February 18, 2011
February 18, 2011
February 18, 2011
February 18, 2011
THE people of the Middle East have long despaired about the possibility of change. They have felt doomed: doomed to live under strongmen who have hoarded their wealth and beaten down dissent; doomed to have as an alternative only the Islamists who have imposed their harsh beliefs—and beaten down dissent. In some places, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, the autocrats and the Islamists have merged into one. But nowhere has a people had a wholly free choice in how they are ruled. And the West has surrendered to this despair too, assuming that only the strongmen could hold back the extremists.
Two months ago a Tunisian fruit-seller called Muhammad Bouazizi set fire to these preconceptions when, in despair over bullying officials and the lack of work, he drenched himself in petrol and struck a match. Tunisians and, later, Egyptians took to the streets. Almost miraculously, the people overwhelmed the strongmen who had oppressed them for decades. In the past few days tens of thousands have marched in Tehran, braving beatings and arrest. In tiny Bahrain men have died as the security forces sprayed protesters with rubber bullets and smothered them in tear gas. In Libya crowds have risen up against a fearsome dictator. Jordan is sullen, Algeria unstable and Yemen seething (see article).
Radical Islamists have long been the Arab world’s presumed revolutionaries, but these fights do not belong to them. In a region that had rotted under repression, a young generation has suddenly found its voice. Pushing ahead of their elders, they have become intoxicated with the possibility of change. As with Europe’s triumphant overthrow of communism in 1989, or even its failed revolutions of 1848, upheaval on such a scale can transform societies. What does that mean for the Islamists, the strongmen and the world?
The answers begin in Egypt. Pessimists see people-power burning itself out even now. As Cairo’s streets empty of protesters, the hope of genuine democracy will die, they warn, and the old inevitability will reassert itself. Once again Egypt will be left to choose between military autocracy and a stealthy electoral coup by the Islamist Muslim Brothers.
Either outcome is possible. Egypt is young, angry and poor. The country’s press has only recently asserted its independence. It has somnolent universities, little history of individual dissent and no recent parliamentary tradition. Society is suffused by contempt for the West and hatred of Israel. It lacks the foundations for democracy. The Muslim Brothers are organised and patient, while the state can call on perhaps 2m police and security agents trained in violence. It will have to be the Brothers or another strongman.
Yet day after day Egypt’s largely secular young protesters have peacefully defied the pessimists. Although the Muslim Brothers played their part, they came late to the show. Despite their violent past, there is a world of difference between the Brothers and al-Qaeda. Of course they want power—what political group does not? But the fear that their agents are everywhere and that they are poised to seize the throne suited Hosni Mubarak, the ousted president, as much as it did the Brothers themselves. Their threat justified his repression.
The time has come to end the grim symbiosis between the oppressor and the oppressed. Hatred of the Muslim Brothers does not justify the apparatus of state violence that catches all Egypt in its vice. The Brothers only drew strength from the darkened cell and the torturer’s knife. When the Muslim Brotherhood won 20% of seats six years ago, it was the only party that presented a real alternative to Mr Mubarak. In an open contest today they might do better, but not necessarily…
February 18, 2011
DePaul University will no longer require applicants to submit standardized-test scores for admission. The new policy, announced on Thursday morning, makes DePaul the largest private nonprofit university to go completely “test optional.”
Starting with applicants for the freshman class entering in 2012, students who choose not to submit ACT or SAT scores will write short responses to essay questions designed to measure “noncognitive” traits, such as leadership, commitment to service, and ability to meet long-term goals.
“Admissions officers have often said that you can’t measure heart,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management. “This, in some sense, is an attempt to measure that heart.”
Mr. Boeckenstedt expects the change to encourage applicants with high grade-point averages but relatively low ACT and SAT scores to apply—be they low-income students, underrepresented minorities, or otherwise. Moreover, he and his colleagues believe the new admissions option will allow them to better select applicants who are most likely to succeed—and graduate.
A few years ago, DePaul incorporated noncognitive variables into its admissions process for the first time. Subsequent research convinced Mr. Boeckenstedt and his colleagues that those nontraditional measures did more than the ACT or SAT to predict the success of low-income and minority students at the university. “These are as good an additive predictor, and for some students, they’re a little better,” he said.
DePaul’s announcement is a reminder that the test-optional label now applies to a diverse mix of colleges. In 2008, Wake Forest University became one of the most-selective institutions yet to drop its testing requirements. Its decision affirmed that test-optional policies were not only for nonselective institutions or small liberal-arts colleges.
Now, DePaul will test the utility of alternative admissions requirements within a deep, diverse applicant pool. As one of the largest Roman Catholic institutions in the United States, DePaul enrolls about 16,000 undergraduates—more than three times as many as Wake Forest. DePaul began using the Common Application last fall, and as of this week, had received more than 16,000 applications (for a class of about 2,300 to 2,500). That’s a 42-percent increase over the number of applications DePaul had at the same point last year.
“Institutions find themselves moving in this direction for so many different reasons,” David H. Kalsbeek, DePaul’s senior vice president for enrollment management, said of the decision to change testing requirements. “But by any measure, we’re coming at this from a position of strength..”
February 18, 2011
Jesse Bering, a psychologist at Queen’s University in Northern Ireland and a blogger for Scientific American, has published an excerpt of his upcoming book, “The Belief Instinct,” in Slate. In the excerpt — “Are You There God? It’s Me, Brain” — Bering argues that belief in God is a near-inevitable result of the way our brains are built. We’ve evolved, he writes, to be “natural psychologists,” and so we see minds everywhere — even where none exist.
Bering’s argument starts from the fact that, as human beings, we’ve inherited incredibly powerful social brains. We intuit one another’s emotions and mental states with incredible speed and accuracy. Evolutionary psychologists say that we have a powerful, built-in “theory of mind,” which we use to guess what’s going on inside one another’s heads. Perhaps, Bering suggests, belief in God is only a kind of “flexing” of our social muscles — an overextension of theory of mind to the universe as a whole. “After all,” he writes, “once we scrub away all the theological bric-a-brac and pluck the exotic cross-cultural plumage of religious beliefs from all over the world, once we get under God’s skin, isn’t He really just another mind — one with emotions, beliefs, knowledge, understanding, and, perhaps, above all else, intentions?”
Bering’s idea is hardly new — Richard Dawkins, for instance, suggested something similar in a TED talk a few years ago. Color me unconvinced, though. If belief in God is instinctual, then how do atheists overcome that instinct? I don’t believe in God, but I don’t find myself fighting some built-in tendency to personify the universe. If Bering is right, then one would expect very religious people to have overactive theories of mind. But that hardly seems true: Religious people don’t, as a matter of habit, personify inanimate things.
More importantly, Bering misunderstands the value that religion provides. His idea is that all people are religious the way children are religious — that is, in a literal, animist way. Being religious, though, isn’t about having an imaginary friend; it’s about understanding the meaning of life. My guess? It’s the search for meaning, not the search for other minds, that makes religion part of the fabric of human life. Religion, if it’s driven by an instinct, is driven by a meaning instinct. Aristotle wrote that “all men by nature desire to understand.” That’s a desire we all share, atheist and religious alike.
What’s wrong with ”Mad Men”Everybody loves “Mad Men” — except, apparently, Daniel Mendelsohn, a distinguished translator and critic who writes for The New York Review of Books. In a smart and scathing review of the show, Mendelsohn says the unsayable — that “Mad Men” is “a soap-opera decked out in high-end clothes.” And then he asks: If the show is so silly, then why do people love it so much?….