Weekly Meanderings, 14 May 2016

And they were laughing at me in my classes when I said in 2015 the Cubs would compete and in 2016 they could compete for the World Series. I’m not saying World Series yet, but what I am saying is that these Cubs are for real.

CHICAGO—There is West Addison Street and there is Clark Street and there is Waveland Avenue. Somewhere within the grid that they circumscribe is the happiest place on Earth right now. It might be the old ballpark with the new scoreboard, but that might be too limited a space for the happiest place in the world. It spreads itself around the gentrified brick apartments and into the vast darkness of a dozen bars, and off down the street toward the big lake.

You can’t beat the Chicago Cubs now. You can’t even hope to contain them. You can put them in pink shoes, in honor of Mother’s Day. They’ll beat you. You can make them swing that big pink lumber. They’ll beat you. You can make them work through four hours plus on a glorious Sunday afternoon, make them work until they send up Javier Baez to hit in the 13th inning, because he was all they had left for a catcher, and Baez hadn’t caught since he was in 10th grade. That didn’t matter. Baez stood in against Blake Treinen of the Washington Nationals, stood in there with his pink shoes and waving that big pink lumber, and he dropped a 2–2 slider into the leftfield seats. The Cubs had swept the Nationals, winning the extended finale of a four-game series, 4–3. Before that, they had swept the Pirates in Pittsburgh. They were now 24–6 on the year, the best start by any major league team since the 1984 Tigers, and that little square piece of history was the happiest place on earth.

After the game, Baez was asked if he planned on using the pink bat after Mother’s Day was over.

“I think,” he said, “I’m just going to give it to my Mom.”…

Let us be honest. As a longtime Chicagoan friend of mine put it, a Chicago Cubs World Series championship is the Last Great American Sports Story. The Red Sox have had their moment; in fact, they’ve had three of them. The ongoing futility that is the city of Cleveland is an interesting historical glitch—and LeBron James may yet correct it this year—but there are still people alive and prospering who remember Jim Brown and 1964. There have been Triple Crown winners, one as recently as last June. The Cubs are what’s left. The last time they got off to a start this hot was in 1907. They won the World Series that year, and they won it the next year, too. That was back when uniforms were flannel and when the Republicans nominated people like William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt. The next Cubs World Series win will be the Last Great American Sports Story.

If you like Flannery you will like this.

If you are tired of TSA, you won’t like this:

Earlier this week, the TSA admitted that waiting times have been climbing for airline passengers, after being called out by the Port Authority of New York. By way of explanation, the TSA scapegoated passengers, claiming it was our fault for showing up to checkpoints unprepared. And now, the Port Authority isthreatening to hire a private firm to replace the seemingly incompetent agency.

This is getting out of control. Controversy surrounding the long-loathed organization feels like it’s finally reaching its breaking point. The TSA is facing down Congress, after three senior management whistleblowers from the agency came forward to report poor oversight and abusive employee practices. Among the House committee’s gripes over apparent corruption within the agency was also the unconscionably long lines they regularly subject passengers to.

New York airports hit a wait time of 55 minutes this spring, but elsewhere things are even more dire. Footage taken inside Chicago Midway Airport and uploaded to YouTube last night shows a line snaking through multiple corridors. The video, which is over two minutes long, only involves one man walking from one end of the line to the other.

If you would like to be a “slow” professor, read this:

The Slow Food movement, founded in 1989 with the aim of restoring a healthy relationship between people and food, embraces a celebration of local, environmentally responsible food cultures. The movement’s snail logo reminds us to slow our pace and take time to savor as we grow or purchase, prepare and eat our food.

A snail also graces the cover of The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, a new book by Canadian humanities professors and literary criticsMaggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber, who shine the light of slow food principles onto academic culture. In 90 thrilling pages of text, Berg and Seeber describe the current corporatization of the college campus and urge professors to resist it with all they’ve got.

“Thrilling” isn’t a word I often apply to books about higher education, but these pages galvanized me. Last December, I concluded 27 years of college teaching and, for now, I still feel a part of campus culture. I’m in contact with colleagues (locally, nationally and internationally) who feel burned by this corporate model. They work long hours yet have little time to read or write for work, or just to think — the faculty activities that Berg and Seeber say a university should prize most and that may benefit its students the most….

Some of this advice as reported by Berg and Seeber is funny, sad and appalling all at once: Save Saturdays for research and slate 12 hours each Sunday for marking papers and preparing the week’s classes to come! Wake at 4 a.m. during the week to write!

