only do it with a good reason. I.e. you have an idea for illustrating a point about human evolution and the best way to do it is to do so in a time travel story.)
For the record, Carl Frederick did not read the article in its entirety but he did ask me to read portions to him and clarify premises and details.
A few of his criticisms and comments were as follows. First, to assume that something is impossible because current technology, as opposed to the known laws of physics,  doesn’t allow it is “silly.” Other points were that there is a great deal of research being done into controlled fusion and that might considerably change the way in which a thermonuclear spacecraft engine might work. Furthermore, as there are now indications that quantum physics might allow a spacecraft to draw energy from the vacuum as it travels, the thermonuclear engines might not be the only source of fuel.  Additionally, Frederick said that the author assumed that nuclear fusion is the best form of energy. He disagreed saying that particle / anti-particle annihilation was a better alternative.  
Finally, he said, there’s no reason one couldn’t go slower and use less fuel, if you, for instance, freeze the crew.
Finally, for the record, although we’ve never discussed it, I am quite certain that Carl Frederick does not believe that anything in UFOlogy indicates alien visitation. If he thought ufologists had such real evidence, I’m quite certain he’d take more of an interest in their activities, and, to the best of my knowledge, these claims have never interested him and most certainly are not something he currently follows.    
As for me, the non-physicist, although I really could not address the main points of the article, I had many quibbles about the minor assumptions in the article. i.e. he assumes that a spacecraft would require energy in equal amounts to accelerate to its destination, decelerate when  arriving, accelerate on its way home, and decelerate as it approaches home. Why? Couldn’t it use solar sails catching photons and the gravitational forces of planets and other astronomical objects to help slow itself? And, why do so many people assume that a spacecraft would need to make a return trip? Seriously, if one were, for instance, to survey Skeptics readers, just to take a sample population, and ask if they’d be willing to take a one way trip to another star system never to return home again, I suspect you’d get more than enough volunteers to man a small six-person spacecraft of the type described. (Of course, that “crew of six” was a very arbitrary assumption that seemed to come out of nowhere.)

There are other points I question, many of which hint that Gainer is assuming we only can use modern technology. (i.e. he states his UFO would be built in orbit by shuttles.) At least one other point ignores the modern UFO mythology entirely. ( i.e. Gainer assumes his ship needs a shuttle to land and return to the ship. Why?  Particularly since UFOs are reported to land and then float away gently into the sky.)                  
Personally, I sort of like the idea of taking the small UFO Gainer describes and putting it inside a giant “mother ship” that contains a crew of thousands or more and is a permanent home to generations of beings all living a more or less urban life style as they float between systems. (Whatever happened to those large “cigar-shaped” UFOs of the 1950s and ‘60s anway?) It’s just one of dozens or more of alternatives to the scenario he, first, envisions, and then, secondly, uses to claim interstellar spacecraft  are impossible. Perhaps such a race could even have “seeded” space using robotic craft to cache fuel here and there. (Note: I’m speculating. I do not believe anything in UFOlogy seriously indicates alien visitation.)    
Returning, however, to the here and now, I’m afraid that Gainer’s article is the sort that often led to my burn out from skepticism. It contains questionable assumptions at several points and then over-reaches from the logical conclusions to make the point the author wishes. i.e. “When UFOs are reported they should be evaluated with the attitude that alien spacecraft cannot exist.” This may be the author’s belief, but, based on what I saw, it is a faith-based belief, not grounded in proven fact. And, as skeptics, isn’t it simply enough to say “When UFOs are reported they should be evaluated with the attitude that none have ever been proven to be alien spacecraft”?  We are supposed to be the people who read, question and think. –not the one’s who blindly repeat assertions that fit our pre-conceived notions.
It most certainly will not convert the uncoverted or even sway most neutral parties. In fact, it’s the sort of article that UFOlogist love to pass around to show how “closed minded” their critics are.
I think we, as skeptics, need to be more careful of such statements and false conclusions. They only hurt us in the end.
In the meantime, I look forward to reading the rest of the magazine. All the best,