A Curious Course

Sometimes you have to wonder about the intellectual rigor and objectivity of college courses.

A new class to be offered by Columbia University will focus on the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The course, called “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement,” will be offered by the anthropology department and taught by Dr. Hannah Appel, who is a veteran of the Occupy protests.  Appel says she will be able to be objective about the protests — but according to the article the class will require students to become involved with the Occupy protests outside the classroom.

I’m not sure how objective a course can be when it requires students to become involved with the “movement” being studied.  That fact, alone, makes the course seem like more of a recruiting device than a true academic exercise.  And what, exactly, is going to be studied in the classroom?  News clippings about protests that lasted for a few months in which only an infinitesimal fraction of Americans participated?  Or, how many of the “Occupy” sites had problems with crime?  Or, how the “Occupy” protesters developed their “mike check” technique?

The “Occupy” protests have been called a “movement” by some, but I think there’s no real basis for that characterization so far.  There’s no comparison between a few protesters huddled in a few parks and the long-term, broad-based, mass activities that characterized the civil rights movement, or the temperance movement, or the women’s suffrage movement.  At this point, are the “Occupy” protests really any more deserving of study than other short-lived fringe political activities in America, like declaring “nuclear-free zones” or “sanctuary cities”?

Those Too-Tight Airplane Seat Belts

Apparently everyone who flies commercially in America these days is either a supermodel, an elf, or a child under the age of nine.

I say this because, without fail, when I finally plop down into my seat on the plane and fish out the seatbelt buckle halves from under my butt, I need to significantly adjust out the seatbelt straps.  My God, what stick figure could have used this seat on the incoming flight?  I always end up feeling a surge of shame that my middle-aged spread is grossly out of step with the rest of the country.

Interestingly, visual observation of American airports does not indicate that most air travelers are members of the fairy kingdom or just returning from the photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.  No, the people hitting the Sbarro and TCBY stands with such gusto seem to be about as beefy as your standard American.

That means there may be another, more nefarious explanation.  Perhaps American exercise clubs, diet food manufacturers, and weight-loss supplement suppliers pay the crews that clean planes between flights to tighten every seat belt to 28-inch waist size, to encourage Americans to vow to lose some weight and use their products?

Mayan Misunderstanding

Our New Year arrives carrying some apocalyptic baggage.  Many people have focused on the significance of 2012 under the Mayan calendar, and whether the calendar predicts that 2012 will bring the end of the world.  It’s even been the subject of a hilariously over-the-top disaster movie.

According to this BBC article, however, that apocalyptic interpretation of the Mayan calendar is in error.  The Mayan “long count” calendar, which began in 3114 BC, proceeds in 394-year periods called Baktuns.  2012 marks the end of the 13th Baktun, which is supposed to mark certain celestial alignments and herald the return to Earth of a powerful god and the start of a new era.  So, the end of the “long count” calendar just marks the end of an era, not the end of the world.

Whew!  What a relief!  I was concerned that, of all the civilizations, religions, and cults in the history of mankind that have predicted the end of the world, a civilization that engaged in ritual human sacrifice and other bloody practices and hit its high point more than 1,000 years ago might have just been the one to get it right.