Zeynep Tufekci has seen America in ways almost no Americans would see it.
Right now, he is a professor at the University of North Carolina. He is an immigrant, and when he was new to this country he found institutions he just had no idea existed anywhere.
The first thing that astonished him was the post office, he wrote in last Sunday's New York Times. "There were standardized rates, and you could just slap a stamp on your letter, drop it in a mailbox, and it would go to its destination." He told his friends back home in Turkey about all the services of the post office, including six-day delivery and pickup at your front door, and they were incredulous. They thought he was lying or kidding.
Then he told them about another amazing public service in his new country.
"My first time in a library in the United States was very brief: I walked in, looked around, and ran right back out in panic, certain that I had accidentally used the wrong entrance. Surely, these open stacks full of books were reserved for staff only. I was used to libraries being rare, and their few books inaccessible. To this day, my heart races a bit in a library."
Wouldn't it be wonderful if every American saw the post office and their public library as the unique services they are in this wide world?
The New York Times had another breathless article today about autonomous automobiles.
This time the subject was the fact that Big Insurance is staying up nights worrying about these driverless cars.
About once a week, one major news outlet or another has a story about the dramatic breakthroughs being made by Google and rivals in the pursuit of cars that will drive themselves. They all assume that driverless cars will one day actually be on the road in huge numbers.
I'm here to say, Baloney.
Not saying that building an autonomous car isn't possible. I'm sure it is. I'm just saying that it's highly unlikely you'll ever buy one.
What could be scarier than getting on I-35 in the only autonomous automobile among a legion of drivers who don't have a clue what you're doing. You're out there amongst the 18-wheelers, two-wheelers and careening four-wheelers and you have no control.
And what could be less fun than driving between here and Kerrville on the back roads while in the protective cocoon of a driverless car?
The New York Public Library just released the Top 10 most-checked-out books of the year, and the top one was a bit of a surprise to me.
"Leaving Time" by Jodi Piccoult ranked No. 1.
The No. 1 book was not a surprise at all: "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins. Nor was No. 3 at all startling: "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee.
Rounding out the Top 5 were No. 4, "NYPD RED 3" by Marshall Karp and James Patterson; and No. 5, "Prodigal Son" by Danielle Steel.
To get a Wimberley perspective, "Leaving Time" was checked out 15 times this year by our patrons. On the other hand, "The Girl on the Train" was checked out 32 times, and "Go Set a Watchman" was checked out 33 times. Patteron's book had 20 checkouts, and Steel's had only 11.
Next time I'll write about the most popular books checked out of our library in 2015.
In this space last week I listed the most popular books checked out of the New York City public libraries in 2015.
And they are very different from the most popular here at the Wimberley library.
The No. 1 book to be checked out in 2015 here was "Girl on the Train." That book had 32 check-outs; we had multiple copies. No. 2 was "Endangered," and No. 3 was "The Assassination Option: A Clandestine Operations Novel."
Those were our top works of fiction.
On the nonfiction side of the house, the No. 1 book as "New Treehouses of the World." There was a tie for No. 2: "Bettyville: A Memoir" and "Strawdale Gardens."
The top DVD was "Wild," followed by "Birdman" and "Fury."
I guess I was still at The Canyon News when I first heard about college English departments having to develop what they called "bonehead English" courses because high-school grads weren't up to the task of mastering regular old freshman English.
Then I heard somewhere about the development of similar math courses for the same reason.
That must have been in the late 1970s.
Here we are 40 years later and absolutely no smarter about how to educate children.
In fact, we seem to be doing more things wrong when it comes to getting kids up to speed.
And we keep kidding ourselves by massaging various numbers that are supposed to tell us how we're doing.
Want to measure success on test scores? Fine: some teachers will just lie about the scores one way or another.
Want to measure success by graduation rates? Fine: just about everyone fix those numbers, too.
The New York Times reported yesterday that more kids are graduating than ever, but they can't do college work.
And that means they probably can't do real work in the world outside our educational institutions.
Still, we blather on about accountability, while nobody gets held accountable.
When I was growing up, I believe principals held teachers accountable, and superintendents held principals accountable, and superintendents wanted to be in the business of educating kids, not polishing their resumes for the next move up the ladder.
Maybe that's just too simple a way to look at it.
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