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Coronavirus: advice from the Middle Ages for how to cope with self-isolation

Like many people, I curate my social media posts. After a month of coronavirus lockdown, I’ve been curating more than usual. I have spent (many) sleepless nights scrolling through news reports in slack-jawed horror; I’ve (often) felt overwhelmed; I’ve lost my temper at my family (regularly). I haven’t posted about such events because I don’t want to dwell on them (not here, anyway). Of course the consequence of all of us putting only our best selves online is that we all feel inferior to what we see on everyone else’s carefully crafted timelines.  The sense of freedom that came with…

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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 the burden of their newfound faith. The original Star Trek occasionally touched on religion: belief in the “Son” is spreading on a parallel Earth where Rome never fell; Kirk tells…

My Encounter with EpochTimes.com

Peter and I spoke to a reporter from EpochTimes.com after the Shen Yun show yesterday. I said I was interested to hear the group’s message in favor of religious freedom, and was surprised to encounter the anti-Communist stance. After I found this picture on the EpochTimes.com website, I scanned through its news feed and noted its headlines looked somewhat favorable to Donald Trump, noting his participation in this weekend’s March for Life and his anti-Communist stance. Turns out the Epoch Times is closely related to the Folan Gong faith, and is part of a network that has promoted the Spygate…

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 dramatized in the dance, emphasizes meditation, harmony, healing and a Buddhist-like state of enlightenment. The civilian brother is arrested and blinded as a medical procedure (organ harvesting, perhaps?), the police…

‘Heil Trump’ and an anti-gay slur were scrawled on an Indiana church right after Trump’s election. The investigation led to an unlikely suspect — and the discovery of a hate crime hoax.

A well-written news story, covering a sensitive subject. The graffiti in rural Indiana became a national sensation, part of a string of high-profile hate crime reports in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. Late-night television host Stephen Colbert featured an image of one of the tagged walls during a monologue. The church’s priest, the Rev. Kelsey Hutto, appeared on CNN to champion the values of St. David’s, an island of liberalism in conservative Brown County. “Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing, and if that’s why we were targeted, we’re okay with that,” she said. The church…

Rob Rogers’ firing is a frightening omen

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Nick Anderson reflects on the recent firing of former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff cartoonist Rob Rogers. Getting a string of cartoons killed is generally not a good harbinger of things to come, and going public with it is a risky gambit. But, there is absolutely no reason to be an editorial cartoonist if you don’t have the opportunity to express yourself. That’s the whole point of being a cartoonist. His situation was clearly growing intolerable. He was right to go public…. Newspapers get tired of the controversy that a full-time cartoonist can cause. A staff cartoonist is someone…

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What’s an environmental issue? — Gus Speth

I don’t know the provenance of this quote attributed to Gus Speth, which affirms the role of the humanities in a STEM-obsessed world, but I did find this interview, conducted by Steve Curwood. “You know, what’s an environmental issue?” And if the answer is air pollution, water pollution, climate change…then we’re really right where we’ve been. But what if an environmental issue is something that has a big effect on environmental outcomes, on our prospects of leaving a good environment to our children and grandchildren? Well, then an environmental issue includes things like the health of our political system and…

How Zuckerberg’s Facebook is like Gutenberg’s printing press

Historian Niall Ferguson notes that Silicon Valley is not that interested in history, which is one reason why technological gurus keep making the same mistakes. Technology that decentralizes power brings its own problems. According to Ferguson: “The idea that witches live amongst us and should be burned went as viral as anything that Martin Luther said … Indeed, it turned out that witch burning was more likely to happen in places where there were more printing presses.” Like the Web, the use of these presses was difficult to centrally control. “At the beginning of the Reformation 501 years ago, Martin…

If You Check the Source of an Inspirational Prayer You Shared on Social Media, You Might Be Embarrassed. Check the Source Anyway.

I needed this prayer yesterday. I checked the source today. Quote Investigator The frequent ascription to Mother Teresa stems from the misreading of a book about the famous Catholic charity worker called “A Simple Path” that was compiled by Lucinda Vardey and released in 1995. The page preceding the appendices was titled “ANYWAY”, and it presented versions of eight of the ten statements under investigation. Statements 06 and 07 were omitted. A note at the bottom of the page said [MTLV]: From a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta. So the words were not…

An Hour of Monastic Silence in Media Studies Class (plus an awesome drum solo)

I announced that my 300-level Media and Culture class would spend an hour in monastic silence, collaborating on a Google Doc. I expected the students would understand I was helping them get into the mood to appreciate the 14th century setting of The Name of the Rose. What I didn’t expect was an awesome drum solo. I had already encouraged my students to approach The Name of the Rose the way they would approach a fantasy novel. They’ll have to spend some time understanding the world where the characters live — the geography, economics, politics, beliefs — or else their…

AmLit Rescue — Scratch Game

A student in my “American Literature: 1915-Present” class used the medium of a 2D graphic adventure game to deliver her multimodal final project. (Students also wrote a traditional term paper.) You are the cameraman of a new TV show based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” But things quickly go downhill when a mysterious criminal shows up and takes over the set. Unexpected faces and scenarios appear at every turn. It’s up to you to go out and find the one person who can save the day, but it won’t be easy—after all, we all know a good…

Pope Francis calls for “news communicated with serenity, precision and completeness”

Pope Francis recently addressed Italian journalists: Your voice, free and responsible, is fundamental for the growth of any society that wishes to be called democratic, so that the continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported data can be guaranteed. In our time, often dominated by the anxiety of speed, by the drive for sensationalism to the detriment of precision and completeness, by the calculated overheating of emotion rather than thoughtful reflection, there is an urgent need for reliable information, with verified data and news, which does not aim to amaze and excite, but…

The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”

A good exploration, in the light of current interest in “fake news,” of the troubled relationship between conservative Christianity’s understanding of truth and secular experts’ understanding of facts. (Mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism have negotiated this difference much more smoothly.) But it wasn’t Christianity, or religious faith itself in general, that helped make Republican voters more likely to be duped by fake news than their Democratic compatriots. (There were, and continue to be, lots of progressive or liberal people of faith.) Instead, susceptibility to fake news has its particular historical origin in Christian fundamentalism’s rejection of expert elites. To see this connection, it…

York Corpus Christi Play Simulator Screencast (PSim 2.1; D.G. Jerz)

Another digital artifact lives. The York Corpus Christi Pageant Simulator was my first serious accomplishment in digital humanities. After I learned all the medieval drama content from a class with Andrea Johnston at the University of Toronto, I made the computer program as part of a humanities computing course with Willard McCarthy in 1994, and published a poster paper and an updated version over the next few years. This simulation didn’t discover anything new, but it did visualize information other people had figured out with pencil-and-paper calculations, and it provides some answers to some “but what if…” objections. The program…