Somewhere last week I read a book review about the dopiness of Americans. With all our anti-intellectualism and junk culture, we're not getting the facts straight anymore. Or something to that effect. I can't remember where I read the review, the title of the book, or the author's name, although I remember she's a professor somewhere. Hey, doing great. Gotta stay, to quote "Freaks & Geeks," uh...sharp.
The thing that stuck with me was that she decried the promise of the Internet as mainly a storehouse of junk knowledge. I can't argue with her there (especially since I can't remember who she is), but critics have been saying that about television for decades, and probably radio too. Oh the promise of the media to turn us all into intellectuals and failing miserably as we tune in each week to "Rock of Love."
Except it's not entirely true. Jackson watches PBS every day and he can now spell "mouse," with no help from me, thanks to the fairytale superheroes of "Super Why." We dance to techno music during the spelling segments of "Word World," which makes spelling more fun these days. And "Word Girl" completely rules. She comes from the Planet Lexicon and has a staggering vocabulary. Her pet monkey, Captain Huggy Face, taught Jackson the meaning of the word "flabbergasted" by doing the Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face. Then he launched into his patented giggle-inducing martial arts dance. Word Girl is a combination of Veronica Mars, Batgirl, and that smart girl in your fifth-grade class who turned out to be funny and nice once you got to know her. I wish these shows had been on when I was a kid--it would have been great to relate to superheroes as smart people instead of getting teased and beaten up in school for being smart. There's that anti-intellectualism coming out again.
Here's some links that fed my brain this month. Now that I think about it, I realize I read all these articles in their paper formats. But they live here too. It's all an informational mish-mash; let's give the Internet its due.
Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris wrote a very detailed and creepy account of what went on at Abu Ghraib in The New Yorker. What turned low-level U.S. military police into oppressors, torturers, and in the case of specialist Sabrina Harman, cheerfully photogenic digital journalists of the entire war-crime scene? This is pretty much an overview of hell on Earth.
I love The Oregonian and actually look forward to reading its opinion page each morning. Associate editor David Sarasohn can be counted on for thoughtful, well-researched columns. Today he wrote about the costs of the Iraq war in money and lives, and the lack of policy that put us there and keeps us there; not an easy topic for one column, but it's all in there.
The Oregonian regularly publishes Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column from The Miami Herald. Today he thanks Mike Huckabee for showing empathy for Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And he thoughtfully criticizes the media for over-doing the coverage of Obama's church leader, when past presidents and presidential candidates have made equally racist statements with barely a news-lead blip.
Keith pointed me to Peggy Noonan's column in today's Wall Street Journal on Hillary Clinton's history of lying and thuggishness while campaigning. Her "memory" of landing in Bosnia is really character-revealing. Noonan blasts her most harshly.
If you want to be informed, subscribe to Discover Magazine. Every issue is a mind-boggling accumulation of science news from around the world. April's edition has a really interesting interview with Wade Davis, a sort of Indiana Jones of natural psychedelic substances. He's famous for figuring out the secret ingredients of Haitian zombie poison (key component: puffer fish). The History Channel will air his two-hour special, Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey, on April 20th. I cannot resist a title like that; can you?
Also in Discover, an article on Bodie, California, one of the best preserved ghost towns in the nation. And how to find a ghost town near you. If you use a PC, you can download the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator and pilot spacecrafts around our solar system (without leaving the house). More entertainment: the best science photos of 2007, and 20 things you didn't know about sex. Hey, it's important stuff. I can barely get through my Discovers but they're always fascinating. I can feel my brain expanding as I thumb through the articles, written for regular people like me. I have a goal to read the entire Einstein issue before summer. Discover titles it, "Albert Einstein, Rock Star" to spark our interest, because you know Americans--we're all like, "DUH..."