December 24 - 30, 2006

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

For an infidel at this time of year, all the religious overtones of the season can cause a horrible case of cognitive dissonance. So, let's start with a tribute to Carl Sagan, from MSNBC's web site, which has a vein of sentimentalism throughout, but what the heck! We could use a good dose of Sagan's humanitarianism to help cure the world's ills:

Sagan's tolerance shines through in the writings of those most deeply touched by his legacy, starting with Druyan. She reflects on her husband's passing today in the inaugural posting of her own Web log, The Observatory, as well as in this month's issue of The Planetary Report:
"We have traveled ten times around the sun since Carl’s death, and our little world is much changed. With his dazzling mind and vast knowledge, what would he have thought of the direction we, as a civilization, have taken in the years since? How might he have campaigned against the forces of darkness and brutality? How many minds might he have opened? During the last ten years, I have longed for the personal Carl of our love, family, and work together, but I have also keenly missed the man who was a global voice for science, exploration, reason, and democracy. Carl’s ecological niche has remained tragically untenanted for all this time - and in my opinion, the consequences have been profound."

In his wide-ranging ecological niche, Sagan posed a challenge for believers to act more as if they really believed. At the time, the world was facing an apocalyptic nuclear threat that loomed at least as large as the apocalyptic terrorist threats that hang over us now. He noted that Christianity taught that redemption was always possible and that you should love your enemies, while "an anti-Christian would be someone who argues to hate your enemy and that redemption is impossible, that bad people remain forever bad."

Click here to read the full article...

No doubt most of you have read or seen television reports of this story, concerning the high school student who recorded his teacher's evangelical preaching in a U.S. history class. The young man has received death threats for "outing" this teacher, by the way. From the New York Times:

KEARNY, N.J. — Before David Paszkiewicz got to teach his accelerated 11th-grade history class about the United States Constitution this fall, he was accused of violating it.

Shortly after school began in September, the teacher told his sixth-period students at Kearny High School that evolution and the Big Bang were not scientific, that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, and that only Christians had a place in heaven, according to audio recordings made by a student whose family is now considering a lawsuit claiming Mr. Paszkiewicz broke the church-state boundary.

“If you reject his gift of salvation, then you know where you belong,” Mr. Paszkiewicz was recorded saying of Jesus. “He did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he’s saying, ‘Please, accept me, believe.’ If you reject that, you belong in hell.”

The student, Matthew LaClair, said that he felt uncomfortable with Mr. Paszkiewicz’s statements in the first week, and taped eight classes starting Sept. 13 out of fear that officials would not believe the teacher had made the comments. [...]

In this tale of the teacher who preached in class and the pupil he offended, students and the larger community have mostly lined up with Mr. Paszkiewicz, not with Matthew, who has received a death threat handled by the police, as well as critical comments from classmates.

For the full Times article, click here...

This story about work-place harassment by religious colleagues was posted on the web site of my local NBC affiliate:

DALLAS. Two former employees of the University of Texas at Arlington allege they were fired after praying over another staffer's cubicle and anointing it with olive oil.

Evelyne M. Shatkin was an administrative assistant and Linda Shifflett was a development funds assistant at U-T-A. They claim in a lawsuit filed today in federal court that their termination constitutes religious discrimination. The suit was filed in Fort Worth by the Liberty Legal Institute of Plano.

Click here to read the full story...

Sad to say, women are still pushing up against "the glass ceiling" in science and engineering, at least according to a report in the New York Times:

HOUSTON — Since the 1970s, woman surged into science and engineering classes in larger and larger numbers, even at top-tier institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where half the undergraduate science majors and more than a third of the engineering students are women. Half of the nation’s medical students are women, and for decades the numbers have been rising similarly in disciplines like biology and mathematics.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, chairwoman of bio-engineering at Rice University, juggles motherhood and career.

Yet studies show that women in science still routinely receive less research support than their male colleagues, and they have not reached the top academic ranks in numbers anything like their growing presence would suggest.

For example, at top-tier institutions only about 15 percent of full professors in social, behavioral or life sciences are women, “and these are the only fields in science and engineering where the proportion of women reaches into the double digits,” an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences reported in September. And at each step on the academic ladder, more women than men leave science and engineering.

Click here to read the full Times story...

This was a rather hopeful story, about new studies in environmentalism at Arizona State University (and by the way, Arizona is the fast-growing state, so its leaders can use advice on managing the population surge). From the Christian Science Monitor:

TEMPE, ARIZ. – Somewhere in the curriculum, most colleges and universities include Henry David Thoreau. Now, many of them are trying to emulate him.

Yes, sweeping the academic world is Walden Pond 101: the art of living in a sustainable manner. Think environmental and social responsibility.

One of the best examples of the ivory tower's effort to tread lightly on the land is at Arizona State University. Next month, ASU will inaugurate the nation's first School of Sustainability - whose classes will look at everything from water scarcity to urban air quality problems.

It is one of many universities putting its intellect and talents to use in the name of ecology. These institutions are devoting more research to solving global climate problems, and they're redesigning their own campuses to be examples of better ways to use and protect Earth's resources. For some schools, the financial commitment to these issues has started to run into the millions of dollars, as they foot salaries for new specialists and pay the costs of creating green buildings. At the very least, many universities are creating new courses in response to student interest.

Click here to read the full article...

The German opera has either reached new heights in its support of freedom of speech, or new depths of political incorrectness. From a story published on the MSNBC web site (with pics):

BERLIN - Just before the curtain dropped on an otherwise uneventful opera, the grisly scene that everyone came to see finally transpired. The King of Crete pulled the severed head of the prophet Muhammad out of a sack and triumphantly placed it on a wooden chair, next to three decapitated deities.

A few loud shouts of "Jawohl!" or "That's right!" erupted from the audience, along with some scattered jeering, as the long-delayed production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" came to a conclusion. Dozens of security men wearing earpieces scanned the crowd for trouble. But much to the relief of the anxious German authorities, no physical violence or terrorist threats were reported. Nor did any organized protests occur outside.

To read the full article, click here...

This column so rankled me that I had to leave a comment at the Washington Post site:

Reality Is We Are A 'Christian' Nation

Let’s not kid ourselves. America is a Christian nation—founded by Christians and still run by Christians.

To be sure, many of our nation's founders were Deists, but they were Christian Deists who read the Bible, loved Jesus, prayed to the Christian God, and encountered the world on Christian terms. It is as dangerous to try to pretend this history away as it is to pretend away the Christian Right. We may aspire to separation of church and state, but we do not yet live this ideal.

Click here for the complete Post article...

I'll conclude this wrap-up with a bit of good humor, from Father Guido Sarducci, which I found in the "bin" at the San Francisco Chronicle:

Father Guido Sarducci is so sick of Christmas music, he decided to write "the worst Christmas song ever."

"I realize the bar has been set high," deadpans the alter ego of comedian Don Novello.

But, by holly-jolly, he just may have done it.

Click for Father Guido's song...

The Talk of Lawrence