Listened to Hurtling Toward Catastrophe from On the Media | WNYC Studios

A vehicle burns at Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad on Friday. The Pentagon said the U.S. operation killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force.

After the US military assassinated an Iranian military general, war propaganda kicked into overdrive. On this week’s On the Media, how news consumers can cut through the misleading claims and dangerous frames. Plus, how Generation Z is interpreting the geopolitical crisis through memes. And, how apocalyptic thinking is a near-constant through history. 

1. Nathan Robinson [@NathanJRobinson], editor of Current Affairs, on the most suspect tropes in war coverage. Listen.

2. Lee Fang [@lhfang], investigative journalist at The Intercept, on the pundits with unacknowledged conflicts of interest. Listen.

3. Ian Bogost [@ibogost], contributing writer at The Atlantic, on memes. Listen.

4. Dan Carlin [@HardcoreHistory], host of "Hardcore History," on apocalyptic moments throughout human history. Listen.

Brooke Gladstone speaking with Ian Bogost [@ibogost], contributing writer at The Atlantic, on #​WorldWar3 memes:

34:29 IB: That’s the pattern that we will see recur. Not necessarily with respect to warfare.  But whatever the next thing is. And there certainly will be a next thing.
34:37 BG: You wrote that the end of the world could be a “dark but deviously appealing fantasy”, and you were talking about your own experience as a GenX-er during the cold war. What seems soothing about the apocalypse back then?
34:54 IB: The idea that you live at the end of history is incredibly comforting. Even if you don’t know everything that happened in the past. There will be none who follow you. You’ve seen it all either personally or historically. You haven’t missed anything in the project that is human kind.
35:12 BG: That’s FOMO taken to the n-degree, isn’t it?
35:15 IB: Right, I mean the fear of annihilation is a particularly piquant version of the fear of death. It’s about not seeing what comes next for your progeny–for humanity at large. It makes sense to me that there would be some comfort even if it’s a perverse comfort in everyone being together at the end.

Sounds exactly like the same sort of historical apocalyptic “Repent now for the end is at hand” sort of philosophy that a 30 year old Jesus was espousing two millennia ago. And look what happened to that idea. 

Makes me wonder who the Paul of Tarses TikTok is going to be for the next two millennia?

Read Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories. (nytimes.com)
We analyzed some of the most popular social studies textbooks used in California and Texas. Here’s how political divides shape what students learn about the nation’s history.

📑 Highlights and Annotations

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

I can’t help but think here about a recent “On The Media” episode A Civilization As Great As Ours which highlighted changes in how history is taught in India. This issue obviously isn’t just relegated to populist India.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:22AM

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

If they wanted to add more “depth and nuance” wouldn’t they actually go into greater depth on the topic by adding pages instead of subtly painting it such a discouraging light?

But Texas students will read that some critics “dismissed the quality of literature produced.”

Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:27AM

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

Here’s where OER textbooks might help to make some change. If free materials with less input from politicians and more input from educators were available. But then this pushes the onus down to a different level with different political aspirations. I have to think that taking the politicization of these decisions at a state level would have to help.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:30AM

How Textbooks are Produced

  1. Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
  2. Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
  3. State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
  4. Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

This is an abominable process for history textbooks to be produced, particularly at mass scale. I get the need for broad standards, but for textbook companies to revise their books without the original authors is atrocious. Here again, individual teachers and schools should be able to pick their own texts if they’re not going to–ideally–allow their students to pick their own books.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:33AM

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

And even at this they should be gearing them honestly and truthfully toward the students.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:39AM

Bookmarked Lurking: How a Person Became a User by Joanne McNeil (MCD )

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a part of―even if we don’t participate, that is how we participate―but by which we’re continually surprised, betrayed, enriched, befuddled. We have churned through platforms and technologies and in turn been churned by them. And yet, the internet is us and always has been.

In Lurking, Joanne McNeil digs deep and identifies the primary (if sometimes contradictory) concerns of people online: searching, safety, privacy, identity, community, anonymity, and visibility. She charts what it is that brought people online and what keeps us here even as the social equations of digital life―what we’re made to trade, knowingly or otherwise, for the benefits of the internet―have shifted radically beneath us. It is a story we are accustomed to hearing as tales of entrepreneurs and visionaries and dynamic and powerful corporations, but there is a more profound, intimate story that hasn’t yet been told.

Long one of the most incisive, ferociously intelligent, and widely respected cultural critics online, McNeil here establishes a singular vision of who we are now, tells the stories of how we became us, and helps us start to figure out what we do now.

book cover

Listened to The Hidden Truths of Hanukkah from On the Media | WNYC Studios

A special history lesson in time for the holidays.

