The days are getting longer again! I love that!

Not only will the sun come out tomorrow, it will stay out a few extra seconds.

And we have hot water.

Still . . . we have our challenges.


Stephen Gilbert: “Even worse than so many believing that the earth was created ten thousand years ago [per yesterday’s column] is the overwhelming belief that the USA is the greatest country on earth, the greatest there has ever been. We may have the greatest fighter planes and submarines and aircraft carriers, but we’re first in little else, or at least little else worth bragging about.”

☞ This is a touchy yet important point. We’re first in obesity, first in incarceration, first in energy inefficiency . . . but still first also in, among others, I think, idealism, diversity, and – of special significance – higher education.

Yet so many voters see the highly educated as elitist and even the enemy.

Who wants the editor of the Harvard Law Review or a Rhodes Scholar when he can have a regular guy who tells us we pay too much in taxes; or a gal bursting with vitality and TV pizzazz who got a D in economics?

Who wants the sophisticated professionalism of NPR or The New York Times or The Economist when he can have it all explained by Glenn Beck?

Who wants to hear a consensus of global scientists say we face a climate crisis when he can hear others tell us not to worry? The knowing thing to be is skeptical of all those elitist PhD’s.

(By the way: did you notice this summer that Bjorn Lomborg, upon whose analysis many on the right based their mockery of Al Gore, changed his mind? I wonder how hard that was played up on Fox News.)

We want elite athletes and elite brain surgeons – but Presidents? Give me the guy who was third from the bottom of his class of 897 and says economics is not his strong suit. He can cut through the fiendish complexity of the problems we face. Give me the guy who can’t name the president of Pakistan – because I can’t either, so I feel more comfortable with him.


Well, advanced search, anyway.

Tom Anthony: “As per this post from MIT, Google ‘Advanced Search’ lets you see the ‘reading level’ of various sites. For example, it compares the strikingly different reading levels that Fox News and PBS expect of their viewers.”

And the Smartest Site on the Internet Is…
Google now lets you filter sites by “reading level.”

By Christopher Mims 12/16/2010

The Internet used to be full of highbrow reading material, until broadband penetration exploded and everyone with a credit card managed to find his or her way onto the Web. Finding your way back to the rarefied air that used to suffuse the ‘net can be a slog, so Google has a new way to help you out: You can now sort sites by reading level.

(For those of you following along at home, under Google’s “advanced” search, simply switch on this option by hitting the dropdown next to “Reading level.”)

The results are fascinating. Searching for any term, no matter how mundane, and then hitting the “advanced” link at the top strips away all the spam, random blogs and all the rest of the claptrap from the advertisers, hucksters and mouthbreathers.

This is only one of the varieties of elitism enabled by the new feature, which was created by statistically analyzing papers from Google Scholar and school teacher-rated Web pages that are then compared to all the other sites in Google’s index.

As pioneered by Adrien Chen of Gawker, by far the most interesting application of the tool is its ability to rate the overall level of material on any given site, simply by dropping site: [] into the search box.

☞ Read the rest to see the Fox News and PBS comparisons.

The last thing anyone should do is talk down to, or disrespect, others. And there’s no question that a PhD is no substitute for – or guarantee of – common sense. But somehow – and for all our alleged brains, we sure haven’t done a great job of finding how – we need to restore pride in and respect for academic excellence, science, and competent, dedicated public service.


We are exceptional. But as someone recently pointed out, we only remain exceptional if we continue to do exceptional things. Success and respect don’t come to us simply by being born here; simply by agreeing to pay less tax and shop more; simply by declaring that our health care system is the best in the world.

I have little doubt we’ll get back into gear. I think that with the Education Department’s Race to the Top and the Energy Department’s unprecedented investment in new technology and the State Department’s reengagement in the world – to take three examples – the up-shift has already begun.

The last decade was, I hope, something of an exception.


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