Berg and Seeber aren’t having it; the fault isn’t with professors’ time management skills. “The real time issues,” they write, “are the increasing workload, the sped-up pace, and the instrumentalism that pervades the corporate university.”

Professors, Berg and Seeber say, need to take back the intellectual life of the university.

How to do this? Professors can say no without guilt to endless university committee assignments; refuse to buy into the ethic of overwork; talk 1:1 with colleagues in the hall instead of going online to connect; recognize that shared positive emotion, emerging from thoughtful engaged discussion in the classroom, boosts learning.

Most important of all, college teachers should insist, unapologetically, that reflective inquiry is the heart and soul of the university.

And reflective inquiry can’t be done in a distracted rush, without uninterrupted time to focus.

Did you see this by Nicholas Kristof?

WE progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

O.K., that’s a little harsh. But consider George Yancey, a sociologist who is black and evangelical.

“Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black,” he told me. “But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”…

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent.

Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).

In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican….

It’s also liberal poppycock that there aren’t smart conservatives or evangelicals.Richard Posner is a more-or-less conservative who is the most cited legal scholar of all time. With her experience and intellect, Condoleezza Rice would enhance any political science department. Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian and famed geneticist who has led the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health. And if you’re saying that conservatives may be tolerable, but evangelical Christians aren’t — well, are you really saying you would have discriminated against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Jonathan Haidt, a centrist social psychologist at New York University, cites data suggesting that the share of conservatives in academia has plunged, and he has started a website, Heterodox Academy, to champion ideological diversity on campuses….

Universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives from A to Z, not just from V to Z. So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

On the bucolic Mundelein campus that houses a theological university and the largest Roman Catholic seminary in the U.S., there are 220 men studying to be priests — plus one woman about to join a small cadre of female faithful blazing new paths.

On Saturday, Dawn Eden Goldstein is expected to graduate from the campus’ University of St. Mary of the Lake with a doctorate in sacred theology, which will allow her to help train aspiring priests. The feat marks the first time a woman at the north suburban school will earn such a degree.

Priests and administrators at the university emphasize that Goldstein, 47, is not earning her degree from Mundelein Seminary, but from St. Mary’s, a co-ed theological school where most students are men. Still, Goldstein’s accomplishment signals a new direction in American Catholicism.

“I’ve found a kind of equilibrium here,” she said, referring to the cautious pride professors have expressed about her pursuit. “I’ll be glad to move forward, but I’m thankful for the experience of being here.”

She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” in which he praised some aspects of women’s liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests. [HT: PEP]

Brendan O’Neill:

The dream of internet freedom has died. What a dream it was. Twenty years ago, nerdy libertarians hailed the web as the freest public sphere that mankind had ever created. The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, written in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, warned the ‘governments of the industrial world’, those ‘weary giants of flesh and steel’, that they had ‘no sovereignty where we gather’. The ‘virus of liberty’ was spreading, it said.

Now it seems that the virus has been wiped out. We live our online lives in a dystopian nightmare of Twittermobs, ‘safety councils’, official procedures for ‘forgetting’ inconvenient facts, and the arrest of people for being offensive. The weary giants are asserting their censorious sovereignty.

This week it was revealed that Facebook has been suppressing news stories from conservative sources. Facebook, used by 1.6 billion people, bigs itself up as a neutral distributor of news and facilitator of global chat. Yet, according to a former editor there, popular conservative stories are often kept off Facebook’s trending bar, either because the curator ‘didn’t recognise the news topic’ or ‘they had a bias’.

People log on to Facebook imagining that the stories they see are chosen by user ‘likes’, rather than by editors who decide what us web plebs should and shouldn’t know. In truth, this stuff is curated for us by our moral betters in Silicon Valley, who dish up decent liberal stories that might enlighten our mushy minds while hiding weird conservative news that might turn us Obamaphobic or funny about immigration.

The most surprising thing about this Facebook story was that anyone was surprised. Social media sites, vast planets of cyberspace, may advertise themselves as free meeting points for humanity, but for a couple of years now they’ve been casting out moral undesirables, blocking the offensive and engaging in political censorship.

Theo Hobson:

The exclusion works like this. Everything non-religious is seen as a harmlessly neutral topic. It might or might not be your thing, but it’s a valid part of our culture that deserves airtime. Religion, on the other hand, is seen as problematically contentious. It can only be talked about in a sombre anxious way. If Christianity has to be talked about, there must be great awareness that atheists and those of other faiths are likely to be a bit miffed. And so it’s safer to avoid it, whenever possible, and stick to what is inoffensively neutral.