Today is Christmas, but it's also Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights. With its emphasis on present-giving, dreidel games and sweet treats, the holiday seems to be oriented towards kids. Even the story of Hanukkah has had its edges shaved down over time. Ostensibly, the holiday is a celebration of a victory against an oppressive Greek regime in Palestine over two thousand years ago, the miracle of oil that lit Jerusalem's holy temple for 8 days and nights, and the perseverance of the Jewish faith against all odds.

According to Rabbi James Ponet, Emeritus Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale University, the kid-friendly Hanukkah mythology has obscured the thorny historical details that offer deeper truths about what it means to be a Jew. In his 2005 Slate piece, "Hanukkah as Jewish Civil War," Ponet looked at the often-overlooked Jew-on-Jew violence that under-girds the Hanukkah story. In 2018, he and Brooke discussed how this civil war lives on in Jewish views on Israel, and how the tension between assimilation and tradition came to define the Jewish people. We're re-releasing it today in time for the holidays.

Watched "Explained" Cults from Netflix
With LaKeith Stanfield, Catherine Oxenberg, Laura Johnston Kohl, Janja Lalich. How do cults lure people in and exert control? Learn a cult's telltale signs, and how loneliness and life online makes indoctrination easier than ever.
A fascinating short take on cults with some relatively recent history within the United States. It’s interesting to think about how the definition and details presented here relate to how our current US president has turned the Republican Party into a cult.

I haven’t heard it in a while, but Reza Aslan mentions the old saw “cult + time = religion” in here.

Bookmarked City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism by Abram C. Van Engen Abram C. Van Engen (Yale University Press)

book cover of City on a Hill by Abram C. Van Engen

In this illuminating book, Abram Van Engen shows how the phrase “City on a Hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the twentieth century.

By tracing the history of Winthrop’s speech, its changing status throughout time, and its use in modern politics, Van Engen asks us to reevaluate our national narratives. He tells the story of curators, librarians, collectors, archivists, antiquarians, and often anonymous figures who emphasized the role of the Pilgrims and Puritans in American history, paving the way for the saving and sanctifying of a single sermon. This sermon’s rags-to-riches rise reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how those tales continue to influence competing visions of the country—the many different meanings of America that emerge from its literary past.

Bookmarked Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana by Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross (Cambridge University Press )

How did Africans become 'blacks' in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders' efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies - Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana - Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross demonstrate that the law of freedom - not slavery - established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.

Becoming Free, Becoming Black book cover

This is coming out in January, but I’ve managed to grab an advance reader copy for my holiday reading.
Bookmarked Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood by Colin Woodard (Viking)

book cover of Union by Colin Woodard

Union tells the story of how the myth of our national origins, identity, and purpose was intentionally created in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A small group of individuals--historians, political leaders, and novelists--fashioned a history that attempted to erase the fundamental differences and profound tensions between the nation's regional cultures, the motive for the Confederacy's secession (protecting a slave system), and even the reasons that drove the colonies to secede from Britain. These men were creating the idea of an American nation instead of a union of disparate states, and a specific, ethnically defined "American people" instead of just a republican citizenry.

Their emerging nationalist story was immediately and powerfully contested by another set of intellectuals and firebrands who argued that the United States was instead an ethno-state, the homeland of the allegedly superior "Anglo-Saxon" race, upon whom Divine and Darwinian favor shined. Their vision helped create a new federation--the Confederacy--prompting the bloody Civil War. While defeated on the battlefield, their vision later managed to win the war of ideas in the late nineteenth century, capturing the White House in the early twentieth century, and offering the first consensus, pan-regional vision of U.S. nationhood by the close of the first World War. This narrower, more exclusive vision of America would be overthrown in mid-century, but as early twenty-first-century Americans discovered, it was never fully vanquished. Woodard tells the story of the genesis and epic confrontations between these visions of our nation's path and purpose through the lives of the key figures who created them, a cast of characters whose personal quirks and virtues, gifts and demons shaped the destiny of millions.

Bookmarked The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books)
In the early eighteenth century, the Pirate Republic was home to some of the great pirate captains, including Blackbeard, "Black Sam" Bellamy, and Charles Vane. Along with their fellow pirates—former sailors, indentured servants, and runaway slaves—this "Flying Gang" established a crude but distinctive democracy in the Bahamas, carving out their own zone of freedom in which servants were free, blacks could be equal citizens, and leaders were chosen or deposed by a vote. They cut off trade routes, sacked slave ships, and severed Europe from its New World empires, and for a brief, glorious period the Republic was a success. Book cover of The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard featuring a skull and crossbones
Listened to Sons of the Soil from On the Media | WNYC Studios

How Hindu nationalists are rewriting the story of India.

