All posts filed under: Top Stories

Saint Lucia—Darkness Has Not Overcome The Light

It is dark and bitterly cold—early morning in Nordic midwinter. Suddenly, she appears: A beautiful girl, dressed in white, palms pressed together as if in prayer, carrying on her head a crown of flaming candles. Behind her, a procession of girls and boys in white robes, holding candles and stars. Together they perform some of the most cherished songs in the Swedish music tradition a capella. Such is the magic of the festival of Saint Lucia, celebrated before the break of dawn every December 13 in churches, schools, workplaces and nursing homes around Sweden. The celebration originally commemorated Saint Lucy of Syracuse, a Christian 4th-century martyr who, according to tradition, was killed by the sword for her faith. Today’s Swedish Lucia wears a red band around her waist in honor of this ancient sacrifice.  In recent years, however, the festival has been subject to a recurring debate about gender roles and inclusion. Many girls dream of being voted Lucia of their school or town. But the idea of the young, white-clad virgin is increasingly viewed …

Australia’s PISA Shock

Last week, the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. These were based on tests taken in 2018 in reading, mathematics and science by a sample of students from each of the relatively wealthy OECD member countries as well as a range of other partner countries. Importantly, PISA researchers also surveyed participants on everything from their social media use to classroom climate. The results have rightly produced a great deal of comment in Australia because they are further evidence of the country’s long-term decline in education. Mathematics and science have both continued their relentless downward drift and although reading held steady since the last round of testing in 2015, it has slid a long way since the first round in 2000. In the context of Australia’s PISA results, it is tempting to look to the results from other countries for ideas on how the country can get out of this rut. Over the last decade or so, the region most cited by educationalists as an example to follow is the small Northern …

The Jewish Dilemma

Es iz schwer tzu sein a yid. It is hard to be a Jew. ~Sholem Aleichem When Britain’s Jews go to the polls next week, they do so at an uncomfortable moment. For the first time in at least a half century, their community—roughly 330,000 citizens—has become a major, if unwelcome, political issue. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a long-standing ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, and a fierce opponent of Israel’s right to exist, so the prospect of him becoming Prime Minister has made Jews nervous. As the New York Times suggests, British Jews are “Labourites practically by birth,” but many of them are likely to vote Conservative this time around. The dilemma British Jews face is an increasingly common one across Europe. Britain’s Jews may not much like Boris Johnson, as they opposed Brexit by a factor of two-to-one, but many, in the words of the former Chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, see the prospect of Corbyn’s election as “an existential crisis.” Polls suggest that just six percent of UK Jews …

‘Girls Need Female Role Models’ and Other Bromides

There are a handful of dictums in the modern feminist discourse that are so omnipresent, so incontrovertible, so apparently obvious, that, whenever they are pronounced, the only appropriate reaction is enthusiastic head-bobbing. Or, if you prefer, solemn brow-knitting. Like two plus two equals four, these dictums are axioms, not to be discussed, let alone contested. Challenge them, however, and you’ll see how easily they fall apart. For example, consider the adage “What will we tell our daughters?” Each time I hear this phrase, I remember Emmeline Grangerford from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Miss Grangerford spent her short life writing funereal poetry and died of disappointment, aged fifteen, after failing to compose a satisfactory eulogy for a deceased neighbour called Whistler because she couldn’t find a word to rhyme with his name. What will we tell our daughters? Why not tell them the same thing we will tell our sons, our friends and colleagues, our Thursday night poker group—and that should be whatever is the fairest and most honest analysis of the situation. What …

Are We in the Midst of a Transgender Murder Epidemic?

The claim that there’s an “epidemic” of fatal anti-transgender violence in the United States has been made widely in recent years. A Google search for the phrase “epidemic of anti-trans violence” turns up pieces from the New York Times, NBC National News, ABC National News, and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT lobby group—among 2,500,000 other results. The HRC’s primary on-point article was headlined ‘A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence,’ while the Times led with ‘Eighteen Transgender Killings This Year Raise Fears of an Epidemic.’ Transgender Day of Remembrance has been celebrated since the late 1990s to honor those “members of the transgender community whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence,” and the American Medical Association has stated on record that fatal attacks on transgender people—particularly minority trans women—constitute a large part of an “epidemic of violence” against the trans community. However, there is remarkably little evidence that transgender Americans are killed at an unusually high rate. According to an exhaustive database kept by the HRC, there were 29 recorded murders of …

