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Colophon: The Politics of Torture

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

MassacreSpread
In 1624, the English East India Company authorized the publication of a sensational book, A true relation of the unjust, cruell, and barbarous proceedings against the English at Amboyna in the East Indies: by the Neatherlandish governour and councel there. The book was part of a pamphlet war between the English and the Dutch and was reprinted throughout the century.

The frontispiece depicts the torture and execution of English traders in one of the spice islands of what is today eastern Indonesia. Both the English and Dutch were new to the lucrative trade in cloves, mace, and nutmeg and were vying for their control. A recent treaty had supposedly settled matters, allowing the English to trade alongside the Dutch, but mistrust was in the air.

In early 1623, the Dutch governor of Amboina accused English traders, Japanese mercenaries, and a Portuguese slave overseer of plotting a coup. The Dutch used torture to extract confessions. They bound each man to a doorframe and tied a cloth around each face so that little water could escape. “That done, they poured the Water softly upon his Head until the Cloath was full up to the Mouth and Nostrils . . .  so that he could not draw breath, but he must withal suck in the water:  Which being still continued to be poured in softly, forced all his inward parts, to come out of his Nose, Ears, and Eyes, and . . . brought him to a swoun or fainting.”

When waterboarding was insufficient, they lit candles under armpits and feet. The author points out that the torture resulted in false confessions and unjust executions. When the book was printed, it caused outrage in England and fueled anti-Dutch sentiment.

Download: Why I Love Cycling

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

IZI0030535The saying goes that there are two kinds of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who will crash. In 2013, I ended a 25-year streak of staying upright and crashed three times, breaking more bones in my body than I had in 20-plus years of playing rugby. When asked by friends and family if I would get back in the saddle, my immediate response was “of course.” Their looks of bewilderment have made me wonder what it is that I love about cycling. It could be the fitness aspect or the fact it is the only way I have ever successfully lost weight. It could be the daily reminder of how fortunate I feel to live in Vermont as I ride

Addison County’s quiet country roads. Perhaps it is the burning in my legs and lungs as I crest a gap and live up to the cycling mantra of “if you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it right.” It might be the satisfaction of keeping up with “those guys,” or simply the enjoyment of meeting close friends at sunrise on brisk mornings for a pre-work ride. Or maybe it is the Zen of pedaling and propelling yourself down the road through your own means, totally disconnected from our wired society.

No, I think the essence of what makes cycling special is that every ride takes you back to a moment in your childhood when you first discovered cycling and the freedom and independence that came along with it. All my children have discovered it at one moment or another and promptly took advantage of exploring their surroundings, escaping to friends’ houses or disappearing into the woods. I have been off my bike for a week because my doctor, and riding buddy, just removed the pins from my elbow from one of last year’s accidents. Even though I know some of my kids and friends will fall at some point, I can’t wait to be back in the saddle next week, feel the fresh Vermont air on my face, and revel in that sense of freedom that we all remember from childhood.

Up Front: Faculty Votes Against K12

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At a meeting on May 13,the faculty of Middlebury College voted 95-16 in favor of a nonbinding motion calling on Middlebury to end its relationship with K12, Inc, Middlebury’s partner in the for-profit-online-education company Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL). Paula Schwartz, a professor of French, introduced the motion, which stated in part that “the business practices of K12 Inc. are at odds with the integrity, reputation, and educational mission of the College.”

Middlebury and K12 formed MIL in 2010 as a joint venture, with K12 taking a 60 percent equity holding. The company has grown significantly over the last four years. In 2013 it moved its headquarters from Provo, Utah, to Middlebury, and currently employs 75 people. Today, nearly 175,000 students in 1,200 school districts across the United States use its online language programs. Writing in The Campus on the eve of the faculty vote, President Ron Liebowitz said Middlebury entered into the venture for three reasons: to retain leadership in language teaching, including in online education; to expand access to language education for pre-college students; and to develop new revenue sources to support the institution.

