Monday Morning Mental Mix

Monday Morning Mental Mix is a collection of articles I stumbled across during the preceding week, not necessarily articles written or published in the past seven days. It will generally be an eclectic collection of items that made it into my Diigo feed or onto Instapaper. If you have any great articles to share, please feel free to send them my way.

Eric Alterman argues that that the collapse of the newspaper industry and proliferation of think tank experts had led to a dramatic expansion of “ideologically motivated misinformation.” He places the blame on journalists: “journalists, on the other hand, usually treat anything as true if someone in a position of ostensible authority is willing to say it, even anonymously (and if no one is going to sue over it). The accuracy of anyone’s statement, particularly if that person is a public official, is often deemed irrelevant.”

Kim Brooks criticizes the practice of high school English, suggesting that soft discussion about literature and diminished focus on writing has left students unprepared for college, but acknowledges that the math of grading papers makes teaching writing a challenge: “every English teacher teaches five sections of English, and each section has approximately 25 students — a dream load compared to what teachers at, say, a Chicago public face. But that still means a three-page formal essay assignment would translate into 375 pages of student prose to be read, critiqued and evaluated. The very thought makes a cold, dark dread creep across my soul.”

Philosopher Sam Harris forces us to consider simplistic answers about free will and morality, arguing that “free will is a non-starter, both philosophically and scientifically.” Later in the piece, he asks “Consider what would happen if we discovered a cure for human evil. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that every relevant change in the human brain can be made cheaply, painlessly, and safely. The cure for psychopathy can be put directly into the food supply like vitamin D. Evil is now nothing more than a nutritional deficiency.”

The mere existence of trailers for books is astonishing to me, but some of winners and losers of the 2011 Moby Awards offered even more surprise. I didn’t enjoy Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom at all, but his promotional trailer almost redeemed the book.

Peter Schrag argues in The Nation that vouchers are back with a vengeance, the “ ultimate weapon in our educational debates, always ticking just under the surface, never quite going off. But after last November’s Republican statehouse victories, the right, sometimes abetted by Democrats and liberals, has brought back vouchers and school privatization with a vengeance.”