Last week, India’s ruling party (the BJP) passed the Citizenship Amendment Act. The legislation grants a clear path to Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Opponents pointed out flaws in the law almost as soon as it was introduced. The law fails to mention Muslim minorities who face persecution in their own countries, such as the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Critics see it as the latest step in the Hindu nationalist government’s steady march toward a Hindu nation-state. The move follows the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy this summer, and two million people losing statehood in Northeast India after being left off of a national register of citizens. The list requires citizens to provide documents to prove Indian ancestry. Many Muslims fear that the National Register of Citizens will be enacted across India, leaving religious minorities in the world’s largest democracy in danger of losing their home.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah twisted history to provide justification for the Citizenship Amendment Act, shouting to his colleagues in Parliament that decades ago it was the now opposition, Congress Party, that divided India and Pakistan along religious lines. As Indian historian Romila Thapar wrote in The New York Times earlier this year, “extreme nationalists require their own particular version of the past to legitimize their actions in the present.” This week, we go back to a piece reported by OTM Producer Asthaa Chaturvedi. She examines how Hindu nationalists are rewriting Indian history in the world’s largest democracy, with journalist Shoaib Daniyal, political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, and sociology professor Nandini Sundar.

Read HEWN, No. 335 by Audrey Watters (hewn.substack.com)
I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about how bad ideas in ed-tech spread. Obviously, a key way is via the media. Take this NYT story for example: “The Machines Are Learning, and So Are the Students.”
A great example of whitewashing in edtech pointed out here.

I also recommend that NYT response about the 1619 project. 

Listened to Helen DeWaard by Terry Greene from Gettin' Air The Open Pedagogy Podcast | voicEd

Terry Greene (@greeneterry) speaks with Helen DeWaard. One of Canada’s openest of open educators, they chat about Helen’s plans for her winter courses in Lakehead University’s Faculty of Education, her involvement in Virtually Connecting, and her eCampusOntario Open Education Fellowship.

Cover art for Gettin' Air

Terry does a great job of exploring his personal context with Helen to give us a fantastic “frame” though which to see her. I liked that he asked her questions about who she follows/recommends. It’s a great way to get to not only know someone, but to get to know other interesting people.

There’s a great description and some history of the idea of Virtually Connecting here.

Helen mentions her one word projects and it reminds me that I should ask Aaron Davis how his 2019 word has been going. I should spend some time thinking this week and next to see if I can’t pick a word for 2020. I’m sort of thinking that “memory” may be an apropos one.

Listened to Alan Levine by Terry Greene from Gettin' Air The Open Pedagogy Podcast | voicEd

Terry Greene (@greeneterry) speaks with Alan Levine (@cogdog) about the endlessly amazing work Alan has done in the open over the years, including his involvement in the Ontario Extend project and where that work is headed.

Cover art for Gettin' Air

I’m starting to see a pattern in these episodes. 😉

Terry puts a hard out at about 30 minutes and teases the audience by saying to the guest something like “I want to have you back again, our time was too short.” Some of the older episodes are old enough, he’d surely have had guests back by now. What he’s doing is great, but I have to inure myself against the disappointment of great guests coming back (any time real soon.)

Listened to From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices? from Fresh Air | NPR

Journalist Jessica Grose, linguistics professor Penny Eckert and speech pathologist Susan Sankin discuss upspeak, vocal fry and why women's voices are changing — and whether or not that's a problem.

Journalist Jessica Grose is no stranger to criticism of her voice. When she was co-hosting the Slate podcast, the DoubleX Gabfest, she would receive emails complaining about her "upspeak" — a tendency to raise her voice at the end of sentences.

Once an older man she was interviewing for an article in Businessweek told her that she sounded like his granddaughter. "That was the first moment I felt [my voice] was hurting my career beyond just irritating a couple listeners," Grose tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

–Originally bookmarked on December 18, 2019 at 09:53AM
Listened to Computers Judge What Makes The Perfect Radio Voice by Audie Cornish from All Things Considered | NPR

A few weeks ago, All Tech Considered asked the audience to send voice samples to analyze. Those samples were put through an algorithm to figure out what kind of voice would make an appealing radio host. NPR's Audie Cornish explains how this experiment turned out.

hat tip: What do authority and curiosity sound like on the radio? NPR has been expanding that palette from its founding | NiemanLab