Category Archives: In the News

Racism in America

Racism in America

(Note: Incomplete work in progress. –ENB, 2015 Jul)

Even to the casual observer, the overall tone of the debate about racism (in America) is becoming increasingly polarized in recent years, especially on social media outlets.  Obviously, any attempt to publicly explore such a volatile topic will invariably attract such extremist, racist elements who wholeheartedly believe in their own group’s superiority at the cost of another group’s equality.  Traditionally, the policy of moderate liberal and conservative intellectuals has been to dismiss these poor and unenlightened souls out of principle while, perhaps condescendingly, chiding them for their crude ignorance.  However, I would argue that by dismissing the many people who have been indoctrinated by racist propaganda, we have been derelict in our duty as responsible, ethical members of society.  Additionally, our collective ignorance and inactivity concerning the problem of ingrained racism in America has put the country at great risk.  Continue reading Racism in America

Rep. Steve Scalise Gives Congress an ‘A’

Rep. Steve Scalise Gives Congress an ‘A’

On Thursday, March 27, Representative Steve Scalise from Louisiana’s 1st District appeared (via remote video) on C-Span’s weekly interview program Newsmakers, ostensibly to talk about H.R. 4304 — or the Jumpstarting Opportunities With Bold Solutions (JOBS) Act, — a bill that he co-sponsored.1  At the start of the interview, host Steven Scully asked the staunch Republican Congressman what kind of grade he would give the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives, to which Mr. Scalise replied: “If you look at what the House has done, through our leadership, I would give them an A …Continue reading Rep. Steve Scalise Gives Congress an ‘A’

G8 Becomes G7 Again

'G-7 Flag' (by 'Chavis')
‘G-7 Flag’ (by ‘Chafis’ – Complete Photo Credits at bottom)

G8 Becomes G7 Again

(Source: Reuters1; the Hague)

And then there were seven … again.

Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. met in the Netherlands on Monday, March 24, while attending the NTI‘s 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague.  The G8 (which has now been re-christened the G7, or “Group of Seven”) took advantage of the shared venue, in order to decide where to hold their annual conference now that Sochi — home to the recent Winter Olympics and scheduled location for the 2014 delegation — is no longer a viable option.  In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no indication that his country’s ousting from the G8 will deter him from his present course of action regarding the internationally condemned annexation of Crimea.
Continue reading G8 Becomes G7 Again

Hillary Clinton Compares Vladimir Putin to Hitler

An angry Adolf Hitler (circa 1927)
Adolf Hitler, as photographed by Heinrich Hoffman in 1927 (Complete Photo Credits are located at the end of this article)

Recently, former Secretary of State (as well as one-time First Lady and U.S. Senator) Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in on the developing crisis in Ukraine while visiting Long Beach, CA.  Speaking at a private fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday, March 4, Clinton compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea to the aggressive moves made by Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler in the years before WWII, saying: “[I]t’s what Hitler did back in the (nineteen) ‘30s …  [T]he ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right.  I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”   Elaborating on these remarks, Clinton then stated that she thought of Putin as a person who “believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness … When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia.”1

Continue reading Hillary Clinton Compares Vladimir Putin to Hitler

EdX: Free Education for the Masses

” … [T]here are two certainty’s in life. One — don’t do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f#*&%$ education that you could’ve got for a dollar-fifty in late chahhhges at the public library.” –Will Hunting

Edx & The Changing Landscape of Education

These days rising tuition costs, student loan payments, and reduced employment prospects in a down economy await the thousands of newly-tasseled American high school graduates considering whether or not to pursue a traditional path towards secondary education. However, some forward thinking colleges and universities have mobilized in order to spearhead a more robust non-traditional educational opportunity in the form of edX (https://www.edx.org): a free catalogue of online college courses offered by a network of prestigious schools such as MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley. The major draws of edX for potential students are the name-brand association to top tier schools offering the courses, the certificates awarded after course completion (which are also free), and- of course- the knowledge and training itself (Did I mention the whole thing is free??).

Since MIT and Harvard University launched the massive open online course (MOOC) platform in May of 2012, twenty-six other schools have joined the coalition, and that number is growing. The course lineup early on included a tech-heavy grouping of computer programming classes and a scattering of physical science introductions. Recently, however, these have expanded to include such diverse subjects as ethics, history and other humanities, law, literature, philosophy, and even a class on music in the 20th century (Ironically, this course is not offered by The Berklee School of Music, which has joined the coalition but not yet set forth any classes. Berklee’s edX page encourages visitors to “Check back soon!”).

Street-smart skeptic:

“Okay buddy- what’s the rub, the trade-off, catch, and/or scam?”

There isn’t one.

“There’s gotta be one!”

Nope.

“… Nice.”

