It was bound to happen. Last Friday, the AP style guide approved the use of ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.
Of course, it was necessary to explain the rationale: “We offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular, and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she,” Paula Froke, lead editor for the AP Stylebook, said on Friday.
Now that it’s official, some have celebrated what amounts to a progressive victory in the long-raging battle over pronouns. What started in the 1960s and 70s as a way to diminish gender stereotypes has come to full bloom in the obliteration of gender in the informal designation.
The objective bystander will note that in so doing, the AP has not only obliterated the concept of gender, but also grammar. The word ‘they’ has always been a way to identify more than one. As such, the attempt to accommodate for one demand has disrupted the language in other ways and ultimately left it more confusing and less effective. Continue reading
In a small town in the American Middlewest, a young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, doctors find no signs of cancer; he has been completely healed. The church community celebrates the apparent miracle—the power of prayer saved this little boy’s life!
In a similar situation, in another small town in the American Middlewest, another young boy is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Likewise, his church community rallies together to pray for his healing. Three months later, the little boy dies.
What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both cases, a child has a terminal disease and, in both cases, a large church community gathers to pray for the boy’s healing. Why is it that one boy lives and the other doesn’t? Did the second group not pray as hard? Did they pray incorrectly? In either case, did prayer work?
These are hypothetical scenarios, but the reader is sure to be familiar with these kinds of stories. A disaster happens, someone comes upon hard times, a friend comes down with a terrible disease. No matter what, we are encouraged to pray, the assumption being that the act of prayer will help to bring about a positive outcome in the situation.
When it ends the way that we want, we rejoice in the power of prayer. Of course, when it doesn’t end positively, or when something completely unexpected occurs, we say that it wasn’t God’s will and find some sort of meaning in what does happen.
While this is a comforting approach for some, it leaves many questions on the table. It can be misleading and, as a result, might end up hurting more than it comforts. A reassessment is called for.
When the soon-to-be-president Trump called a CNN reporter ‘fake news’ to his face, it was both entertaining and ironic. First of all, it was great theater seeing such an esteemed agency being called out in such a public forum. But, if anyone is a peddler of fake news, it is Trump.
Fake news has become something of a boogeyman man of late. Since Trump’s surprising election, politicians and pundits from both sides of the debate have pointed to fake news as a major culprit in the debacle.
But so-called fake news is not limited to news agencies broadcasting dubious partisan views—that is just the most prominent example, so everyone, including the future president, is harping on it. Looking closer, we see that fake news actually stems from a more fundamental crisis of philosophy that has swept through our culture in the last decades: The belief that truth is relative and all one needs to do to make something true is to say it. That philosophy is what fake news is all about, and the Donald might be its most reliable adherent. Continue reading
I might be a humbug, but I don’t get the grief over celebrity deaths. Yes, death is bad and it is especially sad to think of a talented person passing. As psychologist David Kaplan suggests in Lindsay Holmes’ reflection on Prince’s death, “We may grieve celebrities because our dream was to emulate their career path or because a celebrity death can also remind us of our mortality.”
But is all the lamentation really appropriate? Continue reading
When Taylor Swift recently declared herself to be a feminist, she said it was in part because she realized that Feminism isn’t necessarily anti-men. It is unknown whether she realized that it is in fact anti-women.
I have watched with great interest as Feminism has made a comeback in recent years. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Emma Watson have all made bold statements in favor of the movement; business leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg and writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have continued their support; and Hillary Clinton’s rise to the presidency has elevated the cause.
Altogether, the various initiatives and voices amount to what might be considered a Fourth Wave of Feminism.
The thoughtful reader cannot help but to ask ‘Why?’ After a century of reforms, why is it necessary to renew the charge? What are these new feminists after anyway?
If you ask a member of this Fourth Wave, they will likely tell you they are after equality. As Miss Swift put it, “Saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities.” To most, that is what Feminism has always been about, and that’s what it is still about.
Yet the casual observer will note that women have long had equal rights and opportunity. To be sure, women have the vote in every Western country, they dominate higher education, and comprise almost half of the U.S. workforce; contraception and abortion are not only legal, they are subsidized and mandated by the federal government; and a woman is the leading candidate for president of the United States of America. By all accounts, modern Western Civilization should be a feminist utopia.
Still, modern feminists are not happy. Indeed, they are fiercer than ever and ready for war. Why? Continue reading
In the aftermath of the horrific attack in Orlando, we have witnessed a death that is equally troubling if only because of its scope and the fact that no one is talking about it—the death of dissent.
