The New York Times is catching flack for last weekend’s coverage of the Catholic Church’s Easter Mass. The passage at issue:
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life.
The Times caught the mistake later and issued a correction, noting that Easter celebrates Jesus rising from the tomb but not his ascension into heaven. Newsbusters calls the error “mortifying,” but it’s more revealing about the paper itself.
If you don’t understand the faith, it’s a matter of semantics. Jesus came back after being crucified, and went to heaven – so being “resurrected into heaven” may seem like an accurate shorthand description to the reporter and copy editors responsible for the gaffe. Sure, it’s wrong, but understandable for the ill-informed on the topic.
It’s probably not a good idea to get your religious information from the New York Times, anyway. You don’t get your news at church, after all.
There shall be no perforated cardstock exchanged today at Salemwood Elementary School in Malden, Massachusetts: the school has banned Valentine’s Day in the interest of cultural equality:
David DeRuosi, superintendent of Malden Public Schools, defended the principal’s decision – explaining that with new residents and new mandates “certain traditions we have to modify and adapt.”
If you’re scoring at home, that means they are sending and receiving Valentines anyway. That’s even more ridiculous than the idea of cancelling Valentine’s Day altogether. They’re doing all the same stuff, just calling it something else. It’s a lot of motion but no progress.
There are four really ridiculous points here:
1. Cultural Equality through NO CULTURE FOR ANYONE
The administration at Salemwood has a tough task, and no doubt they try their best to deal with a diverse student body. Still, how does one arrive at the conclusion that the best way to be multi-cultural is to be non-cultural? The best way to include outsiders isn’t to eliminate customs; inclusion means including them.
This is an American cultural holiday, even if it has its roots in a religious celebration. This is about large corporations influencing buying decisions through heavy media inundation, and there is nothing more American than that. If you’re new to the nation, this is a good lesson.
In the interest of the good ol’ American melting pot, it’s also a good idea to reach out to parents and ask the ones who may be able to do so to buy an extra pack of Valentine cards in case someone in the class doesn’t have the extra scratch to buy those precious perforated cards. And of course, such transactions need to be on the down-low.
Also with inclusion in mind, teachers aren’t out of line to send every student home with a full list of his or her classmates, so that he or she can sit there the night before and write out all their names on those cards. This mode of torture will ensure that every child gets a card, and that every child practices their penmanship.
2. Valentine’s Day cancelled. EDUCATION CRISIS SOLVED!
The whole episode conjures the mental image of a principal or any other educational official, struck with insomnia staring at the ceiling of his or her bedroom. Nationally, our school are struggling, math and science scores are through the floor, and any improvement will have to come on a shoestring budget.
Which problem to address first? Apparently, holidays are the major impediment to learning, and must be restrained. The answer to why our students aren’t keeping up? They must feel uncomfortable in the classroom.
(By the way, who is more uncomfortable at school than the nerds? And they get awesome grades.)
Truthfully, these folks may sit around for six days out of the week thinking of brilliant new ways to get kids to suck less at math, and we’d never hear about it because the national media wouldn’t cover it. (And if they did cover it, no one would retweet it.) With that grain of salt taken, this is one of the ideas from a brainstorming session that ought to be swiped off the white board as quickly as possible.
And note that Valentine’s Day is not being eliminated so that the students can spend more time doing multiplication tables. Actually, if you talk to the principal, it isn’t being eliminated at all…
3. Wait, they aren’t using this extra time to learn more?
How is Salemwood using all the time saved by passing out Valentine’s Cards?
[Principal Carol] Keenan said they were not cancelling Valentine’s Day. Instead, the elementary school is going to celebrate a modified version.
“Every student is making a friendship card for another student,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that every single student is given the opportunity to get a card and to also give a card. I didn’t want some students feeling left out.”
So it’s just a rebranding deal? It sounds like Salemwood is in cahoots with Carlton Cards, trying to cut into a Hallmark Holiday.
It isn’t clear how much though, effort, and study went into trading out Valentines for Friendship Cards, but it was too much. Cancellation of classroom celebrations in favor of more time doing multiplication tables might sound less fun, but at least there would be a clear rationale.
4. Watch your language!
The most disturbing aspect of Salemwood’s reasoning?
Keenan also addressed the language barrier – noting there are 400 students in the school who don’t speak English.
She feared they “wouldn’t understand the concept of having to bring a card or get a card.”
Read that again: There are 400 kids in the school who don’t speak English. That’s not just a big hurdle to communicating with their peers, it’s a potentially huge impediment to finding a well-paying job and establishing a successful life in this country.