In order to ascertain whether or not edX was in fact some sort of elaborate gimmick, I enrolled in a course myself (CS50x- an introductory computer programming course offered by Harvard University). I entered my information and waited for the obligatory: “Thanks for enrolling in our free class! Now if you’ll just enter your credit card information…” but it never came. I followed the lectures, completed the assignments, took the quizzes and nary a request for the green stuff did I encounter. There didn’t seem to be any “Nigerian princes” running this operation. Finally, the day came when I was supposed to receive my “Certificate of Mastery.”

Ahh, I thought. Here it comes: ‘Pay no attention to the billing invoice behind the curtain!!’

But, no! My trusty new partner in continuing education came through once again, and upon course completion emailed me a printable certificate with my very own name and very own verification code on it (which is stored in edX’s very own database) showing off my new programming cred for friends and family to behold with silent envy.

Free College Courses for the Masses

So, what do course proprietors get out of the arrangement? Edx president Anant Agarwal has stated that, “Everybody should have access to a high-quality education… We partner with some of the world’s best universities to offer courses to learners all over the world.”1 But, are the organization’s aims truly altruistic? This free online initiative may signal a coup which will grant the upper-hand to brick-and-mortar institutions that have been forced to implement changes to their curricula, in order to stay competitive with (exclusive) online rivals. Whether that is an intended consequence of the edX revolution, or not, is open for debate. Officially, the only ulterior motive that edX has admitted to for offering up free content- that costs traditional college students as well as distance learners at online schools thousands of dollars per year- are academic in nature. Researchers analyze how students make use of the uploaded lecture videos, quizzes, discussion forums and other materials, determining criteria such as the amount of time spent on each, then use the results to improve the overall educational model. Says Agarwal, “There [are] online learning assistance and platforms such as edX, but at the same time the same technologies can also be used to improve campus education. The blended models of learning… can dramatically improve campus education as well. I see online learning as a rising tide that will lift all boats. I think everything will be better.”2

It’s easy to hop on the edX bandwagon based on the organization’s conduct so far- as long as it stays free- but what will be the ramifications for traditional colleges and universities who opt out of the edX consortium? Public sentiment has begun to shift in recent years, as more and more people question the value of a traditionally aquired secondary education, in light of rising costs coupled with falling employment prospects. An analysis of government data conducted for the Associated Press in 2011 found that nearly 54% of college graduates under age 25 were unemployed.

For years high school guidance counselors have dissuaded students who have expressed an interest in notoriously unemployable majors (re: “A bachelor’s in Elizabethan Poetry may make you a shoe-in for the court heckler position at Ren Fest, Earl, but your prospects for employment decrease rapidly once you step foot out of Good King Henry’s Magical Realm.”), but in the global economy of the new millennium, even academic pursuits that were once considered to be safe bets for securing lucrative jobs after graduation have failed to yield prosperous employment for students post-graduation. Remember how Mom and Dad couldn’t stop nagging you about the vital role computer literacy would play in determining your future employment prospects? A 2012 study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce showed that science and technology majors suffer from an unemployment rate that supersedes the national average (7.6% at the time of the study). This means that tech-geeks and literary-snobs alike have been anxiously checking their voice mails for return-calls from the Staples HR department.3

This is not to say that computer literacy is not important to securing gainful employment in the modern, technological world. However, is it possible that- much like the ability to read and write- basic competence with computers and mass consumer technology is now something that companies simply expect of potential employees, regardless of other- more specific- training? If so, guidance counselor’s must now expand their admonitions to include a wider field (re: “Your degree in Computer Programming might make you a hit with Skyrim’s modding community, Earl, but your prospects for gainful employment are sharply reduced once you step foot outside of your Mom’s basement.”).

Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake

In a globally equalized job market, a college degree that is relevant to growing sectors of industry is no longer a sure-fire path to success in the professional world. The lure for companies to improve their bottom lines by outsourcing jobs to developing nations with cheap labor is too strong. Why pay an American salary when you can pay pennies on the dollar for the same work in India? Ironically, our nation’s financial success has left American professionals at a disadvantage to those of other countries with a lower cost of living.

The arguments made by lawmakers for globalization are often justified by invoking American ingenuity- that we may somehow perpetually sustain ourselves through innovation in our respective fields. But not everyone can build a better mousetrap. In any case, one thing is absolutely clear: Education is even more crucial now than it has been in times past. The landscape for attaining it is merely changing. Also, the brick-and-mortar institutions that have joined edX have shown a willingness to remove the financial risks involved with “investing” in education, and distilled the pure essence of learning for learning’s sake as a means of personal enrichment, and as a vehicle to improve the overall human condition. Colleges and universities who opt-out of participating in such a noble endeavor may find themselves under criticism in the near future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0dsCG7dLk

