The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations

Possibly, in a few months, we’ll return to some version of the old normal. But this spring won’t be forgotten. When later shocks strike global civilization, we’ll remember how we behaved this time, and how it worked. It’s not that the coronavirus is a dress rehearsal—it’s too deadly for that. But it is the first of many calamities that will likely unfold throughout this century. Now, when they come, we’ll be familiar with how they feel.

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The Bonding ( ST:TNG Rewatch, Season Three Episode 5) — Character-driven analysis of grief

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break. After a member of a landing party dies an accidental, senseless death, Picard must break the news to her young son. “Jeremy, on the starship Enterprise, no one is alone,” says Picard. “No one.” Numerous times on my rewatch, I’ve wished episodes would devote less time to scanning and probing and navigating around the Sci-Fi Thing of the Week, and more time on how the…

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Who Watches the Watchers (ST:TNG Season Three Episode 4) Rationalist, talky mythbusting

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break. After a primitive, rationalist society mistakes Federation technology for supernatural power, Picard must do whatever it takes to undo the resulting cultural contamination. Fortunately for Picard, that involves lots of talking. A grim scene in sickbay memorably demonstrates that humans in the 24th century can sometimes delay but cannot defeat death. A cleverly subversive climax has Picard calmly determined to deliver the Mintakans from…

In “World Drama” I’m adding the absurd, optimistic “The Skin of Our Teeth” (dropping bleak “Waiting for Godot”)

In light of current events, I’m dropping the bleak Waiting for Godot from my World Drama class (actually I’m making it optional; students could drop a different play) and adding Thornton Wilder’s absurdist but optimistic The Skin of Our Teeth.   Writing while World War II was still raging, Wilder depicts a representative American family facing a series of calamities — an ice age, a global flood, an a world…

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Pen Pals (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 15) Data Hears a Who

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation A new-to-me “Data Hears a Who” character story, featuring a multi-layered philosophical jam session in Picard’s quarters, a substantial B-plot for Wesley, and some tacked-on science-fictiony frippery for the groundlings. I started watching the show late at night, and lost interest when Wesley was steeling himself in the hallway before addressing the geological survey team he had assembled. When I restarted the episode the…

Shen Yun Chinese dance troupe

One of seven touring groups devoted to sharing China’s traditional culture. The name means “beauty of divine dance.” Much emphasis on acrobatics and fluid motions. A recurring theme was interaction with the divine, and one number set in the present day focused on two brothers, one a police officer and one who falls in love with a woman who practices Falun Gong —  a forbidden faith which, at least as…

Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.

Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy. Some basic concepts: What is Newsworthy? Recent events that are unusual, nearby, have widespread/significant impact, or involve celebrities are more newsworthy than events that are stale, distant, have limited/trivial impact, or happen to average people. (9 min audio.) Objectivity: Traditional journalism reports fairly from all sides of an issue — even the side the reporter thinks is wrong.…

The Most Unexpected Workplace Trend Coming in 2020: the Return of the Liberal Arts Major

On LinkedIn each year author Dan Schawbel writes a list of workplace trends to watch for in the coming year. This time around Schawbel makes this prediction about degrees in subjects like literature, philosophy and history: “AI will automate technical skills and drive the demand for soft skills like creativity, communication and empathy. While there’s been such a focus on recruiting STEM over the past several years, those majors will continue to lose…

Earth doesn’t need more ‘successful people’.

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage wiling to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.…

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The Measure of a Man (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 9)

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break. Data’s autonomy is at stake in a taut, character-driven courtroom drama that resists pandering — no distracting fist-fights or space battles. This episode not only succeeds as a stand-alone meditation on the human condition, it meshes narratively with events from past shows and offers affordances for future story arcs at a time when most TV was purely episodic. “The Measure of a Man,” by…

New data on the first three jobs held by graduates of six popular majors

“There is an enormous part of the economy hungry for graduates with skills in analysis and communication — skills students are honing as they conduct close readings of texts, persuade their classmates in seminars and hone the style and structure of papers,” Sentz said. That might not be clear to students, however, or to college leaders. “Students outside STEM fields often lack the sense that they are gaining discrete, in-demand…

Back in the MLA

As the humanities decline in the United States, the country is losing the craft of understanding, losing its capacity for citizenship. Even educated people are increasingly unable and unwilling to distinguish between fake and real information, becoming a community that cannot understand itself as anything more than a circulation of figures. Self-righteousness takes the place of substantive discussion. Narcissism and outrage become the dominant techniques of self-definition. And the cure…

“You can concentrate the history of all mankind into the evolution of flax, cotton, and wool fibers into clothing,” asserted Dewey. He described a class where students handled wool and cotton. As they discovered how hard it was to separate seeds from cotton, they came to understand why their ancestors wore woolen clothing. Working in groups to make models of the spinning jenny and the power loom, they learned cooperation.…

Time Might Only Exist in Your Head. And Everyone Else’s

Tired brain can’t quite process this Wired summary of a scholarly paper, but I enjoyed how the good writing helped me peek into a field I know so little about. Time moves as it does because humans are biologically, neurologically, philosophically hardwired to experience it that way. It’s like a macro-scale version of Schrödinger’s cat. A faraway corner of the universe might be moving future to past. But the moment…

Photograph by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California (Harper's)

The Printed Word in Peril: The age of Homo virtualis is upon us

Who, I thought, besides a multidisciplinary team in search of research funding, could possibly imagine that a digital account of the impact of reading digital print on human cognition would be effective? For such an account rests on the supremacy of the very thing it seeks to counteract, which can be summarized as a view of the human mind/brain that is itself computational in form.