Cancelling or rebranding the concept of Valentine’s Day doesn’t help these students, but devoting some time to teach them English probably would.
An article making the rounds today points out that America’s freshmen and freshwomen have an inflated sense of their own specialness - and that may have some long-term personal repercussions:
Pyschologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence… While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.
…But if you found yourself bothered by a person always talking about how wonderful they are, remember that their future may not be bright.
“In the long-term, what tends to happen is that narcissistic people mess up their relationships, at home and at work,” Twenge said. Though narcissists may be charming at first, their selfish actions eventually damage relationships.
It’s not until middle-age they may realize their lives have had a number of failed relationships.
The good news is that heightened levels of narcissism may cause many young people to read this article and think, “Hey, this is me!” The bad news is that no one reads anymore.
This is a two-month-old article that’s worth the read: Sean B. Hood, one of the screenwriters for last summer’s Conan the Barbarian, talks pretty candidly about what it’s like to watch a movie you’ve worked on flop at the box office. Specifically, Hood compares it to working on a political race:
The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. “Exit polls”are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns. You are glued to your computer, clicking wildly over websites, chatting nonstop with peers, and calling anyone and everyone to find out what they’ve heard. Have any numbers come back yet? That’s when your stomach starts to drop.
Stephen Hawking possesses one of the most brilliant minds of our time. And since he can ponder and comprehend the most complex theories of the nature of time and space, you know the man understands how to sell a TV show.
That was likely part of the impetus between Hawking’s Sunday night debut episode of Curiosity on Discovery networks, provocatively subtitled: “Did God Create the Universe?”
Spoiler alert if you haven’t caught it in reruns yet: Hawking says no.
Much of the informational content – the description of the Big Bang, the discussion of the nature of gravity and the theoretical descriptions of the creation of stars – were nothing new to anyone (like myself) with an addiction to documentaries about space. In fact, Hawking himself has covered that ground in previous shows for Discovery networks.
That leaves Hawking’s religious opinions as the only new information in the show – and unlike his understanding of the laws of physics, he doesn’t appear to grasp the fundamental concepts of religion. Like so many others who seek to draw some type of dichotomy between science and faith, Hawking tries to establish a false choice. “Did we need a God to set it all up so that the Big Bang could… bang?” he asks. “I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine Creator.”
The thesis is that the Big Bang and everything that came after are wholly consistent with the laws of physics, with no need for “divine intervention” to spark existence.
That’s a fair assessment, but completely parallel to the concept of a universal Architect. That the machinations of the Universe are intelligible does not preclude the presence of divinity. In fact, the idea of laws of physics which govern so rigorously and unfailingly the motion of each cosmic body – from supermassive stars on down to subatomic particles – seems to give an awful lot of power to Whoever it was that wrote those laws, doesn’t it?
In fact, let’s take it one step further and consider the Big Bang, in Hawkings own words:
“Follow the clues, and we can deduce that the Universe simply burst into existence… but I’m afraid we have to stop a moment, before we get carried away by fire and noise. At the very beginning, the Big Bang happened in total darkness, because light didn’t exist yet. To see it, we’d have needed some type of cosmic night vision. But even this, a view from the outside, is impossible. Again, it sounds strange, but space didn’t exist then either.”
Another account of those momentsis probably more familiar to most people:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
The latter is, of course, the beginning of the book of Genesis, which is certainly no science textbook. The juxtaposition proves nothing, though it does seem interesting that the description of the creation of the Universe written in ancient times mirrors so closely the result of centuries of astronomical research.
Putting the items side-by-side does demonstrate that even where they intersect, science and religion need not clash. Forcing a choice between God and the laws of physics is like arguing whether the stuff you learn in history or English is more correct – both subjects are occasionally intertwined, but distinct.
Similarly, someone who studies math and science should also be able to appreciate the beauty and symmetry of the universe without being accused of being irrational. Isn’t it amazing that the ratio of every circle’s circumference to its diameter is the same (pi)? Isn’t it fascinating that electrons buzz around nuclei, nuclei buzz around each other, planets buzz around suns, suns buzz around the centers of galaxies? This type of view of the natural world most likely inspired Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed what would be called the Big Bang theory in 1927. You might also refer to the good professor by his other job title, Monsignor.
Of course, for all the discussion it has raised, you can say this about Hawking’s thesis: it makes for very provocative television, even when the factual subject matter has been done before.
