August 14, 2012
Write About Yourself
The grinding dogma of fifth-grade English teachers everywhere has done incalculable damage to the sensitive psyches of countless school children. One of the most onerous dicta of Miss Vera Strict was this: "Never use I when you write." The calcified trauma of this lives on in otherwise normal adults.Continue reading "Write About Yourself"
March 13, 2012
Murder, Apathy and Urban Legends
Kitty Genovese was murdered in Kew Gardens in Queens, New York, forty-eight years ago today. It rocked the nation. The New York Times article about the incident famously began, "For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens."Continue reading "Murder, Apathy and Urban Legends"
February 22, 2011
Stupid Things You Learned About the Reformation
As we approach the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, we will hear more and more about the movement that has so shaped the Western world since Luther pounded his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517. And so we should. But we should do so from a solid foundation.
James Payton gives us just that in his excellent Getting the Reformation Wrong, which got my Setting-the-Record-Straight Award for 2011. The book corrects some stupid things people believe (he is much more diplomatic than I am, calling them "common misunderstandings") about the Reformation. Here's just a few:Continue reading "Stupid Things You Learned About the Reformation"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:43 AM
December 21, 2010
When Smart People Say Stupid Things
I'm always amazed when very intelligent people say very stupid things. But it's happened again. This time it's in The Grand Design, the latest book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for thirty years, a chair held by no less than Sir Isaac Newton, himself no slouch. Mlodinow has his own pedigree to be proud of. So what did they say?Continue reading "When Smart People Say Stupid Things"
August 12, 2010
History with Attitude
Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of the funnest, most informative rants I've read in quite a while. James Loewen is ticked at the stupidity of American history high school textbooks, and he has reason to be.
One 1990-era textbook offered this whopper: "President Truman easily settled the Korean War by dropping the atomic bomb" (p. 320), which has so many errors in it I hardly know where to begin.
But there's more. Lots more. The textbooks are wrong when they say that . . .Continue reading "History with Attitude"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:46 AM
June 1, 2010
That's Unheard Of!
Everybody does it. Besides that, it's not wrong. In fact, sometimes it can be a beautiful thing. No, I'm not talking about that! I'm talking about ending sentences with a preposition.Continue reading "That's Unheard Of!"
May 6, 2010
Busting the "Dark Ages" Myth
Recently a good friend mentioned “the Dark Ages,” and I nearly flew into a wild rage. Well, no, it was more like severe annoyance. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe it was just a mild depression.
The “Dark Ages” weren’t dark. Not only was there plenty of sunshine, but culture and civilization were merrily rowing along as well.Continue reading "Busting the "Dark Ages" Myth"
April 28, 2010
Miss Whitebread Was Wrong
“Always make an outline before you start writing.” Isn’t that what your fifth grade teacher told you? Well, I’m sorry to break this to you, but Miss Whitebread was wrong. In my continuing series of Stupid Things You Were Taught in School (see here and here), let me deconstruct this bad boy.Continue reading "Miss Whitebread Was Wrong"
August 25, 2009
400 Years Ago Today, Galileo Didn't Invent the Telescope
There are many myths about Galileo. One is that he invented the telescope. (He didn't. Hans Lippershey gets the honors. A year afterward, on this date four hundred years ago, Galileo demonstrated his version of the device to merchants in Venice. (The sale price was not a pound of flesh.)
Here's a little quiz to see how good you are at separating fact from fiction. Jot down which you think are true and which are false:
July 29, 2009
I was with a group of friends recently when another common myth of western civilization was trotted out as if it were gospel. "We all know religion has caused more violence and death than anything else."
"Well, actually, that's not true," I ventured.
Heads turned. Mouths gaped. The planet itself seemed to wobble on its axis. "What facts do you have to support that?" said the historian in the group, eyebrow arched.Continue reading "160 Million"
April 21, 2009
Not the Center of the Universe
This really bugs me.
People who should know better--including Ph.D.s--keep making the same mistake. I just read it in a 2008 book, which I will not name to protect the guilty.
The Myth. In the Middle Ages people believed the sun went around the earth because it put the earth and humanity at the center of the universe--elevating the prominence of humanity in the cosmos.
The Fact. According to Medieval cosmology, the hierarchy of the cosmos was from the outer extremes (most important and most perfect) down to the center (least important and least perfect). Aristotle said that the heavenly realms were so superior that they were made of something entirely different from the four elements of earth, water, air and fire. The fifth element--the quintessence, or aether--was found only in the heavenlies. In other words, the closer to the center something was, the less ethereal, and thus the more imperfect it was.
Earth, being irregular (mountains, valleys, etc.), changing and subject to corruption, was the least perfect. The moon, as Medieval cosmologists could clearly see, also had imperfections but fewer than earth. The planets were more perfect (but had an irregular motion accounted for by epicycles). The realm of stars was even more perfect. Beyond that, well, heaven of course. Some cosmologies also put the most imperfect--hell--at the very center of the earth itself.
So putting earth at the center of the cosmos was not a statement of human hubris but of human humility.
There, I feel better already.
June 18, 2007
The Serial Comma and the Plagues of Egypt
In another blog I promised to wrestle the serial comma into abject submission. Watch and be amazed.
Many writers and grammarians and punctuationists have traditionally preferred adding a comma before the word and in a list. So, for example, they would write, “I had bananas, blueberries, and strawberries on my corn flakes this morning.” (This, of course, is not to be confused with the cereal comma.)
At InterVarsity Press, we have a general policy of not using a serial comma. Many are horrified, disgusted, shocked, dismayed, repulsed and find themselves on antidepressants as a result of this. Why have we done so?Continue reading "The Serial Comma and the Plagues of Egypt"