Sympathy and support for the mostly gay victims has come from all corners of society including charitable gestures from Christians, Muslims, and others who are considered anti-gay. The sympathy and support is not what’s troubling. What’s troubling is that the sympathy and support have been rejected. Continue reading
The season of flowers, rain showers, and baseball. And, with Opening Day upon us, it is also the season of mangling the lyrics of John Fogerty’s ode to baseball, ‘Centerfield’.
Everywhere you turn during baseball season, you’ll hear this serenade of swat, and everywhere people will be singing it incorrectly. As you’ll hear it:
Put me in, coach
I’m ready to play today
And if you google the lyrics, that’s what you’ll see. It kinda makes sense, and everyone else is saying it that way, so no one thinks twice. Play ball.
The only problem is that those aren’t the lyrics.
March 5, 2016
With several blockbuster superhero films out every year, there can be little doubt that supers are hotter than ever. Batman, Iron Man, X-Men—there’s even something called Ant-Man. But, amid all the hoopla, one is compelled to wonder whether we have lost sight of what a superhero really is.
There was a time was when a superhero was the embodiment of goodness—bright, confident, and in service of truth, justice, and the American way.
Not so any more.
Of the eight major superhero pictures due in 2016, all are dark and brooding, some are violent enough to garner an ‘R’ rating, and the biggest of them feature superheroes battling, not a villain with some dark past, but other superheroes. These days, it’s the superhero who has a dark past, truth and justice are relative, and the best any of the heroes can hope for is a utilitarian solution to an unsolvable problem.
This is a far cry from the original superheroes. In 1978, Christopher Reeves starred as the genuine and honorable Superman in the first ever superhero blockbuster movie. It was a faithful telling of a hero, who had been a beacon of hope and goodness for generations in America.
Since, the superhero genre has exploded in popularity now touting thirteen of the twenty highest grossing films of all time. But, as its popularity has grown, the movies have grown darker and the heroes have grown more anti-heroic. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s Batman (1989) presented a darker twist on the superhero, albeit in a colorful and campy way. Then came X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, by all counts darker and dealing with more serious issues. By 2005, with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, we could see that the cheer of Superman was no longer relevant. Continue reading
As 2016 Super Tuesday results filed in, a sinking feeling could be felt across the country. Political pundits and lay voters alike realized that Donald J. Trump had a good chance of securing a majority of the states’ primaries, which meant that he could win Super Tuesday, and winning Super Tuesday could propel him toward the nomination, and if he won the nomination he could foreseeably win the presidency. That sinking feeling led to an eerie realization: The Donald could become president of the United States of America.
What had been an impossibility suddenly became real; what was for so long a joke was suddenly no laughing matter.
A chorus arose from the commentators, soft at first, but by Super Tuesday a full-blown bellow: Stop Trump! The Donald would be atrocious for American democracy, and we must do everything we can to prevent his nomination. People pulled out the stops; comparisons to Hitler were rife; Whoopi Goldberg threatened to leave America.
But, in reading over the commentary, hit pieces, and outright propaganda that arose to stop the unconventional candidate, it occurred to me that Trump really isn’t the worst thing for American democracy—the troop of anti-Trumpers and their logic are. Sure, Trump is a clown and has no business being the president of the country. But the anti-Trump haters are out-clowning him, and almost making a Trump presidency appealing because of it.
If there’s one thing that all leaders and pundits in the tech industry can agree on, it is that there aren’t enough women in the field.
As Derek Khanna pointed out in his seminal Atlantic article, women hold 57 percent of occupations in the workforce, but, in computing occupations, that figure is only 25 percent. The leadership picture is even more dismal. Of the many chief information officer jobs at Fortune 250 companies, women comprise only 20 percent. And it’s getting worse. In 1984, females were awarded 37.1 percent of computer science degrees; today they account for less than 12 percent.
If we were to listen to the popular tech writers of the day, politicians, and even a growing number of male tech leaders, this trend amounts to a great “tragedy”. As Khanna puts it, low numbers of women in tech is bad for women, bad for tech, and bad for society in general.
But can it be said that things are so terrible? The last time I checked, IT was the most expansive and innovative industry on the planet. Granted the numbers show that tech favors men, but can it be said that that is such a bad thing when it is clear that the industry is prospering so? Why is it a tragedy that only 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women? Why do we need more women in tech anyway?
I was at college the first time I had heard about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. So, naturally, I was a skeptic.
It was a hot August evening in Bloomington, IN, when I shuffled into a huge lecture hall with hundreds of other students to take the test. We were told that the test would measure our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and that it could help guide us in school and in work after graduation. We were told it would change our lives forever.
I wasn’t buying it. How could some stuffy academic know my interests, desires, and behavioral traits based on a few random questions? Who were they to say what is best for me in relationships and work? I took the test reluctantly and smug in the knowledge that it couldn’t possibly do what it promised.
