A poll - the Dish's first real one. But it's a burning question right now:
A poll - the Dish's first real one. But it's a burning question right now:
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
Why “Is the Islamic State Muslim?” is a trick question
Why “Is the Islamic State Muslim?” is a trick question
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The sport should worry that it has only one popular contest and one real star—who’s reached his peak.
On Saturday, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut will attempt to defend his title in the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. He’ll probably win, and if he does it’ll be his ninth straight victory—a feat of longevity rarely seen in any athletic competition. Despite being pushed hard by last year’s runner-up in the annual contest, Chestnut’s total of 61 hot dogs consumed was still notably better than the second-place contestant’s 56. By all accounts, Chestnut is the best in the world at what he does.
But his success in the contest masks a problem—he’s been so dominant for so long in Major League Eating’s flagship event that the sport has failed to give rise to a successor. MLE is synonymous with the Nathan’s contest, and the Nathan’s contest is Chestnut’s turf. Ironically, the sport that rewards competitors for focusing on a single food in any given contest may well be undone by its own myopic focus on Chestnut on the Fourth of July.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.
Mathematician John Allen Paulos marvels at his field’s counterintuitive proofs. Yet his earliest intellectual thrill was the discovery that numeracy could empower even a child.
Do kids have an unheralded incentive to master math?
This week, I’m sharing responses to the question, “What insight or idea has thrilled or excited you?” This installment comes courtesy of John Allen Paulos, a Professor of Mathematics at Temple University who is here this week at The Aspen Ideas Festival. He adapted his answer from his forthcoming book, A Numerate Life – A Mathematician Explores the Vagaries of Life, His and Probably Yours.
I could mention my first introduction to Godel’s theorem about the essential incompleteness of mathematics; or my first encounter with the Banach-Tarski theorem in topology showing that a sphere the size of a pea can be decomposed into a finite number of pieces and put back together to get a sphere the size of a basketball; or Russell’s paradox about the set of all sets that do not belong to themselves; or any number of counterintuitive results in probability theory. All of these mathematical ideas excited me in high school and college, but I will concentrate instead on the thrill I felt in elementary school when I saw that the power of simple arithmetic was sufficient to vanquish a bully, my fifth grade teacher. It still evokes the same emotions in me that it did decades ago.
I was about ten years old and enthralled with baseball. I loved playing the game and aspired to be a major league shortstop. (My father played in college and professionally in the minor leagues.) I also became obsessed with baseball statistics and noted that a relief pitcher for the then Milwaukee Braves had an earned run average (ERA) of 135. (The arithmetic details are less important than the psychology of the story, but as I dimly recall, the pitcher had allowed the opposing team to score 5 runs and had got only one batter out. Getting one batter out is equivalent to pitching 1/3 of an inning, 1/27 of a complete 9-inning game––and allowing 5 runs in 1/27 of an inning translates into an ERA of 5/(1/27) or 135.)
Impressed by this extraordinarily bad ERA, I mentioned it diffidently to my teacher during a class discussion of sports. He looked pained and annoyed and sarcastically asked me to explain the fact to my class. Being quite shy, I did so with a quavering voice, a shaking hand, and a reddened face. (A strikeout in self-confidence.) When I finished, he almost bellowed that I was confused and wrong and that I should sit down.
An overweight coach and gym teacher with a bulbous nose, he asserted that ERA’s could never be higher than 27, the number of outs in a complete game.
For good measure he cackled derisively.
Later that season, the Milwaukee Journal published the averages of all the Braves players. Since this pitcher hadn't pitched again, his ERA was 135, as I had calculated. I remember thinking then of mathematics as a kind of omnipotent protector. I was small and quiet and he was large and loud. But I was right and I could show him. This thought and the sense of power it instilled in me was exciting. So, still smarting from my earlier humiliation, I brought in the newspaper and showed it to him. He gave me a threatening look and again told me to sit down. His idea of good education apparently was to make sure everyone remained seated. I did sit down but this time with a slight smile on my face.
We both knew I was right and he was wrong.
Oddly, this particular teacher did give me a potent reason to study mathematics that I think is underrated: show kids that with it and logic, a few facts, and a bit of psychology you can prevail over blowhards no matter your age or size. Not only that, but you can sometimes expose nonsensical claims as well. For many students, this may be a much better selling point than being able to solve mixture problems or using trigonometry to estimate the height of a flagpole from across a river. (Incidentally, this mindset is not unrelated to some of my adult writings.)
As with mathematical ideas, so with scientific ones: there were many standard ones from plate tectonics to the double helix of DNA that gave me cerebral whiplash when I first heard them. Instead, however, let me focus briefly on a philosophically flavored idea, that of atomic materialism, which thrilled me as a ten-year-old. (My eleventh year was a thrilling one.)
I'd read and had also been told by my grandfather, who seemed proud of the ancient Greek lineage of the idea, that everything was composed of atoms. It seemed obvious to me that an atom couldn't think, and so I "thought" that this proved that humans couldn't think either. I was so pleased with my ground-breaking idea about our essentially zombie natures that I explained it at length (all of two paragraphs) on a piece of paper, folded the paper carefully, put it inside a small metal box, taped it very securely, and buried it near the swing in our backyard where future generations of unthinking humans could appreciate my deep thoughts on this matter.
My attraction to the idea of atomic materialism wasn’t just intellectual, if that’s not too heavy a term to apply to a ten-year-old, but also visceral. Lying on the floor watching television or wrestling with my brother, I often had the inchoate idea that, in an important sense, there was no essential difference between me and not-me, that everything was composed of the same stuff and that the air above my forehead and the brain inside it were just patterned differently. The notion of emergent qualities, properties, and abilities didn't complicate my youthful certainty about these matters, and the dreary conclusion I came to that we couldn’t really think was one that I oddly found quite cheering.
Again, the excitement provided by my absurd interpretation of this fundamental idea preceded and in a way laid the groundwork for my appreciation of many other scientific ideas. Had I been told of emergent properties immediately, however, I doubt I would have been nearly as excited.
Ryan Carson, the CEO of Treehouse, discusses the benefits of a four-day workweek and why more companies can, and should, do it.
A creative short film follows a befuddled traveler through China's most massive city.