The partnership with K12 has been somewhat controversial from the beginning. Some faculty raised objections to the fact that noted conservative William Bennett was one of the founders of K12. (He parted ways with the company years before MIL was created.) In recent years K12 has been the subject of several shareholder lawsuits, none of which has resulted in a finding against the company, though at least one was settled.

Following the vote, Liebowitz said it was important to understand the distinction between K12, which is a publicly held company based in Virginia, and MIL, which is an independent company, partly owned by Middlebury. He pointed out that even as a minority owner, Middlebury has considerable influence over MIL’s product and marketing strategies. He also said that he understood the faculty’s concerns and that he would continue to engage the Middlebury Board of Trustees on the issue.

The Challenger

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Can Shenna Bellows ’97 stun the political establishment by upsetting an entrenched incumbent and winning a U.S. Senate seat in Maine?

Shenna Bellows ’97 is cold. This is not the sort of brief chill that passes now and again: It’s the deep, bone-shaking kind that both racks her slight frame and causes others nearby to shiver in sympathy. I am surprised for two reasons: First, Shenna knows Maine weather well. She grew up here, in a house that didn’t get electricity or running water until she was in fifth grade. When she and her siblings got home from school, their chore was to relight the woodstove. As often as not, though, they would huddle under the bedclothes, doing their homework until their parents got home. It is also surprising because the feeling she usually exudes is not contagious cold but rather infectious, friendly warmth.

Right now, though, Shenna is freezing. We have just gotten in the car after an election-campaign visit to Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, right on the Maine coast. She didn’t check the weather this morning and didn’t bring a coat on this blustery, sprinkling spring day.

As the heat comes on in the car, she settles into the backseat; her staffer-driver and I ride up front to give her space to work. She stops shivering, takes off her shoes, tucks her feet under her, and resumes her most frequent activity: typing on her iPhone.

Sending texts and emails whooshing into the ether is key to Shenna winning what she admits is “an uphill battle” against United States Senator Susan
Collins, a three-term Republican incumbent with a big bankroll, who is widely expected to win handily. Even more crucial will be Shenna’s idea of what a candidate and a campaign can be.

Her vision has paid off before. While heading the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, she co-led the 2012 statewide same-sex marriage referendum that made Maine the first state to approve marriage equality at the ballot box. (Maryland did the same that day.)

The ACLU of Maine lobbied for and won major legislative victories too: passing a first-in-the-nation law requiring police to get a warrant before tracking suspects with cell-phone data, defending transgender Mainers’ rights, limiting police use of drones, and protecting women’s reproductive health rights.
She is still campaigning—and gaining national media attention and donations—for civil-rights protections, economic opportunity and justice, constitutional freedoms, and environmental protection. She is bringing together what she calls “an unusual coalition” of people who, like her, hold positions that transcend stereotypical political divides.

On the left of most Democrats, she backs universal single-payer health care, legalizing marijuana, “bold, visionary action” on climate change, and student-loan debt reform as a means to boost the economic prospects of young college graduates, who face the toughest job market in decades.

In the middle, she supports Internet neutrality and equal pay for women.

And well to the right—at times on turf occupied only by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party—she insists on ending the National Security Agency’s domestic-spying program and repealing the USA PATRIOT Act.

We have been friends for years; when she asked me what I thought would be the hardest thing about her running, I told her she would have to ask people for money not to support a cause, but to back her.

***

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama from 1999 to 2001, Shenna helped give microloans to artisans in a remote community. And, more recently, as executive director of the ACLU of Maine for more than eight years, she was responsible for raising its annual budget of around $750,000, as well as for contributions to the various campaigns the group joined.

But even now, Shenna is not running for herself. She says that she wants her candidacy to be viewed as a revolutionary rethinking of how campaigning—and politics—can and should work. And her plan for victory is very much like her previous public-service efforts, most notably that 2012 same-sex marriage campaign.

Then, supporters had hundreds of thousands of individual conversations with their friends, neighbors, and communities, making personal connections to explain the importance of marriage equality. The strategy gave backers strong talking points they could repeat in their own words, multiplying the effectiveness of the campaign’s direct appeals to the broader public.