For example, there is a Radio 4 series called the Infinite Monkey Cage in which nerdy science-folk discuss their stuff in a confident, jokey, semi-evangelical way, and of course there are many such arts programmes – and there is one every weekday morning about feminism. Imagine one in which a panel of Christians was given such space, such permission to be themselves, to air their subculture. (This does not occur on the religion programmes Beyond Belief and Sunday, which are both nervously multi-faith, meaning that they impose a neutral secular framework on the discussions.) 

In fact you don’t have to imagine a broadcast in which a group of Christians discuss things in an intelligent, accessible way. I recently came across a YouTube series, in which four quite young, quite hip vicars do exactly this. It’s rather charming: they convey their love for the culture they serve, which is a source not just of wisdom but of fun. To rectify things, Radio 4 should sign them up. But don’t hold your breath. [HT: CHG]

Da Vinci, da Robot, da doctor: DA SURGERY????!!!!!!

It is claimed that within 30 years most jobs will be taken over by robots. In fact in the field of surgery there are already plenty of working robots. Don’t worry, though: they are not autonomous beasts, capable of turning bad. They are entirely dependent on human input. We are probably generations away from a truly independent robot.

The initial driver of robotic surgical research was the military and space industry. The aim was to develop technology to help injured soldiers on the battlefield or astronauts who needed surgery in space. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are now 60 robotic systems in Britain. About one in four hospitals that perform major surgery has one. They are mostly used by urological surgeons performing prostate cancer surgery; there is far less uptake in other surgical specialities.

For example, in my own speciality of colorectal surgery, there are only about 10 national robotic programmes. I have a niche within colorectal surgery dealing with the pelvic floor and probably have performed the most robotic pelvic floor operations in the country. In a sudden impulse of vanity, I attempted to show this fact off to my mother, who asked, with complete sincerity, if I was ‘not good enough to operate without one’.

In the last 10 years, there really has only been one type of surgical robot available, going by the fantastic name of da Vinci. It consists of a surgeon console and a slave unit with all robotic surgery performed using keyhole techniques (that is, involving a few small incisions in the abdominal wall through which a miniature video camera and surgical instruments are inserted).

I start all operations just like a normal keyhole procedure and then, when everything is ready, the robot slave unit is placed next to the patient. This slave unit has robotic arms. These arms are attached to keyhole instruments that in turn enter the patient’s body through small incisions at different sites. I will then leave the patient and go and sit in the surgeon console, which is usually at the side of the operating theatre (but can be miles away). I use hand and foot controls in the surgeon console to control the slave unit arms and instruments to operate.

The beauty of the robot is that it allows 3D vision, as opposed to most normal keyhole surgery utilising 2D, and this improved depth perception benefits the surgery when space is limited. If I’ve drunk too much coffee the robotic system cuts out my tremor. Additional precision comes from the scaling down of my hand movements: that is, if I move my hands 6cm in the surgeon console, the robotic instruments only move 1cm. Normal keyhole instrument tips have a limited range of movement, but robotic instruments have similar dexterity to the human wrist, making tasks such as throwing a knot easy.

This describes Jon Gruden:

TAMPA, Fla. — At this hour, a beautiful Florida sunrise is still a promise. The birds have not yet begun to sing.

Down in Islamorada, Jimmy Johnson probably is a few hours away from dropping his first line into the Atlantic Ocean from his boat, 3 Rings. Over in Naples, Mike Ditka likely will not reach for his driver and a tee until well past the time the dew is off the grass.

Here in Tampa, the parking lot of an office complex is empty and still, except for one car. Inside the building, one man sits in silence. The only light in the office—some would say in his world—is from game tape. It’s a cutup of Eli Apple, the Ohio State cornerback who would go to the Giants 10th overall, in press technique.

Jon Gruden, ESPN football analyst and star of Monday Night Football, stares intently.

When he was the head coach of the Raiders and Buccaneers, Gruden famously awoke every morning at 3:17 to the Notre Dame fight song. The alarm clock that played it, a relic from his childhood, expired of natural causes.

These days, he is awakened by cellphone. He chooses between alarms set for 4:29, 4:15, 4:04, 4:00, 3:52, 3:47, 3:45, 3:30 and 3:15—”just in case I need to cram a little.” Most days, he is at his desk by 4 a.m., and he stays there, save for a workout, for about 12 hours.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.