The digital encyclopedia is petitioning the United Nations for recognition as a world heritage site
Boasting more than 18 million entries in 279 languages, Wikipedia is arguably the largest store of human knowledge in the history of mankind. In its first decade, the digital encyclopedia has done more to challenge the way we think about the relationship between knowledge and the Internet than virtually any other website. But is this ubiquitous tree of knowledge as culturally sacred as the pyramids of Giza, the archaeological site of Troy, or the Native American mound cities of Cahokia?
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, thinks so. Spurred on by a German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the digital encyclopedia will launch a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders.
The first digital entity to vie for recognition as cultural treasure, Wikipedia argues that the site meets the first and foremost of UNESCO's criteria: "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. "
"'What if everyone was given free access to the sum of all human knowledge?' Within the last 10 years, this seemingly utopian idea has resulted in nothing less than the largest collection of human knowledge ever created," argues the team at Wikipedia 10, a page dedicated to celebrating the first decade of the site. "Independent, unrestrictedly accessible, and non-commercial. This achievement made Wikipedia a pioneer of cultural change because Wikipedia transferred the tradition of knowledge exchange into the new, digital age. Thus creating a unique place of knowledge exchange in the history of civilization."
The speed, sophistication, and novelty of Wikipedia may hurt the website's chances. The New York Times' Kevin O'Brien reports that the website will likely face skepticism:
"Heritage professionals tend to be rather conservative types, or they wouldn't choose this kind of occupation," said Britta Rudolff, a heritage consultant who teaches on the subject at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany. "They like to play with the past, and something only a decade old is going to face challenges."
[Wikipedia] will have to negotiate a complicated approval process and overcome the skeptical regard of Unesco and heritage consultants to be considered for recognition. Susan Williams, the head of external media relations at Unesco in Paris, said a bid by a digital entity like Wikipedia would be unprecedented.
"Anyone can apply," said Ms. Williams, who added that she was not aware of Wikipedia's plans. "But it may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria." One of the criteria for inclusion, she said, is that the culture or practice be endangered.
UNESCO has always encouraged the recognition of technological advancements as "an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design." Wikipedia is certainly some kind of "space" for the advancement of human intelligence, if it is any kind of space at all. And that might be the issue.
Arguably, the inclusion of Wikipedia as the symbol of a given epistemological epoch is as intuitive as the inclusion of Alexander the Great's library at Alexandria, hub of knowledge for the ancient world. But UNESCO's world heritage is usually reserved for monuments to cultures past or stunning works of natural beauty (like the Alexandria library's stunning architecture and collection of ancient tomes.) Do Wikipedia's vast server farms qualify as physical manifestations of Wikipedia's digital contents, or will Wikipedia as a website find itself relegated to the lesser-known Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which includes endangered traditions and practices divorced from a particular physical locale?
The tough to resolve debate over Wikipedia's placeness may obscure the more immediate consequence of any kind of UNESCO membership. The primary mission and goals of UNESCO are to reduce poverty, encourage sustainable development, and promote intercultural dialogue: within this mission, the UN identifies world heritage sites significant in humanity's cultural history that require international cooperation and attention in their preservation and protection. The designation isn't merely ceremonial; it has pragmatic, legal purpose. While home states exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over heritage sites, UNESCO actively provides material assistance in coordination with member states and NGOs, as outlined in the UNESCO's 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Is Wikipedia a knowledge store worthy of UNESCO's recognition? Perhaps. But does the Wikimedia Foundation really need UN resources to polish its servers and build "an appreciation for Wikipedians" and "higher attention for Wikipedia in the public," as outlined on Wikipedia 10? Probably not. The Wikimedia Foundation, which supports Wikipedia and other wiki projects, has a fairly robust and dedicated fundraising operation, and the foundation raised more than $21 million from November 2010 to January 2011 in the service of new initiatives. UNESCO would be better suited to focus its resources on heritage sites facing more immediate challenges.
Despite claiming he was better at consoling the families of slain servicemembers than his predecessors, Trump offended the family of La David Johnson and skipped calls and letters to other grieving loved ones.
Thirteen days after Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in Niger, and a day after Donald Trump boasted about his actions to console grieving families in contrast to his predecessors, the president called Johnson’s family Tuesday night.
It didn’t go well.
Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, was with widow Myeshia Johnson when Trump called. “She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson told MSNBC.
“He said, ‘Well, I guess you knew’—something to the effect that ‘he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway.’ You know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens, anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. That’s the way we interpreted it. It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Critics of the mainstream media were quick to charge that Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds were an open secret, yet none of them were able to expose it.
Last week, the New York Times and The New Yorker published multiple allegations of abhorrent sexual misconduct against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, drawing on years of costly investigative reporting; risking legal retaliation that could cost millions to litigate; and forcing its subject from his powerful perch in Hollywood, where his ability to lure aspiring film starts into hotel rooms is all but gone.
The episode was a credit to the reporters, editors, and publishers who broke the story; an example of why it is vital to support an independent press that probes wrongdoing; and a spur to examine all the factors that delayed the truth outing for so long, including apparent failures by some journalists and news-gathering organizations.
A new study shows that families act on insufficient information when it comes to figuring out where to enroll their children.
A person trying to choose their next set of wheels might see that car A made it farther than car B in a road test and assume it gets better gas mileage. But that’s only true if the two tanks are filled with the same substance. Putting high-octane gas in one and water in the other, for example, provides little useful information about which car makes the most of its fuel. A new working paper titled “Do Parents Value School Effectiveness?” suggests that parents similarly opt for schools with the most impressive graduates rather than figuring out which ones actually teach best. The study joins a body of research looking critically at what it means for a school to be successful.