Shenna’s fundamental idea, one adopted by few on the left (though many on the far right), is that elections can be won by the power of human connection and fidelity to one’s ideals. (And integrity. Having spent years working for marriage equality, she refused to get married until all Maine couples could; her September 2013 emailed wedding announcement ended with a request: “And please… no gifts. For real,” with a link to the Federal Election Commission’s campaign-finance rules.)

And she believes that beyond being funded by small, individual donations for regular-person candidates (which Tea Party candidates espoused), campaigns should be staffed by actual humans, who have real lives and families amidst the fray.

Hearing Shenna talk about both unseating Maine’s senior senator and upending a broken electoral system is strange not because it’s so divergent from cynical national political punditry, nor because critics might call it naïve, but because it’s oddly empowering. It sounds rational, reasonable, possible. It’s an idea whose time, like Shenna’s, may at long last have come.

Rebirth

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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Once considered an ancient practice, midwifery is experiencing a resurgence across the United States.

When Fernanda’s car rumbled up to the Holy Family Birth Center in Weslaco, Texas, it was past midnight, and she was already dilated to six centimeters. Though she’d given birth twice before, the look on her face, said her midwife, Hannah Epstein ’05, was one of deep terror. Fernanda had crossed the border from Mexico just a few weeks ago, leaving her husband and two children behind as she took the perilous trek, led by coyote, through the desert and across the infamous, swift-flowing Rio Grande (or, to those south of the border, Rio Bravo: the Angry River). Now in Texas, Fernanda was, as far as Epstein could tell, renting a room from total strangers. All this so she could have her baby in the United States: not just for the papers, explained Epstein, but also for the low-cost, high-quality care promised by the Holy Family Birth Center. As several of Epstein’s patients had told her, because of the spike in border violence on the Mexican side, fewer and fewer doctors are willing to leave their homes in the middle of the night. Now, without English skills or immigration documents or anyone she knew or loved, Fernanda was going to give birth completely alone.

Except for her midwife.

Between contractions, Epstein carefully walked the laboring Fernanda to a birthing room, one of four freestanding structures spread about the humble Holy Family campus—a small, windswept ranch cradled between a main Rio Grande Valley thoroughfare and tractor-trod cornfields. Once in the birthing room, with its low lighting, small bed and tub, Fernanda felt her knees completely lock. She couldn’t move. Despite minutes of gentle coaxing from Epstein, Fernanda stood in the middle of the birthing room, stone-faced and perfectly still. She wouldn’t budge. Using a trick she’d learned in nursing school, Epstein placed Fernanda’s arms upon Epstein’s shoulders and began swaying just slightly, almost as though they were dancing. “It can help to ease the pain,” she explained.

“At that point, the look in her eyes was, ‘I have nothing. I can’t do this,’” she recalls. But all of Epstein’s training as a midwife told her that Fernanda could birth a healthy baby, and that somewhere inside, Fernanda knew this too. Epstein’s job was to help bring this knowledge to the surface.

For the next two hours, Fernanda crisscrossed the small, candlelit room, wrenching with each contraction, terrified of what was coming and too bashful to take her clothes off. Epstein encouraged her to get in the tub—water births are becoming more and more common in many midwifery practices, and they are a Holy Family mainstay.  “Once you see a woman give birth in a tub,” said Epstein, “you’re sold. The difference it makes in terms of being able to cope with the pain is miraculous.”

But Fernanda wasn’t interested. She labored on for two hours in agony, when Epstein suggested again that they might try the tub. Fernanda agreed—she’d try anything at this point. Epstein helped her into the warm water, and the effect was instantaneous: She immediately became quiet and peaceful. Each time a contraction came, she let loose a low moan and furrowed her brow, eyes closed. “You go into your own cocoon in the tub,” said Epstein. “It’s this private space; outside the tub is the chaos of the world, but when you get in the tub, everything goes inward and focuses.” Within 30 minutes, Fernanda got the urge to push. Three minutes later and with Epstein’s help, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

***

midwifery2A hundred and fifty years ago, midwives attended the vast majority of births in the United States. But as the medical field expanded and professionalized in the late-19th century, the process of giving birth, once seen as a normal physiological process presided over by women midwives, was turned over to the medical institution (presided over, at the time, by men), and birth became regarded as an experience requiring medical intervention. But today, the ancient practice of midwifery is making a resounding national comeback.