The New White Man’s Burden

In recent years, we have seen graphic and disturbing scenes of migrants attempting to cross into Europe as they flee the developing world. Especially poignant are the pictures of young, sub-Saharan African men scaling the barrier fences that surround the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco: Leaving aside whether Spain should return these enclaves to Morocco, the determination of migrants bound for Europe is striking. They have illegally entered Morocco and, from there, are allowed to enter another country illegally—almost certainly with the tacit approval of the Moroccan authorities. Also striking is the sight of the young men crying “freedom” and wrapping themselves in the EU flag upon their arrival in these enclaves. In reality, they are anything but free, as it is highly unlikely that the Spanish authorities will grant them asylum and the right of abode. If it is determined that they are illegal economic migrants, they will be removed in due course. Even so, this is not a remotely sufficient deterrent. We are often told that such images are an …

The Million-Petalled Flower

Who wrote this? “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” But you guessed straight away: George Orwell. The subject stated up front, the sudden acceleration from the scope-widening parenthesis into the piercing argument that follows, the way the obvious opposition between “lies” and “truthful” leads into the shockingly abrupt coupling of “murder” and “respectable,” the elegant, reverse-written coda clinched with dirt-common epithet, the whole easy-seeming poise and compact drive of it, a worldview compressed to the size of a motto from a fortune cookie, demanding to be read out and sayable in a single breath—it’s the Orwell style. But you can’t call it Orwellian, because that means Big Brother, Newspeak, the Ministry of Love, Room 101, the Lubyanka, Vorkuta, the NKVD, the MVD, the KGB, KZ Dachau, KZ Buchenwald, the Reichsschrifttumskammer, Gestapo HQ in the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, Arbeit macht frei, Giovinezza, Je suis partout, the compound at Drancy, the …

Something for Nothing—The Importance of Mindful Volunteering

Every day we receive fresh solicitations requesting our time, our money, and our attention to various causes. It is not enough simply to live our lives, we must somehow justify our existence beyond earning a living and paying our taxes. According to a VolunteerHub estimate, one out of four people in the U.S. volunteer their time and effort with an average value of $24.14 per hour. The average is 22–23 percent in Europe and 19 percent in Australia. The site states that volunteering improves health and chances of gaining employment by 27 percent. So it is not an entirely selfless act. I come not to praise volunteering but to consider its benefits and our motivations; to reflect on my experience that has led me to question what we are giving and what we are getting as volunteers. Such an assessment becomes more urgent as groups and individuals face decisions about where to invest limited resources in resolving crises such as global warming and inequities of wealth, freedom, and opportunity. For some, volunteering is an anodyne …

Dual-Enrollment—Effective Strategies or Seductive Stratagems?

Ever since affirmative action debuted to skepticism and court challenges, educators have sought alternative blueprints for boosting minority representation in college and, in turn, the white-collar stratum of American society. This has been especially true in the technical disciplines that lead to high-paying STEM jobs. With the University of California poised to become the largest university system in the nation to scrap admissions testing, it might be instructive to look at another emerging academic phenomenon, as it raises legitimate questions about whether policies like California’s are effective strategies or seductive stratagems. In 2011, IBM partnered with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY) to launch its first Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. “Students in the program were 100 percent people of color, most from low-income families,” Stanley Litow, a chief architect of the program and former president of the IBM Foundation, effused in Barron’s. P-TECH was billed as a quantum improvement over the rest …

On the Passing of Oberlin Plaintiff David Gibson

It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood. ~Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio As a journalist, I am just passing through the lives of others, and usually not at their best moments. This is particularly true of defamation cases, when reporters, lawyers, and angry litigants are forced to intermingle at a time when each party to a dispute is accusing the other of being lousy human beings. Courts provide a regulated arena for culturally approved warfare, the purpose of which is to decide who deserves humiliation, possible ruin, and sometimes even jail. For the rest of us, this all provides voyeuristic risk-free entertainment. Typically, observers and note-takers in the galleries don’t get to know the main players well, so it’s a bit …