In a guest post on Social Times, entrepreneur Elle Cachette talks about her experience moving her business out of Silicon Valley. The business has since thrived, to the surprise of those who advised her that technology companies could not exist in the outside world.
In hindsight, Cachette finds the Valley overrated:
Stop digging. What you see is what you get - there is no gold in ‘them waters. Silicon Valley is the Hollywood of tech, where every waiter is an entrepreneur and every app is the next blockbuster… When you are in Silicon Valley, everything in the media environment confirms that you are indeed in the center of the universe. But similar to a communist North Korean regime, Silicon Valley drinks much of its own Kool-Aid.
First, it is ironic that in the geographic region that created so much of the technology that Americans now use to telecommute and communicate across great spaces there exists a culture that highly values proximity to a geographic region.
Second, the success of companies beyond places like Silicon Valley is another demonstration of the new realities of work – that almost any job can be done anywhere.
Third, if you substitute “Politics” for “Tech” and “Washington, D.C.” for Silicon Valley, the post would still make a lot of sense.
The other night, I got to witness first hand some of the hard work being done by the Oakton High School robotics team. Two teams of high school students build machines to accomplish certain tasks, controlled by both pre-programming and direct remote controls. It’s pretty amazing stuff to say the least.
What struck me about the room was the presence of community volunteers. There were parents and teachers, of course, but also folks with no children or job at the school. I spoke at length with one mentor, who had retired from his career, and gave some of his free time to the robotics team. Several encouraged me to become a mentor as well. When I joked that I doubted I could match the students’ knowledge of the subject matter, the reply was an only half-joking suggestion that the important thing was asking a lot of questions anyway. The students don’t need people to teach them knowledge, just someone who can help them think through problems.
This became apparent when watching the students – tinkering with sensors, motors, nuts, bolts, and computers with a mix of determination and invincibility. Whatever challenge they saw in their robots – a program not performing as expected, a misfiring sensor, or wheels failing to grip an incline – there were never questions about whether solutions existed, just an eagerness to find where they were hidden.
(There was a corporate sponsor too, which is good because the competition can cost a team up to $8,500 just to build a robot.)
It’s interesting that some form of the gizmos these high school students were building in a near-deserted school may one day exploring Mars. It’s also interesting that few of the participants were getting paid any money to turn an unused high school shop class room into the staging are for the next generation of technology. Even for just a few hours, it was nice to see a place where commitment to education was not measured in dollars and cents.
The Onion debuts two cable television programs this month. The fake newspaper turned fake internet news site presents a unique and specific genre of comedy – the obviously false presented as seriously real. It’s similar but a bit different from slapstick comedies like Airplane! or Spaceballs. It’s closer to Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update as delivered by the more deadpan performers, like Kevin Nealon in the early 1990s. The 1970s spoof talk show Fernwood 2 Night and the long-forgotten short-lived Nick at Night television review series On the Television may be the best examples, even if short-lived. Because the audience is in on the joke but the performers are apparently not, it depends as much on performance as it does on clever writing.
Since this type of humor is so specific, it’s unsurprising that the Onion’s television ancestors met with limited success. What has given the Onion its staying power?
The Onion – which started as a small, regionally distributed newspaper in 1988 – became an early example of the internet’s power of viral distribution. It may be difficult for a network television show to find the audience it needs to build a niche following; the Onion’s following grew over time as its stories were forwarded by email. When the Onion’s television shows air this month, they will have already recruited their niche audience online over approximately 15 years.
There’s one final layer to peel back, and that’s the Onion’s business model based on generating large amounts of free, high quality content. The term “viral growth” is overused, but is applicable to the Onion’s rise through virtual word-of-mouth. The content brought traffic, and the traffic brought money – both in terms of advertising, book deals, and now television shows. None of it would have worked without something that was worth sending in an email to a friend. Funny always came first – and the money followed. Other small, regionally distributed newspapers who are struggling may want to take note.
Then came the citizen-politicos – the self-organizing crusaders who organized largely online but made a difference in the real world, giving alternating advantages to the left in 2006 and 2008 and the right in 2010.
And now come… the citizen scientists. An English gas worker has discovered four new planets by analyzing public data at his home computer. No telescope, no university observatory, no office – just a proficiency for math and the love of the game. It’s legit, too, as the University of California has given the discovery a seal of approval.
This may explain why people have been slow to support environmental regulations with drastic economic impacts. The previous argument – “Trust us! We’re SCIENTISTS!” – can’t carry weight.