A few days it looked like The Lord Thy God was a’fixin’ to smite the Republican National Convention. Now, though, His Wrath has veered out over open water, picking up steam and drawing a bead on … no, seriously? Again? … New Orleans. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of Him here – The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, works in mysterious ways, and for all we know Hurricane Isaac might wind up smiting Kalispell before all is said and done. Read more
Facebook reminded me of an important lesson this morning.
When I was young, I was an idiot. A well-intentioned idiot, to be sure. And in my defense, it must be said that I was probably less of an idiot than most kids my age. But still, I look back on the things I did, the things I believed, the insecurities and the ignorance and the utter five-alarm cluelessness that once ruled my life like a petulant child emperor and I can’t help being embarrassed. I know, kids will be kids, and it’s true that there were moments of rampant joy that I will likely never equal again. Still.
Through the years I have learned. Lots. I’ve seen more of my country and even a bit of the world beyond, although not enough. I’ve met people from just about everywhere and gotten to know them a little. Read more
I hope you made the time to read Wufnik’s post from Friday. Entitled “Surrounded by people ‘educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought,’” his analysis of our culture’s “active willingness to be deceived” represents one of the iconic moments in S&R’s history. If you didn’t see it yet, go read it now.
In addition to the questions the post explicitly addresses, it also raises other critical issues that deserve equally rigorous treatment. One point for further consideration, for instance, lies in his use of the word “educated.” I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to suggest that our society is, by a variety of metrics, more educated than perhaps any society in history. Those metrics would include factors like “number of people who attended college.” At the same time, we are significantly less educated if we pay more attention to factors like the much harder to quantify “capacity for critical thought.” Read more
A friend and colleague passed along a Gizmodo article today entitled “What exactly is a doctorate?” First, take a second to look it over, and make sure you sift through the comments, as well, because I think they’re important to the point I want to make.
I’ll begin by acknowledging three important things. First, the writer (Dr. Matt Might of the University of Utah) is intending a humorous take on an institution that’s pure arcana to the average American non-PhD. Heck, it can be pretty arcane to those who have PhDs (or are in the process of earning them). Since he prefaces the piece by saying this is something he uses on his own doc students every year, it’s safe to assume that it’s not intended as a body slam against education. And humor is valuable – we never get anywhere worth going by taking ourselves too seriously.
Second, It’s hard to deny that some PhDs are laboring away to very little effect. Read more
We rarely do link-throughs, but I came across an interesting conversation yesterday. It began with Don Peck’s Atlantic essay on “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” and then quickly moved on to our friend Ian Welsh’s thought-provoking reply. A snippet:
Because any economic growth right now increases the prices of oil, which then strangles the economy, you must reduce dependence on oil, or you can’t fix your problems.
Because banks aren’t lending, and because they are a net drag on the economy having destroyed more wealth than they created, you must break up the major banks or take other similar actions to the same ends, or you don’t fix your problems. Read more
Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.
Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Read more
Part two in a series.
“Elite” hasn’t always been an epithet. In fact, if we consider what the dictionary has to say about it, it still signifies something potentially worthy. Potentially. For instance:
e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-) n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.le
That definition, while technically accurate enough, could use a bit of untangling, because it embodies the very nature of our problem with elitism in America. In popular use, the term “elite” and its derivatives has been twisted into a pure, distilled lackwit essence of “liberal” – another once-proud word that fell victim to our moneyed false consciousness machine. Read more
They say money can’t buy happiness. The same also goes for celebrity, and even the status that accompanies being among the best in the world at your profession. We’ve had ample demonstration of this in recent days.
Robert Enke, the goaltender for Hannover 96 (who currently hover in the middle of the German Bundesliga standings) and a potential member of next year’s German World Cup team, died the other day. His death was apparently a suicide.
“At 1825 (1725GMT) he was run over by a regional express train running between Hamburg and Bremen,” said police spokesman Stefan Wittke. “The train was travelling at the speed of 160-kph.”The player’s friend and consultant Joerg Neblung told reporters: “I can confirm this is a case of suicide. He took his own life just before six (pm).