In 2012, nurse midwives were responsible for nearly 12 percent of U.S. vaginal births (7.9 percent of all births—midwives do not perform caesareans.) This is an increase of more than 2 percent since 2000; meaning that, though progress is slow, midwives—both certified nurse midwives, like Epstein, and non-nurse midwives, who work outside of hospital settings—are becoming more common.

And in certain circles, midwifery is even becoming trendy. Just as scheduling one’s birth via cesarean, like calendaring a haircut or oil change, has risen in popularity, so has searching out a midwife in order to have a holistic, natural childbirth. A 2012 New York Times article, “The Midwife as a Status Symbol,” touts famous mothers like models Christy Turlington and Gisele Bündchen who, even though they could likely “afford to purchase an entire hospital wing,” instead hire upscale midwives. “And like any status symbol, a pecking order has emerged,” the piece reads. “Just as getting your toddler into the right preschool requires social maneuvering, getting into a boutique midwifery clinic has become competitive.”

“We just thought it was so funny,” Lucy Chapin ’06, a midwife who studied at Yale and now works at a private practice in Ithaca, New York, told me, “how this ancient profession is being looked at as this cool new trend.”

And, in fact, midwifery in America is currently thriving at opposite poles: among the health-conscious wealthy—those who can afford to pay for midwives, which often aren’t covered by private insurance companies—and within poor communities, rural and urban. After graduating from Middlebury, Chapin worked with Frontier Nursing Project in Kentucky, which has provided midwifery care to impoverished communities in Appalachia for decades. At Holy Family, almost 100 percent of Epstein’s clients received Medicaid benefits.

While private insurance rarely covers midwifery outside the hospital setting, Medicaid is now required to reimburse for midwifery care in every state—be it in hospitals or birth centers. So to have a baby outside a hospital setting in most states (Vermont being an exception), a woman must either be wealthy enough to pay the hefty out-of-pocket fees or poor enough to receive government benefits. Moving midwifery past the 8 percent fringe will require both a cultural renorming of midwifery care and filling in the middle of these two demographic polarities. This is just what these Middlebury midwives—Middwives!—and their contemporaries are working toward.

Old Chapel: The Liberal Arts Plus

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The-Liberal-Arts-Plus-final-In his 2014 Baccalaureate address, President Liebowitz presented a vision for an education that embraces the timelessness of the liberal arts, while also allowing for its evolution. He titled the  address—and the concept—“The Liberal Arts Plus.”

How did you settle on this topic?
There were a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to address the general perception that a liberal arts education is somehow less valuable than before, stuck in the 20th—or for some, 19th—century, and I wanted to show how it is still so very valuable and has evolved at Middlebury. The liberal arts serve as the foundation of our baccalaureate undergraduate program—a traditional curriculum, offering courses in the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, and the natural sciences, including mathematics. That curriculum inculcates in our students a love of learning and provides them with invaluable lifetime skills they will use in whatever career they choose. The “plus” represents the exceptional opportunities that students have to build on this foundation in ways that complement our core values while recognizing the rapid changes and challenges of this century. Students are learning how to lead, how to plan, how to collaborate, and how to experiment—through student organizations, through internship opportunities, through curricular innovation, and by taking advantage of our Programs on Creativity and Innovation (PCI, now seven years old). They are becoming increasingly bold in pursuing their passions that may be independent of or connected to their academic pursuits. These changes have had a tremendous impact on a Middlebury education.

The second reason I had for choosing this topic was to talk to the graduates directly about the value of their education, to give them confidence and underscore how their Middlebury education has prepared them for the world they are entering better than perhaps they themselves (and their parents) imagined. It’s my hope that they will think about this in more than a passing way, and it will give them the confidence they need to succeed and to contribute in an increasingly competitive and complex world.

