Emeritus Faculty Association news December 2009 - February 2010

Next Meeting:
The next meeting will be Friday, February 5th, at 10.30 am., in the Javits room, library 2nd floor.
Pramila Venkateswaran will explore how memory and history are created, preserved, or transformed, despite the threat of erasure. The presentation entitled "Creating Memory, Creating History" will be interweaving poetry and photographs, familial, personal, and national histories.
Bio: Pramila Venkateswaran is the author of Thirtha (Yuganta Press, 2002), Behind Dark Waters (Plain View Press, 2008), and Draw Me Inmost (Stockport Flats, 2009). A finalist for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, she has published in Paterson Literary Review, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, Kavya Bharati, Long Island Quarterly, Calyx: Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Nassau Review, and other print and electronic journals. Recent anthologies, A Chorus for Peace, en(compass), Long Island Sounds, and Letters to the World, include her voice among poets from around the world. She has participated in multimedia presentations of her poems and has performed her poems nationally, most recently in the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival. Her essays on gender and culture appear in The Women's Studies Quarterly, Language Crossings, and anthologies of literary criticism. She has a doctorate from George Washington University and teaches English and Women's Studies at Nassau Community College, New York.

Last Meeting
Co-chair Al Carlson related how he had travelled with UUP rep. Judy Wishnia to Albany for the SUNY inaugural conference on Re-Imagining SUNY Retirement. There, Suffolk Community College Emeritus Math Professor Peter Herron (rc39pete@optonline.net) gave a list of 18 ideas for establishing and maintaining a local retiree organization, of which, to my count, we are already doing 14.
Co-chair Howard Scarrow then introduced his Political Science associate Distinguished Emeritus Professor Milton Lodge to present the results of three experiments that he and a colleague have been conducting with NSF support during a very active retirement. These were designed to test the so-called "hot cognition" hypothesis which holds that a social-political concept that a person has evaluated in the past is "affectively charged" in the sub-conscious, so that when that concept is encountered later, this affective charge is automatically activated within milliseconds, much faster than a person's conscious appraisal of the object, thereby biasing the person's thoughts and judgments.
The method for the experiments was as follows: Subjects sat before a computer screen. First, a word in bold letters was flashed on the screen subliminally to the subject. Initially this was displayed for 200 microseconds, a brief enough time that the subject could be only dimly aware of it. In later experiments the display time of the prime was refined to 39 milliseconds, preceded and followed by a neutralizing mark time of 13 milliseconds. The monitor was then switched to display an unrelated target word of an unambiguous pleasant or unpleasant connotation and the subjects then asked to respond as rapidly as possible whether the connotation of the target was indeed positive or negative. To illustrate, Milton showed the results of an example experiment where the prime was "cockroach", followed by a randomized selection (for different subjects) of congruent targets (e.g: "disgusting"), or incongruent targets (e.g: "delightful"). In this experiment the response time of subjects shown a congruent target averaged 500 milliseconds, while subjects shown an incongruent target averaged 800 milliseconds, clearly demonstrating the affective charge of the prime.
However, the NSF grant is for political science so the basic experiment was modified as follows: ( . . somehow in here we sashay from cockroaches to Democrats and Republicans . . )
In three experiments the primes were (1) persons (e.g: George Bush, Colin Powell), (2) groups (e.g: Democrats, Republicans), and (3) issues (e.g: gun control, abortion, taxation). The matching targets had no obvious relationship such as the positive (e.g: beautiful, rainbow, smiley face), or the negative (e.g: ugly, toothache, frowney face). In each experiment subjects shown (in their minds) congruent primes responded faster to the targets than subjects shown incongruent primes, demonstrating that unconscious thought processes are continuously at work coloring judgments concerning persons, groups, and issues. Thus the hot cognition hypothesis is real.
Since subjects had filled out questionnaires it was possible to identify subjects who were "sophisticated," in the sense that their knowledge of political affairs was above the group average, and to compare their response times to the those for the unsophisticated. The result was that when judging political issues these sophisticates were found to be more prone to the effects of automatic affect, making more rapid "snap" responses; i.e: more information yields more biased responses.
Milton concluded by reporting the results of other studies, using the same method, that demonstrated the impact of self-identities (e.g: man/woman, black/white, we/they) on how people think.
On the face of it the results would seem to be somewhat depressing for jurisprudence, the advertising of shoddy goods, and the electoral process.

Rating public universities.
On January 5 Kiplinger came out with their latest survey, see: http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/colleges/pubcollege.php?sortby=INRANK&orderby=flip&states[]=ALL&myschool[]=none&outputby=table). Kiplinger insists that the primary criterion in their rating is quality rather than cost. However, University Relations has not been so fast out of the gate on this one, since Binghamton comes in #5 on the list while Stony Brook is ranked 39, behind most of the top publics. In terms of out-of-state value, Binghamton is #1 vs SBU #18. While SBU is more economical and has a better student-to-faculty ratio, its main problem seems to be a significantly lower graduation rate (Binghampton vs SBU: 70% vs 40% in 4 years, 80% Vs 60% in 6 years), as well as lower freshmen SAT scores (e.g., 24% SAT 700-800 vs 13%). Thus SBU may be admitting relatively more under qualified students that do not graduate.

According to the MIT technology review, scientific opinion is coming around to the view that efforts to reign in CO2 emissions will be insufficient and the point will be reached when risky emergency measures will become inevitable, see: http://www.technologyreview.com/geoengineering ($2 for the complete article). While we as emeritus faculty will not see the full scourge of this, nonetheless as the beneficiaries over our careers of an expanding carbon intensive economy we owe some effort to our descendants, even the descendants of the deniers, to do what we can. In our own household, although we long ago obtained a hybrid car, replaced almost all of our windows, installed a high efficiency furnace, retired our dryer and paid extra through LIPA for all our electricity (supposedly) to come from wind, this is nowhere near enough. We had to discontinue our former practice of offsetting our travel and heating emissions through existing carbon trading organizations (see March 2007 newsletter) because they are insufficiently regulated. So in the absence of a carbon tax we are instead offsetting our calculated carbon cost with corresponding increases in our regular donations to green non-profits. More recently we obtained a home energy audit from ligreen, a non-profit located in the SBU High Technology Business Incubator. Their advice and tests are free, although they will appreciate donations and an effort to act upon at least some of the recommendations, see: http://www.LIgreen.com

We highly recommend the recently updated book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder which traces how Harvard doctor Paul Farmer founded Partners in Health and brought health care to remote villages in impoverished Haiti. Together with their partners Zamni Lasante they have two hospitals within 2 hours of the capital with 120 doctors and 500 nurses on the ground. For this crisis they have taken over a church and school for triage and recovery and desperately need funds for more medical supplies. For those who would like to help with donations there is probably no better organization. See: http://www.PIH.org