While educational materials have long been accessible from many colleges and universities for free under the “open course-ware” moniker, edX has galvanized the concept by implementing dynamic interaction, grading, and certification services into the mix in an unprecedented way. Furthermore, students are encouraged to ask and answer questions about course materials within community discussion forums, which are maintained by teaching staff for each class offered by edX. In this way, a class with a limited faculty may accept more enrollees than would traditionally be acceptable. Says Anant, about the first class ever taught on edX in May of 2012: “… [W]e were really concerned about the large number of students enrolled. We had 154,000 students… [B]ut through our online discussion boards, we saw the students answering each other’s questions. There were no repeat questions because once someone asked a question everybody could see the response. In that way, we were able to serve 154,000 students with a very small staff…”(re: 1)

Resources

  1. Dickie, M. Edx president predicts an online learning transformation [Internet]. Financial Times; 2013 Jun 30, [cited 2013 Oct 2]. Available from: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/102b69ec-dce4-11e2-9700-00144feab7de.html#axzz2XnaozQ8x
  2. Petrilla, M. Q&A: Anant Agarwal, edX’s president and first professor [Internet]. SmartPlanet; 2013 Sep 3, [cited 2013 Oct 2]. Available from: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/pure-genius/q-a-anant-agarwal-edxs-president-and-first-professor/8713
  3. Nemko, M. Enrolling at You U: An Alternative to Going Back to School [Internet]. U.S. News (Money); 2013 Jul 07 [cited 2013 Oct 2]. Available from: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/07/15/enrolling-at-you-u-an-alternative-to-going-back-to-school

Bias in Journalism

'The New York Times Building' by Michal Osmenda
‘The New York Times’ building, in New York City, NY. (Photo by Michal Osmenda – Complete photo credits are located at the end of this article)

Bias in Journalism

Do you have a preferred news source that you follow almost exclusively?

This editorial takes an in-depth look at bias in journalism, as it exists in our country, following a brief synopsis of human endeavor from pre-history to the Information Age. Your author would argue that in order to truly understand the nature of bias, it is first necessary to take a step back from our present understanding of the concept (as it exists in news reporting), and study the development of journalism in a broader sense, as related to the social science of History.

Continue reading Bias in Journalism

LGBT in the USA: Separation of Church and State

'LGBT Pride Flag - U.S. Shape)' by 'DrRandomFactor'
‘LGBT Pride Flag – U.S. Shape’ by DrRandomFactor (complete photo credits at bottom)

LGBT & the USA: Are We/Aren’t We (a Nation That Separates Church and State)?

Note: The following editorial is an opinion piece. –E.N.B.

Should the U.S. strive to completely separate church and state?

Depending on who you talk to, our nation is one of several things.  Many say She is a bastion of liberty, equality, and opportunity. To others, the U.S. is nothing more than a double-tongued hypocrite who makes false promises about tolerance, only to crush non-conformists. Still more would argue that a combination of the two is probably more accurate. Within the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, feelings about the land of our Lady Liberty are undoubtedly conflicted, as well.

Continue reading LGBT in the USA: Separation of Church and State

Through a Prism Darkly

Through a Prism Darkly

PRISM Logo
Logo for the NSA’s PRISM data mining program that operates out of Camp Williams National Guard Base, in Bluffdale, UT (Complete Photo Credits are located at the end of this article)

At Camp W.G. Williams National Guard base in Bluffdale, UT, the most comprehensive data mining and storage facility in American history has been brought online. Though it has satirically been dubbed Bumblehive (a wordplay on Utah’s nickname, “The Beehive State”), the NSA‘s new spying complex is quite real. Located about thirty miles south of Salt Lake City and spanning approximately 1.5 million square feet, the officially designated Utah Data Center (UDC) houses a nexus of super computers that are said to be capable of storing a yottabyte — that’s one trillion terabytes — of information.

Continue reading Through a Prism Darkly

Steve Brill’s TIME Cover Story “Bitter Pill” Under Fire

"Skyline of the Texas Medical Center, outside Houston" by David Daniel Turner
The sprawling Texas Medical Center just outside Houston — Steven Brill’s source of inspiration for the TIME cover story, “Bitter Pill”. (Complete photo credits are located at the end of this article.)
Have you read Steven Brill's TIME magazine cover story, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us"?

On February 20, 2013, TIME magazine published Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Usa scathing 36-page exposé by Steven Brill about the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in the U.S.1  In the piece, Brill gives us a disturbing glimpse at the culture of unchecked profiteerism that has infected our national Healthcare marketplace, perpetuated by health services institutions and pharmaceutical companies alike.  He then suggests some sensible regulatory measures that would go a long way towards repairing this rigged system.  But, as is often the case where vast sums of money are concerned, those who would stand to lose push back against the currents of change, damming up the possibility of reform by employing all of the tools that are typically favored by those with vast resources — e.g., misinformation, intimidation, quid pro quo lobbying of policymakers — in the hopes of stemming the tide for as long as possible.

Continue reading Steve Brill’s TIME Cover Story “Bitter Pill” Under Fire