Can you explain the genesis of this term?
I need to credit my colleague, Middlebury economist David Colander, for coining the phrase and for developing some initial ideas of how it might be implemented, though I think my use of the term may be a bit broader than David’s. David holds some strong views about the direction  a liberal arts education has taken over the past few decades and has spoken passionately about the need for programs and departments at liberal arts colleges to resist becoming overly specialized; he advocates for departments to maintain their broader liberal arts focus and worries that the student population is ill served when departments design a curriculum that focuses predominantly on preparing students to become specialists in a field. The benefits of a liberal arts education, he argues, are diminished when this happens since the large majority of students will not become specialists in their major.

David has also advocated for “practitioners” of a given field to be able to team with Middlebury faculty to show students how the concepts they learn in the classroom are used in the “real world,” and he has called the joining of the disciplinary content within a liberal arts curriculum with practitioners a “liberal arts plus” education.

But for my purposes, I wanted “liberal arts plus” to be more expansive, to include more than what happens inside the classroom, be it with our dedicated faculty or with both our faculty and practitioners. I believe it is important—crucial—that one’s education extends beyond the classroom walls; what happens outside that realm is the difference between a liberal arts education today and yesterday, and it has to be if our graduates are to succeed in the 21st century.

And this has a reinforcing effect in the classroom.
Right. I think in previous generations, mine included, we were left on our own to experiment once we left college, to figure things out on the go. Today, waiting until after college to do some experimenting is often too late. We hope to develop a culture and an approach to a four-year education that would be inclusive of these opportunities. Interestingly, a number of faculty say they notice that when students have experimented outside the classroom, even without any kind of formal learning in an area, they bring a visible confidence and a new skill set to the classroom. Outside the classroom activities, then, have affected what goes on in the classroom, and it is often a valuable addition.

So what are the challenges to this approach?
Getting people to let go of the notion that helping students get jobs or succeed in specific ways following graduation is not part of our academic mission. I think we have to recognize that instilling in our students a passion and love of learning is not in conflict with preparing them for “their careers” and the competitive world they face upon leaving Middlebury; in fact, I’d argue that the two are in concert. Maybe if our students were all coming to Middlebury intending to pursue PhDs, it would be a little different. But the reality is the overwhelming majority of graduates will not be going down that path, and they need to be prepared a little bit differently today than 15, 20, or 30 years ago.

Faculty have not always agreed with this analysis.
Yes, though I think we’ve made headway. I’ve seen colleagues change their opinions on this issue, especially those who have children of their own entering college and wish for them to attain an excellent liberal arts education plus the skills to help them get a job soon after graduation and contribute to society.

What are some examples of this in action?
There are examples that have been around for some time and are part of the curriculum, such as scientific research with faculty. For decades, our undergraduates have taken what they learn in the classroom and applied this knowledge in laboratories and in the field, where they’ve worked side by side with our science faculty. But our students today have so many more opportunities beyond this kind of collaborative work.  In traditional lab and field work, students are typically engaging in a faculty members’ research—which is an extremely valuable experience—but they’re not developing or designing these experiments on their own. What we’ve seen recently with, for example, our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) pilot project is more student focused: 10 students, mentored by three faculty members, have chosen a STEM problem and then worked collaboratively to solve it. It was up to the students to choose the problem and then to figure out how to solve it. They benefit from the faculty mentors guidance, of course, but the mentors encourage the students to pursue the answers on their own and are, in some ways, learning right along with the students.

In the Baccalaureate address, I talked about this project, as well as other examples—our two Solar Decathlon experiences (the building of two solar-powered student houses, now on campus) and the Museum Assistants’ Program (MAP)— that are allowing our students to apply what they learn in the classroom, in the liberal arts, to so-called “real-world” situations.

These efforts exist within the curriculum in ways they might not have existed outside of it.
I think that’s right. But there are parts of the “plus” that do exist outside the curriculum. Look at the activities happening in the Old Stone Mill (OSM), which was set up not only to help unleash students’ creativity, but also to reduce our students’ inhibition to experiment and to try things they otherwise would not.