Take the work of Erin Pahlke, for example. The assistant professor of psychology at Whitman College saw research showing that girls who attend school only with other girls tend to do better in math and science. The trick, she said, is that those studies didn’t analyze “differences in the students coming into the schools.” As it turns out, those who end up in same-sex schools tend to be wealthier, start out with more skills, and have parents who are more proactive than students who attend co-ed institutions. In a 2014 meta-analysis, Pahlke and her colleagues reviewed the studies and found when examining schools with the same type of students and same level of resources—rather than “comparing [those at] the public co-ed school to [their counterparts at] the fancy private school that’s single-sex down the road”—there isn’t any difference in how the students perform academically. Single-sex schooling also hasn’t been shown to offer a bump in girls’ attitudes toward math and science or change how they think about themselves. In other words, it often looks like single-sex schools are doing a better job educating kids, but they aren't. It's just that their graduates are people who were going to do well at any school. They’re running on high-octane gas.
To erode small-town culture is to erode the culture of the nation.
Seventy-five years ago, The Atlantic published an essay by a man named Arthur Morgan. The essay, “The Community—The Seed Bed of Society,” appeared in the February 1942 issue, and was later expanded into a book called The Small Community: Foundation of Democratic Life. Both the essay and the book were arguments on behalf of communities, especially small towns, which Morgan believed had been abandoned by modernity to become “an orphan in an unfriendly world … despised, neglected, exploited, and robbed.”
The social good of such places, Morgan insisted, was being “dissolved, diluted, and submerged by modern technology, commercialism, mass production, propaganda, and centralized government.” While many big-city residents might not worry about the fate of small towns, Morgan believed they should because the “controlling factors of civilization are not art, business, science, government. These are its fruits. The roots of civilization are elemental traits—good will, neighborliness, fair play, courage, tolerance, open-minded inquiry, patience.” These traits are best transmitted from one generation to the next in small communities, he argued, from where they are then spread throughout entire societies. To erode small-town culture was to erode the culture of the nation.
Two things have been true so far in 2017: The news cycle keeps spiraling downward, and the stock market keeps going up.
Consider a brief review of the year’s chaos. In domestic news, Washington’s legislative machine is even more broken than normal, and President Donald Trump—tweeting furiously, while under investigation for possible collusion and obstruction—has oscillated between sympathy for white nationalists and recklessness toward North Korea. A series of historic natural disasters have ravaged Houston, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and northern California. Abroad, the U.K. is sleepwalking toward divorce with Europe, a crisis with a Middle East ally is brewing, and a missile flew over Japan.
Hurricane Maria has exposed and intensified the island’s ecological crisis and its human consequences. Can it build a sustainable future?
ARECIBO, P.R.—“There’s no way there were just 45 deaths,” said Myrna Conty, an environmental activist whose work takes her regularly across the most remote parts of the island. She scoffed at the radio reports of the official death toll, a common refrain among Puerto Ricans whose personal stories—a cousin who died needing dialysis here, a neighbor who simply hasn’t been heard from there—when multiplied 3.5 million-fold make the official estimate seem impossible.
We’d followed the path that Hurricane Maria’s eye had taken along the highway to the west of San Juan. Three weeks after the storm, the tropical green was just starting to come back, sprouting over the brown wounds of mud and giant trees pulled up from their roots. Here in Arecibo, a small municipality about 40 minutes from San Juan on a good day, high-water marks from the flood stood out on building walls, seven or eight feet high. Obliterated houses marked the deserted hamlets along the road. Smokestacks had been snapped in half and wires lay slack where giant power pylons had fallen. The Río Grande de Arecibo that cuts through the municipality remained an swollen brown expanse, still threatening to drown bridges and homes. Arecibo was a ghost town.
As always, a horror film managed to express the idea before the scientists ever could, and in better, more visceral terms. “The television screen,” the haunting image of Brian O’Blivion tells us in David Cronenberg’s 1983 classic Videodrome, “is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.” So far, so much media theory: secondhand McLuhan, thirdhand Baudrillard. It’s what happens next that’s interesting.
Our hero, wilting under the caustic nihilism of the video age, finds that strange things start happening not to his mind, but his body. A howling cavern opens up in his stomach, rimmed by grisly pulsing labial folds. It eats weapons. His hand sprouts metallic screws, driving into his wrist, locking his gun into a hand that swells into a grotesque of formless and seeping flesh. He is told to kill, and he kills. It’s not that his mind has been invaded. It just exists beyond itself; it now contains endless shelves of video tapes. This is, somehow, obscurely, us; this monstrous body is our own.
For decades a respected but somewhat eccentric figure even within the jazz scene, the pianist and composer is at the peak of his influence as he reaches his centennial this month.
The peak of Thelonious Monk’s fame came in 1964, in his 47th year, when his painted portrait—dourly glowering or shyly guarded, depending on the beholder—improbably graced the cover of Time magazine.
Though widely respected by musicians, the pianist and composer had always remained an outlier even in the jazz world, set apart by his singular musical vision as well as his eccentricity, yet his Time cover seemed to represent his ascension to the heights of American culture as a whole.
When the cover was slated to run in November 1963, the nation’s No. 1 hit was the old standard “Deep Purple,” and jazz still seemed dominant. But after John Kennedy was shot, Time bumped Monk. By the time the story ran in February1964, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had begun a dominant run as the Beatles’ first No. 1 in the United States. Jazz was over as a mainstream force in American culture and so, arguably, was Monk. From then until his death at just 64, in 1982, he struggled increasingly with ailments physical and mental, stopped writing new music, experienced increasing critical disdain, and finally disappeared from view for nearly a decade.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.