According to 16-year-old Ryan Walters of North Carolina, abolishing the title of valedictorian in high schools only serves to “recogniz[e] mediocrity, not greatness.” Ryan was interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article about ridding schools of valedictorian titles, and he provides a voice of disapproval and disappointment. After working toward the glorious title of valedictorian for many years of his life, Ryan’s dream is over, as his high school has decided to do away with recognizing the top performer in each graduating class. This harsh critique by the Heritage High School junior may have some validity, but it can also be refuted.
The Economist reported last week that more and more Americans are coming to believe the Earth is shaped like a pancake and not like a ball. The report comes as California resident Mike Hughes, hoping to prove our home planet is flat, is finalizing plans to fling himself 1,800 feet into the atmosphere above the desert in a homemade rocket in order to take a snapshot of Earth.
These are just the latest in a recent flurry of flat-Earth blips on our national radar. In January 2016, Atlanta rapper B.o.B. unloosed a torrent of tweets insisting the Earth is flat, attracting the ultimately unheeded Twitter refutations of prominent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
During a visit to Utah on December 4, President Trump announced that he would scale back Bear Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments, designating the federal land available for private sale. In what Republicans hail as Trump “listening to local people” and freeing land from “restrictive monument designation,” this is seen by many to be the first time since the Antiquities Act of 1906 that a president has attempted to reverse the preservation of federal land. According to the National Park Service, past presidents have redrawn boundaries of existing parks 18 times, but this move by President Trump has been met with strong civic and legal resistance.
The Island of Ni’ihau is a recluse. Only the island’s inhabitants, along with a few fortunate individuals from outside Ni’ihau, are allowed to leave and return as they please. This 70-square-mile plot of land near the center of the Pacific Ocean is Hawaii’s westernmost island, and it lacks roads, Internet, and even indoor plumbing. Ni’ihau hosts approximately 130 permanent residents, all of whom live in isolation and without modern conveniences in an effort to preserve the native culture of Hawaii. The island was sold by King Kamehameha V in 1864 to the Scottish plantation-owner Elizabeth Sinclair, who promised to keep Hawaiians “as strong in Hawaii as they are now.” Despite the residents’ conversion to Christianity, a few modern technologies being introduced, and some of the younger islanders learning English, the local culture along with the native Hawaiian language have successfully persisted.
All this was jeopardized, however, in the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
In a recent newspaper article for DePauw University’s student newspaper, Madison Dudley interviews five DePauw seniors about their decision to begin a petition. This petition implores certain members of DePauw’s Board of Trustees to end their support of politicians who “support laws that can be interpreted as regulating women’s bodies, fail to protect DACA students, and support the recent Republican tax plan.” The petition campaign was accompanied by posters hung in women’s bathrooms in every stall of every academic building on campus. Each poster pictures a conservative politician’s face, with information about the petition and the expression “He might as well be watching you pee.”
On December 5, the US Supreme court heard arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case gives the newly minted Trump majority an opening to rethink public accommodations law. Currently, 45 states have laws that prohibit discrimination by businesses offering public accommodations: loosely, those offering goods or services to the general public. (The federal government claims some scope for jurisdiction under the interstate commerce clause.) These laws have always been controversial. Most recently, evangelical Christians have been arguing that these laws are too broad. The court has a chance to narrow the scope of public accommodation laws: prohibiting discrimination only in more narrowly defined range of essential accommodations.
The rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in everyday life has been a defining feature of this decade. These technologies have gotten surprisingly powerful in a short span of time. Computers now not only give directions, but also drive cars by themselves; algorithms predict not only the weather, but the immediate future, too. Voice-activated virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa can carry out countless daily tasks like turning lights on, playing music, making phone calls, and searching the internet for information.
Asian elephants have been observed reassuring other elephants in distress. Elephants have also been observed behaving in ways that appear to show grief at the death of other elephants. Evidence (admittedly sparse) has also suggested that elephants may be self-aware—that is, aware of themselves as separate from other objects and the environment. Over the years, we have learned much about the rich cognitive and social lives of elephants. Does this increasing body of evidence indicate that elephants should be treated as persons, too?
In the past weeks, several women have accused Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore from Alabama of sexual assault. As the December 12 election nears, Moore has yet to drop out of the race, and most people, including voters and several prominent Republicans, have yet to criticize him or suggest that he drop out of the race. Multiple women have come forward and accused Moore of sexual assault when he was in his 30’s and serving as an assistant district attorney; one of the women was only 14. The Washington Post launched an investigative article on November 9, and D.C. has avoided dealing with the accusations in wake of the upcoming special election. Debate continues over whether or not Moore should drop out of the election.
The question about bias in science is in the news again.
It arose before, in the summer, when the press got hold of an inflammatory internal memo that Google employees had been circulating around their company. The memo’s author, James Damore, now formerly of Google, argued that Google’s proposed solutions to eradicating the gender gap in software engineering are flawed. They’re flawed, Damore thought, because they assume that the preponderance of men in “tech and leadership positions” is a result only of social and institutional biases, and they ignore evidence from evolutionary psychology suggesting that biologically inscribed differences in “personality,” “interests,” and “preferences” explain why women tend not to hold such positions.
2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The communist Left has organized celebrations, and this is unfortunate. That revolution did not topple the Czar’s autocratic regime, but rather a liberal government that was progressing towards important reforms. Furthermore, the Bolshevik Revolution soon turned extremely violent, and gave rise to a totalitarian regime that brought much misery to the world.
This year’s headlines have been dominated by sexual assault and harassment allegations against powerful, wealthy politicians and prominent figures in the entertainment industry. In many ways, this is old news—people in positions of power have always used that power to sexually exploit and harass those in less powerful positions. The difference is, until recently, these figures seemed too big to fall.
Recently, sexual assault in Hollywood has been a catalyst for bringing up the topic of abuse and the institutions that place women in vulnerable positions in which assault happens. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Ben Affleck are only a few Hollywood figures who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault recently. The voices of those abused in Hollywood are being heard, as they should be. However, there is another group suffering from the same abuse, yet few are aware. Sexual assault in the agricultural industry is a pervasive issue seldom discussed, yet it impacts hundreds of women who often feel voiceless and powerless before, during, and after abuse.