Miscellany

Here are a few items I haven’t had time to write about, but are still, I think, worth your attention. I may revisit and more fully discuss some of these in the future, but there’s no reason not to share them now.

James McWilliams makes the case against eating meat. And Mark Bittman, questioning the line we draw between “pet” and “animal,” calls attention to our continuing cruel treatment of farm animals. (He writes a must-read follow-up here.)

Maria Bustillos discusses “Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert.” Interesting to revisit this piece after having finished Robert Sawyer’s excellent WWW Trilogy, which projects a breathtaking and optimistic vision of the benefits of our online interconnectedness (and the emergence of a benevolent online AI). But it’s also interesting to consider this “democracy of opinions,” “we are all experts” mindset in the light of a recent talk by Timothy Ferris at last weekend’s World Science Festival. Ferris said that while science and democracy have flourished together (as he wrote in The Science of Liberty) the real test of democratic culture today is whether such a diversity of voices can produce the quick, decisive actions needed to respond to climate change. The Internet broadens our landscape of data and opinions — but is it slowing down our power to choose among these options, to act to save ourselves?

Why libraries matter: because every damn kid matters. And hey, every prisoner matters too.

On the education front: Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, speaks out against standardized testing. David Bornstein explores a better way to teach math. And while the US faces a crisis in civics education, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reminds us that learning about government can be fun: check out her brainchild, the nonprofit gaming site icivics.org. (My daughter’s favorites: “Executive Command” and “Argument Wars.”)

A must-read piece by Linda Holmes on how we should deal with the fact that, no matter how much we individually read and watch and listen and consume what culture has to offer, we’re going to miss almost everything.

Edward Lerner rails against the media for celebrating the end of the space shuttle flights and basking in NASA’s old glories, rather than getting the public excited about the need for a continuing, active, and ambitious space program.

Michael Boylan asks: “Are There Natural Human Rights?”

Jonathan Franzen suggests that technology makes us more self-directed, while love makes us other-directed. Well worth reading. And in conjunction, read David Brooks’ op-ed, “It’s Not About You.” Perhaps they overstate the case in some areas, and there’s some thoughtful pushback in the comments, but these are still, I think, wise pieces.

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