Enke lost a child in 2006 and has left behind a wife and eight month-old daughter. Read more
Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric
The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media
The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.
In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Read more
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) likes the fact that Barack Obama is a better listener than Dubya, but says
“Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.”
Asked to clarify his comments after the breakfast speech at the Trussville Civic Center, Bachus said 17 members of the U.S. House are socialists.
Not 16, not 18. 17.
Which raises a number of questions and concerns. Read more
Almost 50 days into his administration President Obama made his way around to what strikes me as America’s #1 long-term issue, education. The soundbite is pretty catchy: he wants to overhaul the system “from the cradle up through a career.”
A compelling sentiment, that is. Our educational system couldn’t be much more broken, and a righteous keelhauling overhauling is certainly in order. But the rhetoric doesn’t tell us a lot. Read more
Dear Mr. Buffet, Mr. Gates, Mr. Turner, Mr. Soros, Ms. Winfrey, and any other hyper-rich types with progressive political leanings:
If this essay has, against all odds, somehow made its way to your desk, please, bear with me. It’s longish, but it winds eventually toward an exceedingly important conclusion. If you’ll give me a few minutes, I’ll do my best to reward your patience.
In the 2008 election, Barack Obama won a landmark political victory on a couple of prominent themes: “hope” and “change.” He has since been afforded ample opportunity to talk about these ideas, having inherited the nastiest economic quagmire in living memory and a Republican minority in Congress that has interpreted November’s results as a mandate to obstruct the public interest even more rabidly than it was doing before. Reactions among those of us who supported Obama have been predictably mixed, but even those who have been critical of his efforts to date are generally united in their hope that his win signaled the end of “movement conservatism” in the US. Read more
I come from a family background that was conflicted on the question of education. On the one hand, my grandparents (who raised me from the time I was three) realized that whatever hope I was to have of a better life than they’d had hinged on school. As such, there was never a moment in my life, once I was old enough to grasp the concept of what school was, when I didn’t simply assume that I’d go to college.
Growing up, I understood that learning came first. My grandmother taught me to read when I was four, and by the time I entered first grade I was reading on the fourth grade level, at least. My grandfather taught me math, and when I was five I could do fairly complicated problem strings that included long division. If there was homework to do, that came before play, and it was made clear that if my grades ever slipped, I wouldn’t be allowed to play sports at all. If I made an A they were happy. If I made an A- they were rather pointed in wanting to know what had gone wrong. Bs were unacceptable, and if I’d made a C I simply wouldn’t have gone home. Read more
I was living in NC when Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, was elected, and therefore didn’t follow the campaign closely and don’t really know a lot about the guy except that he’s bound to be better than his predecessor, Bill Owens. Short of actually outlawing schools, Owens did all he possibly could to destroy education in the state, and I’m sure everybody in the tourism industry will remember when his dumb ass stepped in front of the cameras a few summers back to announce that “today, the entire state of Colorado is on fire.” He didn’t actually say “please take your tourism dollars to Utah,” but he might as well have.
Lately, though, I’m learning that a lot of my fellow Coloradans don’t much like Ritter, and this includes a lot of Democrats who voted for him. Read more
Don Tapscott has some radical new ideas about education. Here’s a sampling (as related by ReadWriteWeb):
- “…the age of learning through the memorization of facts and figures is coming to an end. Instead, students should be taught to think creatively and better understand the knowledge that’s available online.”
- “…Google, Wikipedia, and other online libraries means that rote memorization is no longer a necessary part of education.”
- “Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is…”
- “Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don’t need to know all the dates. It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorize that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google.”
(These last two are quotes directly from Tapscott, by the way, and I need to go pick up this book. It seems awfully interesting – but for now the RWW report will have to do.)
That one item – “Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is…” – is among the most terrifying concepts I’ve ever run across, by the way. Read more