Throughout the test, I found myself debating the wording of the questions and the method in general. For several questions, I found myself wanting to choose more than one answer. I selected the best, and carried on, sure that I would have to explain away what was bound to be a slew of errant results. Once I finished, I prepared to refute.
But, when I saw my results, something rather spooky happened. I actually agreed with the findings. Continue reading
May 16, 2015
If the recent debate over RFRA laws and same-sex marriage teaches us anything, it is not that there are a bunch of bigots out there or that there are people being unjustly discriminated against. It is that, as a nation, we are facing a crisis of rights.
Witness the recent news item from Oregon: Last month, a judge pronounced that two bakers should pay $135,000 in damages for refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.
Now, we can look at this from a few angles. It could be that a couple of bigots are getting what they deserve. Or it could be that they are being unfairly demonized for doing their conscience. There are good people with good arguments on both sides of the debate.
We can all agree, however, that the Oregon case signifies a clash between opposing rights. Both sides of the argument claim to be in the right and to have the right to do what they are doing. On the one side are the bakers’ rights to conduct business as they please and to practice their conscience. On the other side are the customers’ rights to buy available goods and to not be discriminated against. The bakers’ rights necessarily infringe upon the customers’ rights, and vice versa. Continue reading
Recently, the people at Emotional Intelligence 2.0 posted about the 9 Things Successful People Won’t Do. As could be expected, one of the items was that they won’t “prioritize perfection”. “Human beings,” they say, “by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure.” And, with a single short paragraph, they write off perfection as something that no successful person would even consider.
It struck me as odd primarily because I can think of a dozen perfectionists off the top of my head–and they are all successful. Think about celebrity perfectionists–Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, Serena Williams. These kinds of people are extremely talented and extremely successful. And, if you ask them, their success is largely dependent upon their drive for perfection. Why would the EI people suggest that successful people aren’t perfectionists when it’s clear that at least some exude the trait?
August 2, 2014
Photoshop is killing our self-esteem.
At least, that is the consensus on a growing trend throughout our media and culture: Advertising and editorials have combined to present an image of men and women—especially women—that is unrealistic, unattainable, and downright unhealthy.
The culprit? Photoshop and to some extent its users have singlehandedly distorted reality and made it impossible for girls and boys to be appealing. The photo editing software allows users—art directors and photographers alike—to remove wrinkles, cut fat, and emphasize tans, making women and men look flawless everywhere we turn. Take for instance, the image of a 55-year old Madonna. While the original shows her age, lines, and presents her as a little Smeagol, the final product is bright, vivid, and perhaps even youthful. In the original, she’s like a Gollum; in the final, she’s “Like a Virgin”.
From Bogart and Bacall to ‘Batman Begins,’ from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to ‘The Princess Bride,’ and from ‘Ben-Hur’ to Ben Kenobi, our lives are filled with personalities and narratives that grip our very souls. What connects us with these tales so naturally and powerfully? What provides the magic of a great character or plot twist? What is it about a good story that makes us want to triumph like Batman and fall in love like the Princess Bride? And why is it so difficult to achieve those happy endings ourselves?
‘The 90-Minute Effect’ explores the subtle manner in which all good stories are molded and shows how we as audience members shape our own lives according to what we see on screen and read in books. In a comprehensive survey covering Hollywood movies, novels, television shows, plays, and video games, both modern and classic, Eric Robert Morse examines the patterns in plot structure and character development that arise in all good stories, showing how each example offers its own unique approach to the universal formula.
This fascinating and inventive study fuses a detailed look at the inner-workings of stories with astute social analysis that will rivet lovers of storytelling as well as those interested in current sociological trends. ‘The 90-Minute Effect’ stands as a mesmerizing window into the human psyche and provides an entirely new theory of poetics that will change the way you watch movies and read novels forever.
After having read Jacques Barzun’s suma thirteen times, I have concluded that this book is not really 912 pages long as it appears in the product details, but rather 11,856 pages. Every time I read this masterpiece, I find new ideas and fresh material on every page. Seemingly, the book is an endless fount of intellect, culture, etiquette, morals, art, science, politics, and genius that serves as the capstone of the last era and the cornerstone for the next. Continue reading
One need not look far for evidence that these are divisive times. Charismatic talking heads battle on television, the radio, and the Internet over everything imaginable, including the war, abortion, immigration, health care, Social Security, and the cost of eggs in China. Continue reading
Everyone knows that it is an injustice to deprive a people of freedom. What is less well known is that it is an injustice of equal weight and urgency to deprive a people of responsibility. Continue reading
It is assumed in our culture that latest is best. The notion probably got its start thanks to the prominence of science and technology, two fields in which progress is a fact. But the belief has taken over the American mindset to the extent that all products of our culture adhere to that standard. Continue reading