When we started the Programs on Creativity and Innovation (PCI) and set aside a space for students to work on projects outside of the curriculum, we did so because we were seeing recent student generations that were increasingly risk averse, reluctant to venture outside the familiar, and not wanting to “jeopardize their GPAs” by studying something new—defeating one of the hallmarks and benefits of a liberal arts education. So the beginning was all about encouragement; we wanted to provide students with opportunities to experiment without worrying about grades. Over time, we’ve seen students become more comfortable with exploration and experimentation. They seem to be more willing to take creative chances, and I believe that goes hand-in-hand with the success of programs like the Solar Decathlon and STEM.

This nonacademic programming supports and encourages the efforts that are being linked to the academic program. Now, the big challenge is showing how these efforts outside the classroom are complementary to our academic mission and are not  at odds with traditional classroom work. These activities help make a Middlebury liberal arts education that much better.

And this challenge involves the faculty.
There are faculty who are naturally attracted to this idea, so they are going to participate. We’ve seen it in STEM, we’ve seen it with MAP, and we’ve seen it with the Solar Decathlon, where faculty from a number of departments have advised students throughout their project. The bigger question is whether we can do this kind of learning across the curriculum, so that all areas of the College have equal access and opportunity. This can feel like an uphill battle, but I think, over time, there will be more opportunities across the curriculum.

But you think it’s a battle worth fighting.
Absolutely. I think the future of a liberal arts education is a combination of our foundational values and ideals—all of which I recounted in my address—and the evolution we are experiencing right now. The world is calling for more. The students are calling for more. It’s now time for us to listen a little more.

The Big Idea(s)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

ideas.cover.cmykMiddlebury DNA is everywhere. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. We frequently see the names of fellow graduates in the highest ranks of government; on the mastheads of top academic and literary journals; and in leadership roles in the worlds of business, art, engineering, medicine, agriculture, and more. Besides, where doesn’t Middlebury have a footprint—Antarctica?

Yet in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, noticing the achievements of other Middlebury alums, faculty, students, or the school itself is a sporadic occurrence, rarely accompanied by some time to pause and contemplate that contribution.

Now is your chance. This issue’s catalog of ideas, inventions, discoveries, and creations brought into the world by Middlebury and its people is a reminder of the breadth of original thinking that radiates out from our favorite corner of the Champlain Valley.

Fair warning: This collection is by no means comprehensive. To be honest, it feels criminally incomplete. Where’s broomball? Where’s the M83 X-ray flare-up? (Look it up!) Yet in reading through this smorgasborg, you will see that the editors were not aiming to deliver a complete accounting. Their goal—and I think they’ve pulled it off—is to showcase and celebrate the variety of Middlebury influences on modern life.

A few prominent themes do stand out, though. Commitments to education and international affairs are two, and there are impressive showings from the fields of design, business, literature, and entertainment.

There is also a pervasive sense of atypical thinking that should strike you as familiar. That’s because when we said yes to a Middlebury education, we were actually saying yes to a bunch of things (winter, small class sizes, healthy food, J-term, to name a few) and no to a bunch of others (hurried specialization, coasting through course work, urban amenities).

Whether we knew it or not, we were also saying no to conventional wisdom. One of my sharpest memories about Middlebury isn’t of a specific event, but of an ethos—of learning the well-established way of thinking about a given topic so that we could then proceed to interrogate—and possibly overturn—it.

Maybe we could even come up with something better.

That isn’t to say Middlebury breeds citizens who automatically reject whatever idea they encounter. That would be just as toxic as unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom. But to the extent that generalizing about the minds of Midd grads is even feasible, I submit the not-so-outlandish theory that a core value shared by many of us is that the status quo generally constitutes the least compelling thing going. And it may be flat-out wrong.

This manner of thinking about the world, of instinctively striving for a fresh take, is on full display in this remarkable collection. The editors put a lot of thought into these 44 selections. I’m sure you could come up with at least 44 more.

David Wolman ’96.5 is a contributing editor at Wired and the author, most recently, of The End of Money. Follow him at @davidwolman.