Friday, August 20, 2010

If 18% think he's Muslim, that has less to do with Obama than with the U.S. educational system

The fascination of supposedly mainstream media and such supposedly reputable polling organizations as the Pew Research Center with the rightwing noise machine's contention that President Obama is a Muslim drives me nuts.
A widely reported poll from the Pew Research Center pegs the number of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim at 18 percent. Matt Drudge and others prefer the "shock" Time-SRBI poll showing 24 percent holding this false notion.
So what? Or rather, why isn't this a story about the deficiencies of our educational system rather than a story about President Obama? Why isn't it presented with some context about other crazy things believed by what used to be called the lunatic fringe?
About a fifth (or more) of the American public will believe anything. Twenty percent believe that the Sun rotates around the Earth, as the NYT reported a few years ago.
Dr. Miller's data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.
Since when have the opinions of the most ignorant and bigoted of our citizenry become so important, so worthy of headline attention?

When I went to school way back in the prehistoric era, schools still taught civics and history. The role of the public schools was thought to be the preparation of young people to take their place as citizens of a democracy. We were taught to read the news critically, to think for ourselves and to be wary of demagogues. Sure, this is a somewhat rosy picture, but at least that was the ideal.

Now we seem to expect less of our schools. It's not surprising that they've responded by abdicating their old role. Today, talk radio seems to have filled the vacuum, and our public life is infinitely poorer for it.

How it works now: Big Brother beckons with a smile and the promise to entertain us

The internet as most consumers of online media know it is filled with goodies that are brought to us by so-called the Adobe Flash player. Turns out that many of the top sites are riddled with "zombie cookies."
A wide swath of the 'Net's top websites, including MTV, ESPN, MySpace, Hulu, ABC, NBC and Scribd, were sued in federal court Friday on the grounds they violated federal computer intrusion law by secretly using storage in Adobe's Flash player to recreate cookies deleted by users.

At issue is technology from Quantcast, also targeted in the lawsuit. Quantcast created Flash cookies that track users across the Web, and used them to recreate traditional browser cookies that users deleted from their computers. These “zombie” cookies came to light last year, after researchers at UC Berkeley documented deleted browser cookies returning to life. Quantcast quickly fixed the issue, calling it an unintended consequence of trying to measure Web traffic accurately.
Steve Jobs took a lot of heat for not supporting Flash on the iPhone and iPad. Looks like he had a point after all.

(Via Holden Richards)

Negronis at Il Ritrovo in Sheboygan: Perfect end to a beautiful day

Negronis at Il Ritrovo: Perfect End to a Beautiful Day
We drove nearly 150 miles (with side trips to the Lunts' Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot and Kohler-Andrae State Park on Lake Michigan) for these cocktails just as the sun was setting, and they didn't disappoint. Il Ritrovo in Sheboygan is the perfect place to unwind after a day of touring and hiking. Wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and so much more. Local ingredients, wonderful salads, appetizers and soup -- and they even know how to make a great Negroni without having to ask or look up the recipe (1part Campari, 1part sweet vermouth, 1part gin) on Google.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How do we ensure that we—and our kids—will continue to be able to "ask a librarian" in the digital world of the future?

The striking reference desk at the Sequoya branch of the Madison Public Library reminds me that—long before Google, long before the Internt and search engines in general—I used to rely on the reference desk at the library to help me track down information I couldn't find on my own.

Because of the convenience of the Internet, I now tend to rely on it most of the time, but something has been lost—in order to search for something, I have to know what I'm looking for. To find what I don't know I'm looking for, I need to go to the library, not only to browse, but to talk to librarians, who are curators of information resources. How do we ensure that we—and our kids—will continue to be able to "ask a librarian" in the digital world of the future?

You only have to look at what's happening to bookstores to worry. If printed books go the way of the e-reader and everyone acceses information digitally, won't that old analog institution, the public library, just go away?

I hope not. We need libraries because we're drowning in a world of information, and librarians are the people who know how to access information that can't be found with a simple Google search. We need these navigators of the digital seas to help us find our way, and sound the depths. That's why we need to maintain the strength of libraries in a time when books and their role are undergoing the greatest transformation in their history.